Grocery Geek & Good Cheap Eats

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I’ve always been one to enjoy grocery shopping. I love food. I love cooking. I love to find great deals.

I’ve been posting my grocery finds over on Life as MOM for the last three years as a way to encourage others to save more on groceries — as well as just brag on the good deals I’ve found. (Just saying.)

I decided to share my grocery geekiness over here on Good Cheap Eats instead. It makes sense that grocery shopping and good cheap eats go well together.

Being a grocery geek leads to good cheap eating.

But first some history….

Three and a half years ago, my grocery shopping looked a lot different than it does today. I had five children with one on the way. The oldest was 11. We lived in Kansas City and were actively fighting our way out of debt which resulted in a very tight grocery budget, $100/week.

Coupons and deals were plentiful. And we saw a huge boost in the quantity of food I was able to acquire for the same price once I started couponing. We were practically swimming in boxed cereal!

Today we’ve got six kids, ranging in age from 3 to 14. We live in Southern California where the cost of living is a tad bit higher. Now that we’ve paid off our debts and are living debt-free, our grocery budget is a little bigger, about $150/week, but sometimes ranging as high as $200.

Coupons and deals are not quite as plentiful as they once were. And California grocery stores have stricter coupon policies than other states. I’ve had heart palpitations over the amount of boxed cereal my children waste, so I’ve stopped buying it. (I also can’t find it as cheap as I once did.)

Overall, the content of my grocery shopping trips has changed somewhat. I’ve also done some reading on nutrition, politics, and the US food supply which has me rethinking some of our eating habits.

Here’s a peek at some of our changes:

This is a sample grocery haul from that time three years ago. I spent $106, shopping at five stores. I also bought a lot of things that I don’t typically buy anymore: processed chicken nuggets, cake mixes, lunch kits, boxed cereal, and diapers. Those just aren’t things that I buy these days. We also discovered a nut allergy in one of the kids, so that has curbed some of our convenience purchases as well.

I’m trying to cook more from scratch and focus on less processed foods. As we’ve been able to pay our debts and squeeze a little more cash into the grocery budget, I’ve also been able to include more organic produce as well as be a little pickier about the ingredients and convenience items we do buy.

I don’t say this in a snobby way. I’m very thankful that I was able to buy those processed foods for free or cheap. That is what helped get us get out of debt.

Today, we’re able to approach grocery shopping a little differently because we worked hard to pay our debts.

At our recent money meeting, hubs and I decided to tighten the belt a little so that we can divert more of our income to savings. I’m still concerned about getting the best deals that I can, but I’m also trying to balance that with better quality and nutrition when I can. It’s a fine line.

The week’s shopping

Here’s my grocery geek haul of the week:

Costco – Costco is my go-to source for all kinds of basics, like dairy or bread. Over the weekend, I headed to Costco to pick up some random things that we were out of: Advil, chips, milk, bread, vinegar (for cleaning), bacon, potstickers, and juice. I spent $80.

Sprouts – Sprouts is one of my favorites for marked down bakery items as well as sale prices for fresh produce and meat. This week I spent $6 on cilantro, 49 cent avocados, limes, and a package of dinner rolls.

Abundant Harvest Organics – Every Wednesday I pick up a large produce box from Abundant Harvest Organics. It’s been a wonderful journey toward healthier eating. The box costs $37.80 per week, contains only organic produce, and definitely provides enough fruits and vegetables for our family of 8. There have been weeks when I’ve ordered extra fruits to process for the freezer or to have extra on hand for snacking. Overall, the box has definitely been abundant.

It has been a little bit of a stretch to learn how to use new ingredients. Yu choy, persimmons, turnips, sorrel, and fresh herbs are just some of the things I have had a chance to experiment with.

This week I ordered extra pomegranates so I could try my hand at pomegranate jelly. I also bought a bottle of pomegranate juice from Costco so that I could make a batch that way as well. Stay tuned for the in-depth analysis. (And, yes, I am a nut.)

My grocery shopping totals for this month are a little off because we also went on vacation and I took food money out of our vacation fund. But, my overall goal for November is to keep it to $150/week. Not sure if I can pull that off with Thanksgiving, but I’m going to try.

Back to Coupons?

And while I recently thought that I had kissed couponing goodbye, I’m rethinking that decision. It does take a fair time investment that I may or may not, but I know that coupons helped us get out of debt. They have equity with me. So, I don’t want to dismiss them lightly.

Instead, I’m trying to get back into the drugstore game and make sure I’m getting the best deals I can on paper goods and toiletries. CVS had some great deals this week to make my reentry a little easier. After browsing the links that The Thrifty Mama shared and scrolling through I felt more equipped to tackle it.

Here’s what I got at CVS:

Everything pictured was $30. I ended up not using any coupons, but I did get a $10 gift card for CVS in return, making my investment only $20. This laundry soap will probably last us about 2-3 months. I may go back this afternoon to do the deal again and stock up on toilet paper!

Total spent for the week: $149.80

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  1. Thank you for sharing your journey with couponing and food choices. It definitely is a journey, and I appreciate your candor and honesty. There is so much out there about making the “right” food choices that it seems overwhelming. It’s an ongoing process to figure out what is right for my family. I look forward to following you on your latest journey!

    Those “money meetings” are SO important, arent’ they? I used to be so defensive, but now they’re just plain motivating to stay focused!

  2. Sassy Stephanie says:

    I’ve stopped the coupon game and opted for healthier alternatives. I shop Sam’s (another wholesale club) for organic milk, produce and buy bulk natural cleaning supplies (baking soda, vinegar, etc). I found that with couponing, my pantry was stocked with chemicals and I simply don’t want that fed to my family. We now purchase bulk oats, nuts, rice, etc and supplement our weekly store runs with fresh foods.

    • @Sassy Stephanie, I too have somewhat stopped the coupon game a bit. I couldn’t afford to prepay for newspapers this month so I am trying to do other things to make our dollar stretch. Making my own cleaners and some food mixes is my latest adventure. On Pinterest I found a great dry mix for Cream of “Something” soup – pre mix dry ingredients then just mix with water on the stove to add to your recipe. We have a huge salt restriction and it was getting harder to find good deals on the lower sodium cream soups. Since baking goods are going on sale in the next month I will probably just buy some Sunday papers from the store (checking to make sure all the coupons are there since TLC’s Extreme Couponing has created a bunch of hoarders and folks who think it’s ok to swipe the coupons out of the papers). Places like Grocery Outlet are also becoming a favorite option too. 🙂 Glad to know I am not alone.

  3. I’d like you to write more about cvs shopping. Just moved near one, and am trying to figure out good deals. Thanks.

    • @Therese, well, I am a little out of practice. CVS in CA went through some restructuring when the acquired Longs Drug stores which deterred me from messing with it for awhile, but I’m getting back in the game. What state are you in? I’m finding that the deals near me are slightly different than elsewhere.

  4. My family’s food choices are very similar to yours and we shop/cook in close to the same way. I play the drugstore game with coupons and store rewards for (almost exclusively) personal care items like toothpaste, fem hygiene, shaving cream, and hair products (daughter insists on keeping her hair loooong, so we use lots of detangler!). I don’t use every coupon or chase every deal, but I save a ton of money. Two helpful blogs are the Krazy Coupon Lady and Southern Cali Saver. They do the work matching up sales and coupons and I reap the benefits! I really enjoy the Grocery Geek; it’s inspiring!

  5. I used to spend HOURS couponing and very little on groceries. I think I’m at the same place you are: I want to save, but I want to eat healthier. I’ve also decided it isn’t worth my investment of time. 10+ hours / week had our grocery budget at $60 / week for a family of five (including 3 in diapers). Now, I’m investing about 1-2 hours and our budget is at about $130-$150 for a family of six (2 in diapers). So, I was saving at MOST $90 / week which is only about $9 / hr. I think the Drug store game is still worth it. I can fit that into my 1-2 hrs each week (usually) and save a good deal on toiletries / paper goods. I’m interested in looking into Abundant Harvest as well.

    • @Misty, isn’t it funny how seasons change? I really am grateful for our FREE cereal years. Don’t get me wrong. They were a beautiful means to an end.

      • @Jessica, Couldn’t agree more. Even more grateful that b/c of those years and that work, I’m now a bit more self reliant and able to have a bit more wiggle room. I would highly recommend SERIOUS couponing to anyone looking to free up a bit of wiggle room in their budget: even if just for a few months to get caught up. $9 / hr is worth it if you need the money and have no means of making it otherwise. EVERYONE and anyone can have a “couponing” job: no applications or experience necessary! I did it seriously for 3 years while my husband was in law school and we had twin boys and two more daughters in just over 3 years. It was a necessity then and I’m so glad we did it.

  6. Melinda P says:

    I’m confused (and I mean no disrespect), but I don’t understand how what you bought is feeding your family of 8 for a week. You have a lot of produce, which is great, but I’m guessing most of everything else you’re cooking with (like meat/chicken, for example), is already in your pantry/cupboards/freezer. I have a family of 5 (which will turn into a family of 6 in March) and my grocery budget is $100/week (and really we need to be spending like half that, because my husband’s overtime just got cut way back, sigh). I stopped couponing a while ago, too, because I was frustrated with how it was mostly processed foods, but now I’m wondering if that’s going to be the only way we’re going to get to eat. Right now, I don’t have any extra money to “stock up” on stuff, either, and it’s driving me crazy.

    • @Melinda P, it does seem odd to just look at this week’s shopping. One of the main ways that I save money is called “anticipation buying,” aka stocking up when on sale. Obviously, I won’t use all that laundry soap in one week, but that will last me several months.

      I use the same principle with groceries. A few weeks ago, Ralphs had a good meat sale, so I bought three tri-tips, three roasts, three pounds of ground beef, and a bunch of chicken. That makes almost a month’s worth of meat. (It was a busy week so I never documented it in a post.) But, that allows me to omit meat from my cart for a few weeks, unless I see another good sale, which will probably be turkeys and chicken.

      It is hard to get started with because you need that “extra” cash to stock up on something. That’s where a “pantry challenge” can be really helpful. If we spend a week or two eating from what we already have, I can save enough to allow me a cushion for stocking up on deals as they come. Every January I do this. And this year I did it in July as well. It helps with stock rotation, using things up before they expire, and allows me stocking up funds.

      Does that make sense? I’ll be sharing our meal plan for the month tomorrow. Since I already have the meat and the produce is coming weekly, I will be able to focus on shopping for next month. I’ll be stocking up on Thanksgiving items for sure. I’m also doing some major freezer cooking for breakfasts so I’m hoping that I’ll have most of our meals for the month planned and on hand in the next week.

      • @Jessica, Yep, makes complete sense, thanks! LOL, if only I had enough in my pantry to eat for a week or two, I think I could probably get ahead. I keep hoping a really good meat sale would pop up (if it were a good enough sale, I would FIND a way to stock up on meat, for sure). I do look forward to reading your posts! 🙂

  7. I do use coupons, but only on things that are already on my list. In my experience, stocking up to eternity results in spoilage…which is wasted money, not a savings. As far as soap goes, I highly encourage people to check out Allan’s Naturally website. They sell a gallon of soap for just under $40. It seems costly, I know, but stick with me. That gallon costs another $20 to ship. It is more cost effective if you get together with family or friends and buy several gallons together. Here is the thing. That soap…it lasts my family over 6 months. And I do a LOT of laundry. I have a messy hubby fond of spilling food on his shirt and 2 kids in CLOTH diapers. That is a minimum of 3 loads a day…up to 6 or more when I add in towels and sheets on the weekend. 6 months…about $60.00. I guarantee you that you’re spending more than $10.00 a month on soap. This in hypo allergenic, and eco-friendly. If you get it on your skin, wash it off or wipe it on your pants and get on with the day. It isn’t scented, colored, or otherwise mucked with. My clothes and soiled diapers come out looking great. Sometimes coupons aren’t worth the “savings” because there are less expensive, better products out there to begin with. And, in case you are wondering…I am NOT an employee or relation to Allen’s Naturally. I just really appreciate a good deal when I find it.

  8. I was an avid couponer for the past 6 years. This year, it seems like with the new Extreme Couponing show that deals and good coupons were hard to come by. It may just be the economy or a combo of both. I got really discouraged b/c I couldn’t find many of my normal purchaes at my “price point” with coupons. The deals just aren’t there anymore and I have since stopped couponing almost altogether. When I first started couponing I literally cut our grocery bill in half. I went from $600/month for a family of 4 (one in diapers and formula at the time) to $300/month. I kept track this past month of my grocery spending (which includes toiletries/paper products/Pull ups) and it was right under $400! I was thrilled! Even though the prices have gone up…really gone up…I am still able to keep it $200 below what I was spending before I began couponing.
    I make most foods from scratch, eat lots of produce, and buy local meat and dairy which I know helps a great deal with our food budget. I joined Sam’s last year and keep a price sheet and I think this is what has helped the most. We are finally getting a Trader Joe’s and Publix (my favorite store!) next year and I can’t wait to shop there! I’ve enjoyed this post…thanks!

    • I hear ya. The increase in prices, however, has made it easier for me to include more organics. For some reason, organics haven’t seen the jump that other things have, or something. Thanks for your kind words!

  9. Allie Zirkle says:

    Love this post! We’re on the same page. Just yesterday I was saying, coupons need to squeeze back into our life, maybe playing the drug store game. I’ve got to use some time this week to actually organize my coupons and get back into it!

  10. Love this post Jessica! I’m looking forward to reading your upcoming posts on this subject!

    God bless!

  11. GreenTea_4 says:

    I was wondering: what a price sheet looks like? I shop at several stores to and I try to coupon. It is hard when I cannot find the coupon(s) on MY list. I have a family of 5. DD12, DD9, DS2 (disabled) me & DJ and a dog. I shop at Fresh and easy(love there coupons, Sam’s Club(whole sale), Walmart/Target, Stater Brothers and Tom’s Farms(local fresh fruits and vegetables) I am trying to eat way better but also I never really learned to cook and the equipment I have is limited and my extra freezer, well I’m waiting for a part for it. So I guess my question is how to organize myself to save even more money so I can pay off my debt (which is the hospital bills, I have a 3″ binder that is packed full and I am reading the Dave Ramsey book on saving/debt free book. It’s my organization I think. A good price book maybe a key or two. <3 TIA for any advice given. GreenTea of southern California IE

  12. I notice you bought Advil from Costco. If you haven’t already, (and I also admit I haven’t read all the comments, so maybe somebody has already addressed this), check out the Kirkland brand pain reliever. Their little red ibuprofen are under $10 for TWO bottles with 500 pills each (1000 total). If you want the blue gel caps (which in my experience really do work faster, 10 minutes vs 30 with the red pills), you get 360 for less than $13 (check the price of Advil or even CVS brand in the pharmacy, and prepare to be shocked at the difference). You cannot get cheaper pain relief! Read the ingredients – they are the same thing, minus the brand name!

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