Grocery Geek: Trying Hard to Stay in Line

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Budget grocery shopping can be tricky. Especially if you want to eat well and spend less. But I’m gonna try my darndest.

After really keeping the shopping to a minimum last week, we were out of a lot of things this week. I was starting to feel like Mother Hubbard. We had “food,” certainly. The freezer meals are still holding strong. All the same, milk, eggs, and a bunch of staples were gathering on my list.

I divided my list by stores with the idea that I would go wherever my list was longest and/or wherever my driving route took me. The lowest gas I’ve seen recently was $4.19/gallon and since my vehicle gets about 12 mpg, I need to conserve whenever possible.

So, last weekend we went out to breakfast as a family and then headed into Trader Joe’s which was in the same parking lot. Multi-tasking all over the place. And with full tummies, we didn’t overdo our shopping.

Trader Joe’s

The kids love Trader Joe’s. They have free samples and a stuffed animal to find. Once you find the stuffed animal hiding in the store, they reward you with a lollipop. Organic, of course. πŸ˜‰

They also have these cute mini shopping carts that my littles love — and which drive me nuts. Imagine me with a train of three little shopping carts following me throughout the store. Unfortunately, my people aren’t the best drivers and sometimes abandon their carts in random places, so we don’t do this very often. Crabby people (besides me) shop at TJ’s and I’m not loving the snarls.

Here’s the haul for Trader Joe’s. Pasta, rice, rice cakes, crackers, cheese, butter, ground beef, canned tomatoes, sunbutter, yogurt, eggs, flowers, milk, kefir, buttermilk, flour, sour cream, hummus, flowers, 2 ready-made salads for a couple easy lunches, 2 bottles of wine, and a basil plant. The basil plant was only $0.50 more than a package of basil. It’s the gift that keeps giving.

In total, I spent $120.


Then later that afternoon, I made a quick trek to Costco.

I stocked up on cheese, cream, half and half, chips, juice, and Advil. I spent $64. But, that’s a lot of cheese and cream!

Abundant Harvest Organics

Later in the week, I picked up the produce box. Isn’t that beautiful? Lettuce, chamomile, green garlic, tomatoes, cabbage, chard, parsnips, lemons, oranges, radishes, spinach, cauliflower, and kale.

This lot was about $37.


Included in the week’s spending was also a quick stop at Walmart for bananas and paper plates. Our dishwasher has been broken for over 2 weeks now. And while we wait on a decision from the management company, I’m dying. Dying. Only as a mother feeding six children three to five times a day can. So, I caved and we’re using paper plates so I can live.

I spent another $13 at Walmart.

The Month To Date

The week’s spending totals $234. Combined with previous purchases, we’re now up to $492 for the month. With ten days left in the month, I think we’ll be good for being well under budget ($800). But, I’m going to need to be careful.

Per my grocery spending audit, I’ve been baking all our bread this month. At $0.25/loaf, the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes method is possibly helping me shave some off my spending. I’m not sure how the increased oven usage is crunching. But, it’s great bread! The Olive Oil Dough made fabulous foccacia this week. And I literally pulled a pizza together in 5 minutes one night for the kids when hubs and I went out on a date.

In case you haven’t guessed, I’m endeavoring to shave our spending to make up for last month’s gross overspending. I plan to get our average back down — or try my darndest.

How’s your grocery budgeting going?

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  1. I’m glad you switched to paper plates temporarily. Desperate times call for desperate measures! Your sanity is worth every penny.

  2. Ugh…no dishwasher? Bless you.

  3. I somewhat feel your pain on the dishwasher, I dont have one at all (older home, kitchen has not been remodeled yet…..) but with only 2 kids, its not too bad. I still long for one though, especially with all the sippy cups and baby bottles I have washed over the last 5 years.

    I am very jealous your Costco has organic half and half! Ours just has the regular Land O Lakes.

  4. I see Vanilla? on your list. I have to say, I LOVE the Costco/Kirkland vanilla extract. it’s big bottle, real natural vanilla.
    If I lived in am area with Trader Joe’s, though, I might buy it there. I do love their affordable variety of extracts.

    • @jess, I’m actually brewing my own vanilla. Yes! You can. But, it has about 2 more months to percolate. So…. I’m trying out different sources and brands. And I always forget to buy it at Costco. My aunt always sends me real Watkins at Christmas, but this year, no go. πŸ˜‰

      • @Jessica, I tried the vanilla from Azure Standard. I really liked it. The price as well as the fact that it is double strength. Went ahead with the 16 oz-figured it would last a while since my homemade vanilla has 6 months before I should use it.

  5. I would’ve combined the bananas/paper plates with the Costco trip (unless it’d already happened…). If you go through a lot of ibuprofen, make sure to pick some up the next time it’s on coupon. And yes, get Costco vanilla! I would also just buy nearly everything you bought at TJs at Costco and then get the odds and ends (butter, basil, wine) at TJs. Because for me, it’s easier to do ONE big shop and then just focus on the little bits.

    Did you buy a slicer yet? How do you manage those blocks of cheese?

    • @brandy, well, the back story on this was that I wasn’t going to go to Costco at all, so I tried to get everything at TJ’s. But, then I did the Costco thing after all, so it was a mishmash.

      That said, my Costco list is pretty much limited to dairy and a few other things. I prefer TJ’s because of the whole GMO issue. They have a great guarantee.

  6. Just a question for you.. When figuring your grocery budget for the month… Do you include all the little “extras” you have to pick up at Walmart? I have 6 children also and I struggle to keep it under $1000 a month between Kroger, Walmart, CVS and Walgreens. I include everything in the $1000 though, including when I have to pick up things like hand soap, laundry detergent, garbage bags, pull ups, etc. I’m wondering if that’s how you figure yours. I feel like $1000 is still too high for us!

    • I include toiletries, but since we’ve gone really simple for cleaners, the cost is really low. I buy in bulk: Cascade, hand soap, toilet paper, vinegar, baking soda, and bar soap. So, those trips are few and far between and fairly “cheap”. I also don’t have anyone in diapers anymore, which helps a lot.

  7. Margaret says:

    Good for you on the paper plates!! Give yourself a break.

    One thought… I’ve noticed hummus is a pretty high margin item. Once you invest the $8-$14 in some good tahini, you can make a LOT of hummus. The tahini really is the key. The best way to explain good tahini is to think about the difference between the nuts sold in the baking aisle and the nuts sold next to the produce. Poor quality tahini is bitter and rancid. Good tahini is fresh and bright like almond butter. I have found that I come out ahead on cost even if I use canned chickpeas. And if I use the dried chickpeas (easy in the crockpot) it’s just embarrassing how much cheaper it is.

    My method/recipe is to dump all this in the food processor:
    Big can of chickpeas, rinsed well
    Fresh lemon zest
    Juice of one lemon
    tablespoon or more of good tahini (look at your healthfood store)
    Blend that up, then slowly drizzle in olive oil until you get the consistency you like. Season to taste with salt, pepper (black or cayenne,) cumin, paprika.

  8. Christine A says:

    I love that the first thing on your TJs list is “wine”! πŸ™‚

  9. way to ‘fake’ hummus… Chickpeas, garlic, some peanut or other nut butter (for tahini-like consistency), a bit of lemon juice, and some sesame oil. All you need is a food processor.

  10. Good for you on the paper plates! I buy them over Chrismas holidays so I don’t spend so much time in the kitchen washing and running/unloading the DW.
    Midde daughter made salad dressing yesterday with tahini and soy sauce and lemon juice. It was VERY tasty! But we spend a good deal each week on humus. Each daughter likes a different kind (they buy their own) and hubs likes the spicy ones.
    At the grocery store this morning the lady was marking down shampoo’s half price (the kinds they aren’t going to carry anymore). I bought enough to last us quite a while πŸ™‚

  11. My heart goes out to you on the dishwasher. I only have two kids–and they are older–but with cooking most meals, making most lunches, and baking, it’s amazing how many dishes we dirty. On the artisan bread, I’m curious how easy it is to fit the dough bowl in your fridge. I have a two-door fridge and generally shop once a week for food, so part of the time things are pretty full in there and I’m wondering if I could fit a bowl in. Do you use a medium or large-sized bowl for that? I’m intrigued about trying it, but wonder about space issues in the fridge.

    • @Mary G, it’s a fairly large Rubbermaid box from Walmart’s kitchen aisle. It takes up about half of the bottom shelf, but that is for 8 loaves of bread. Most families probably won’t need that much dough at a time.

  12. Had to laugh about the paper plates. Last fall our dishwasher decided to stop working–well it runs, just doesn’t clean anymore and is ancient so not worth fixing. This was just after replacing the fridge and looking at pending surgery. So I just washed by hand. After the surgery my dh asked about the dishwasher after finding out from the kids its been broken. Since it wasn’t the best time to replace it, he went out and stocked up on paper plates & bowls and plastic silverware. At least they were being fed and I didn’t have to worry about the kitchen (and my dishes) πŸ˜‰

  13. Our dishwasher died 2.5 years ago:( We have wanted to replace it but it’s hard to part with money on something that isn’t essential. But I’m so sick of doing dishes by hand so I’ve started saving “found” money for a new dishwasher. Hopefully we will be able to buy a new one in the next three months:)

    I hope you get your dishwasher situation figured out ASAP:)

  14. How you made it home without tearing open and eating half that bag of tortillas chips, I’ll never know. I’m such a sucker for those, it’s embarrassing. I struggle just to make it to the check-out lane.

    I know you didn’t intend on going to Costco, but have you thought about buying their milk? The Kirkland brand is organic and I think less than $10 for 2 gallons.

    We buy basil every other week and it’s such a shame that we can’t keep it alive. I’m told the only way to do it in my area is to keep it under your dryer vent, but then I fear my pizza sauce will smell like Bounce dryer sheets?!?! LOL – I’ll suffer the $2.

    • @Tiffany @ DontWastetheCrumbs, If you can grow basil outdoors during the summer, you can harvest the leaves in bulk several (or many) times each season. I chop the leaves and freeze them in ice cube trays with a little water. I pop the cubes out and put them in freezer bags. Then I have “fresh” basil all winter. One plant may be all you need. I grew 5 monsters last summer and I had basil coming out my ears…

    • @Tiffany @ DontWastetheCrumbs, yes, we typically buy Costco’s conventional milk. It’s hormone-free and a great deal.

      I’m keeping my basil inside at a window so I don’t mess with bugs. And I’m more likely to remember to use it.

  15. So, did you figure out a way to make the 5 Minute Artisan bread taste better? I know in your book review, it didnt sound like something you would be really investing any more time in…

    I shop weekly and spend about $100 for a family of five. I would REALLY like to be able to lower it but I don’t see it happening; I don’t coupon because I don’t really purchase anything that typically has coupons (i.e. Processed/boxes/canned/etc). But, I gotta figure out something! Last year, I was averaging $50-75 a trip… Would love to get back to that!

    • I’ve been testing out the other recipes in the book. The Olive Oil Dough is fabulous. We’ve had it for focaccia as well as pizza. Super yummy. And while the regular basic recipe is fairly plain, not like the baguette we buy at the French bakery, it is fitting the bill to replace store bread. At least for the last two weeks. We’ll see how long I can go. πŸ˜‰

  16. Carlene Courtney says:

    I just tried your recipe for Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake and it flopped for me. I noticed it had no baking powder but I thought maybe you knew that the recipe worked so I tried it. It didn’t rise and we could not eat it. I thought I followed the recipe but maybe I did something wrong. Would you mind checking the recipe just to be sure? THANKS!

  17. I saw you had vanilla on your list. Costco has by far the best price.

  18. My dishwasher has broken four times in the last year (and it is only a year old—grrrr) so I feel your pain! At least I have one less child!

  19. I hear you on the Artisan Bread! When I first began making it I thought, what’s all the hype about, its not THAT great. But I realized the more I practiced shaping my bread, and trying different doughs, the more I appreciated it’s simplicity and quickness. Have you tried the brioche yet? The author Zoe says her kids like it for their sandwich bread. Lately I’ve been using it for our hamburger buns, hoagie rolls, and cinnamon rolls. Next up hot dog buns.

    • @Nia, I’m hesitant to because it has so much egg in it. My daughter with the egg allergy can tolerate some egg in baking, but I try to be careful about how much. It looks great, though.

  20. SO JEALOUS of those tomatoes in your box. Oh me oh my. I’m drooling. We don’t have any homegrown ones in Chicago yet.

    Also, do you have a preferred sunbutter brand? I’m starting to branch out from good old peanut butter, and I know you go through a lot of it.

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