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Grocery Geek: What We Spent in September

Want a peek into our grocery cart? Here’s how I’m grocery shopping and feeding eight people on the cheap.

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So, do you remember back in February when I shared how I had done a grocery store showdown, pricing out some of my favorite items at four different stores to see who really had the best prices? Well, the results shocked me. I had no idea that I was wasting so much money at Trader Joe’s and Walmart. I resolved then to focus my shopping at Costco and ALDI, the clear winners in that contest.

However, life gets busy and our year has been BUSY BUSY BUSY. While trying to focus my main shops at Costco and ALDI, I still found myself making multiple stops during the week at a variety of different stores. I had a feeling that all those stops were having an exponentially negative effect on my grocery spending.

This month of September found us back in school and into a regular routine. Routine is my jam. I love routine, so I went all in with my kitchen routine. I made a point to tidy the food storage once a week, check what we had on hand already for ingredients, plan our meals, and grocery shop like a ninja.

Part of the routine this month has included my girls and I trekking to ALDI on Sundays to load up on our basics, while my husband makes a stop midweek at Costco. There’ve been a small handful of emergency stops for things I forgot or didn’t buy enough of, mainly at Sprouts because it’s close and has usually good prices — though dubious quality, on the produce that I’m usually running out to get. Plus, they carry buttermilk which ALDI and Costco do not.

You’ll notice one stop at Trader Joe’s, down from eleventy-million in the past. They do have the best pricing on a small handful of items, like sunbutter, Asian ingredients, etc. I figure it will be a monthly stop from here on out.

My routine also included planning meals that my family could help prepare. The two younger boys, 13 and 15, are doing Food Science this year for school which includes meal prep twice a week. Having their help has been amazing for carrying out my meal plans.

And on the grocery geek front? What does mainly shopping at ALDI with a little Costco thrown in for good measure do for us? We saved almost $500 this month on groceries! I’m stunned! Not only have I saved time making one big grocery haul each week, but we’ve saved a CHUNK OF CHANGE. Oh my!

Mind you, I’m not 100% satisfied with my ALDI purchases. Some things don’t taste as good as our favorite brands, but some things taste better! Many items they offer are eliminated by virtue of a nut/peanut-cross-contamination issue, but we’ve discovered some great new snack items … that we probably don’t need. Doppel Keks, I’m looking at you. And, no, it’s not all organic, GMO-free, but….wow.

And to quantify, it’s not just where I shop, it’s how I shop that makes the big impact. Savvy meal planning, using what we already had, and shopping at ALDI is buying me some wiggle room to splurge on other things. It took about a year since my local ALDI opened to really get the hang of it, but I am a believer, particularly now that I’ve found their boneless, skinless chicken breast blows my previous go-to out of the water. Regular price is $1.89/lb; on sale: $1.49!

In other news, we started the month with the freezer brimming full and it’s still got a couple layers to work through. It hasn’t had a good thaw since January; not sure I should hold off through the holidays, so I’m hoping to eat it down soon so that we can unplug it and wipe it down. We’ll see. Maybe in October?

Also, I’m back to making my own yogurt, thus the powdered milk purchase at Sprouts this month. And I’m going to try to culture my own buttermilk so I can stay out of the grocery stores. I bought a culture from Amazon (see below). I haven’t been able to try it yet, but will do so in the next week or so. I crunched the numbers and if we like it, it will eliminate my need to buy it. Thanks to one of you who gave me that idea months ago.

And yes, you can do milk and vinegar/lemon juice as a substitute, but I don’t like it as well. For baking, yogurt and milk is a great sub for buttermilk, but for salad dressings? There’s nothing like the real deal.

The Grocery Geek report

For those of you new here, Grocery Geek is my regular report of how I shopped for groceries, what deals I found, and my running total of how we’re sticking to a budget for groceries.

Here’s the rundown on my shopping this week. As you read, keep in mind who and how I’m shopping:

My grocery shopping profile

To update you on my grocery geekiness:Grocery Geek: What We Spent in January

  • I’m feeding eight people, ages 53, 45, 20, 16, 15, 13, 10, and 9. Five of those people are males. They eat A LOT!
  • I’m shooting for a budget of $1200, per the USDA food cost reports the last time I added up for people of our demographics. I live in Southern California where produce is cheap, but meat and dairy are not.
  • I’m trying to feed us mostly unprocessed foods, with a few “healthier” convenience items thrown in and a junk food splurge* here and there.
  • I work at home and teach five of our kids, so I don’t have as much time for fiddling in the kitchen as I would like.
  • I no longer use coupons on a regular basis, though I do love the coupons that Ralphs offers.
  • I have at least ten grocery stores within 5.5 miles of my house. It is easy (for better or for worse) to stop at several stores to get the best deals.
  • We mostly eat at home. My husband and college age son often pack lunch and breakfast to work, but sometime have lunch out. My husband and I enjoy a date once a week. FishPapa takes one child out to “dinner with dad” once a week. We eat out as a family on average once a week.
  • BEFORE YOU JUDGE ME FOR EXTRAVAGANCE, please read this post.

What we spent in September

Costco

  • romaine lettuce $3
  • Tillamook cheddar $8.99
  • Tillamook pepper jack $8

Total spent $20

ALDI

  • eggs $0.54
  • kerrygold butter $2.85
  • taco shells $0.99
  • diced green chiles $0.55
  • fajita tortillas $1.99
  • fruit spread $1.99
  • crushed red pepper flakes $0.99
  • organic ACV $1.99
  • salami $5.99
  • corn tortillas 80-ct $2.29
  • whipping cream $1.99
  • cilantro $0.48
  • mustard $0.59
  • diced tomatoes $1.69
  • applesauce $1.49
  • carrots $0.89
  • red peppers $0.75 each
  • iceberg $0.98
  • cabbage $0.48/lb
  • large seedless watermelon $2.49
  • chips $1.99
  • sour cream $1.29
  • Gruyere $4.99
  • sugar cones $1.19
  • cucumber $0.98 each
  • Brie $2.99
  • strawberries $0.89/lb
  • hamburger buns $0.79
  • ww hamburger buns $1.29
  • bs chicken breast $1.89/lb (Yay! It’s the regular price!)
  • milk $2.29
  • woven wheats $1.69
  • mini bagels $1.69
  • plain bagels $1.79
  • roma tomatoes $0.49/lb
  • apples $1.28/lb
  • bananas $0.39/lb
  • broccoli $1.28
  • limes $0.10/ea
  • sparkling water $3.09 with CRV

Total spent $106

Sprouts

  • cilantro 2/$1
  • cucumbers $0.79
  • apples $1.29/lb
  • green onions 3/$1

Total spent $4

Sprouts

  • plucots $0.98/lb
  • yellow and red bell peppers $0.88/ea
  • zucchini $1.49/lb
  • apples $0.88/lb
  • nectarines $0.98/lb
  • powdered milk $9.49
  • raisins $3.49
  • yogurt $3.49
  • milk $2.19

Total spent $28

Costco

  • potstickers $10.69
  • milk $4.39
  • ham $11.62
  • cheddar $8.99
  • breakfast sausage $13.99
  • snap peas $4.49
  • 6 bell peppers $5.99
  • cucumbers $3.29
  • bagels $10.98
  • Pirate’s Booty $3.49
  • tortilla chips $3.49
  • cereal bars $8.79
  • mayonnaise $6.99
  • baguette $4.99
  • bread $3.99
  • hamburger buns $2.19
  • diced tomatoes $6.49
  • spaghetti $9.89
  • sourdough $3.69
  • English muffins $6.79
  • tortillas $3.69

Total spent $142

ALDI

  • black beans $0.89
  • pinto beans $0.89
  • tomato sauce $0.29
  • sparkling water $0.59
  • applesauce cups $1.49
  • frozen orange juice $1.19
  • sugar $1.89
  • pears $2.89/3#
  • melon $0.79
  • hot sauce $1.49 – $1.89
  • wheat crackers $1.69
  • chocolate chips $1.79
  • russet potatoes $2.28/10#
  • eggs $0.54
  • frozen blueberries $1.89
  • grapes $0.79/lb
  • chicken breast $1.89/lb
  • whipping cream $1.99
  • celery $0.88
  • tomatoes $0.19/lb
  • sweet potatoes $0.59/lb
  • orange juice $3.49 (for sick kid)
  • chocolate milk $1.89 (for too-skinny kid)
  • carrots $0.89/lb

Total spent $88

Sprouts

  • ginger root $0.60
  • apples $0.88/lb
  • tomatoes $1.49/lb
  • buttermilk $2.69

Total spent $8

Trader Joe’s

  • cookies $1.99
  • caramels $4.99
  • ginger paste $1.99
  • sesame oil $2.69
  • soy sauce $2.99
  • rice vinegar $1.99
  • pickles $2.99
  • minced garlic $1.69
  • cereal $1.99 to $2.49
  • sunbutter $4.99
  • milk $2.99

Total spent $34

Sprouts

  • cilantro $1/2
  • cabbage $0.69/lb
  • scallions $1/2
  • jalapeno peppers 10/$1
  • lime juice $4.49
  • buttermilk $2.69

Total spent $11

Costco

  • milk $4.39
  • butter $11.95
  • hummus singles $6.49
  • Tillamook cheddar $8.99
  • turkey breast $17.84
  • avocado oil $7.99
  • olive oil $14.99
  • guacamole singles $10.39
  • amazing uncured bacon $19.59
  • sourdough $3.69

Total spent $107

ALDI

  • bananas $0.44/lb
  • tomatoes $0.39/lb
  • bell peppers $0.75/ea
  • spring mix $3.79
  • feta $1.99
  • sour cream $1.29
  • org cinnamon $1.99
  • chips $1.99
  • eggs $0.54
  • salsa verde $1.99
  • sparkling water $0.59
  • cookies $1.99
  • lasagna noodles $1.49
  • pretzel crackers $1.69
  • jalapeno peppers $0.68/lb
  • wheat crackers $1.69
  • applesauce cups $1.49
  • round crackers $1.69
  • mushrooms $1.95
  • juice $2.69
  • cereal $1.39 to $1.99
  • whipping cream $1.99
  • egg noodles $1.49
  • ground turkey $2.49
  • b/s chicken breast $1.89/lb
  • sirloin tip roast $3.99/lb
  • 3# bags frozen fruit $6.99

Total spent $136

ALDI

  • cereal $1.39 to $1.99
  • crushed tomatoes $0.99
  • eggs $0.54
  • canned beans $0.89
  • tomato paste $0.39
  • baby spinach $2.49
  • salsa verde $1.499
  • shredded cheese $2.99
  • pepperoni $2.19
  • apples $2.49/3# bag
  • jalapenos $0.68/lb
  • mushrooms $1.25
  • pears $3.49/3#
  • cilantro $0.48
  • broccoli crowns $1.28
  • cucumber $0.98
  • fresh pickles $3.79
  • b/s chicken breast $1.49/lb
  • milk $2.29
  • gourmet pasta $1.69
  • whipping cream $1.99
  • red onions $0.68/lb
  • tomatoes $0.49/lb
  • poblano peppers $1.29/lb
  • cookies $1.89 to $1.99
  • bread $1.49
  • round crackers $1.69
  • hot dog buns $0.79
  • chips $1.99
  • fruit spread $1.99

Total spent $111.00

Amazon

Total spent $9

Total spent in September: $774!!!

  • January $356
  • February $1015
  • March $1336
  • April $1347
  • May $390
  • June $1200
  • July $1354
  • August $1405
  • September

Total spent YTD: $9177

Monthly average $1020

Read those numbers and weep, baby. That has never happened in a non-pantry challenge month. I’m really curious to see how low we can go in October. AND, what I can do with an extra $500!

How’s YOUR grocery geeking going?

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Comments

  1. Beachmomma22 says:

    Gosh now wondering if driving the 18 miles might be worth it. I never understood TJs seems pricey to me for a regular trip. I usually do sprouts and costco with a little walmart thrown in. Now I’m wondering if I take my next list straight to Aldi?! How is the produce? I’ve only been in the store quickly a couple of times like I said it’s not close.

    • I’ve heard that your mileage may vary depending on the store and the day of the week. I’ve gotten better produce at ALDI than at Sprouts, at least here in North County San Diego, with much better prices. It’s taken me awhile to find the things we like to make it worth it. I’m driving about ten miles to get there. Not sure if it’d be worth the gas to drive twice that. Do you ever go that way for other errands?

  2. Wow! I had been in the habit of Aldi’s but I had forgotten in the last few months. Thanks for the kick in the right direction!

  3. I noticed that you buy Kerrygold butter, we love Kerrygold! Our Costco in VA carries it. I don’t know if it’s a regional thing, but it might be worth checking out. Love your posts!!!

    • I’ve only bought it once. Jury is still out wondering if it’s worth the extra cost, even at Costco or ALDI.

      • IMO, it’s not worth it if you are putting it into things (like baked goods) but if it is something you are going to easily taste (like bread, rolls, even on some veggies) then the flavor really is amazing.

  4. Have you compared Aldi canned goods prices with Costco’s canned goods? Such as black beans, garbanzo beans, corn, tomatoes, etc…. I wonder who has the cheaper price on those items….

    • I’m the nontraditional food shopper. I haven’t been inside a retail grocery store (Kroger’s, Safeway, or Walmart) all year. I shop Sprout’s occasionally but Costco provides the bulk of our organic produce purchases. My normal Costco monthly shopping excursion runs $200-250 with a much smaller produce refill run (lettuce, cucumbers, fresh fruit) two weeks later that’s $20-25. That’s the extent of what I spend at retail grocery stores every month.

      Zaycon had a sale. My chicken purchase (Sept) I paid $1.46/lb for boneless/skinless chicken breasts so I bought 80 lbs to freeze. (I already had 80 lbs or so frozen but I couldn’t pass up the sale price. I had sticker shock at Costco’s bacon prices. I knew bacon was going up but I had to swallow hard to buy that 4 lb package of Kirkland bacon at $16.50. I paid $2.96/lb for 36 lbs of Zaycon bacon but it won’t arrive until January. Costco carries the same applewood smoked ham so I buy it there instead of Zaycon that way I don’t have to take up room in my freezer.

      All my spices, flour, honey, salt, maple syrup etc come through my organic buyer’s club so aren’t included in the Costco total. I spent $25 on Frontier spices (wholesale price). I paid $48/gallon for maple syrup directly from the Vermont maple guy. (I only buy maple syrup 1-2 times a year.) Local honey is $13/qt or $46/gallon but I passed on honey this month. I have 200 lbs of organic apples coming mid October from a local organic orchard. I paid $33 per 40 lbs. I’ll probably need another few cases to finish canning but our group will be buying more apples through early December. I make a year’s worth of apple sauce, apple butter, and apple pie filling. I spent $150 on heritage fruit trees and blackberry/red raspberry canes to plant at a friend’s farm who has started her own organic orchard. In a few years all my fruit needs will be free thanks to this small one time investment.

  5. Thank you for validating my Costco shopping. We live in Washington state and can have milk delivered to our door and a CSA delivered to our door. And sometimes I wonder if I could do better making myself go to Fred Meyer (Kroger) more regularly. But now I am not going to feel guilty. Plus, I really am doing my best to manage getting good deals with managing my lack of time.

  6. Lynn from NC Outer Banks says:

    That is a pretty remarkable savings, Jessica. $6000/per year. WOW. That could help bankroll your next trip abroad. I don’t have an Aldi (or Costco) near me but whenever we travel to an area where Aldi is located, we always make a stop on our return. (My husband is very indulgent of me!) Because we are traveling, I’ve never been able to really take advantage of fresh, perishable items like the boneless chicken breasts so I’m jealous, but love shopping there. We are supposed to be getting a Lidl which I hear is similar to Aldi, so we’ll see. Definitely an interesting post. Thanks!

  7. No Aldi’s anywhere near here. Sigh. I know I would be able to save money shopping at Aldi’s but evidently, everyone else in the SF Bay Area doesn’t need to have a budget! There are many pluses to living here but the biggest drawback is it’s very expensive!

  8. So my “grocery” bill is a combined list of food and toiletries, including pull-ups, cleaning supplies, and vitamins. How much do you spend on that side of the budget? Just curious because I’m always wondering if my budget is too high. Thank you!!

    • Since I base my food budget target on the USDA food cost reports, I don’t include cleaning supplies, toiletries, or health items into my grocery budget. Household supplies are averaging about $100/month.

  9. Judie Ashford says:

    I’ll be anxious to hear how you like the buttermilk starter. The price seems like a lot to pay, though. I’ve always just bought a carton of commercial buttermilk, and used my own full fat milk to make buttermilk. It’s dead easy – just mix in some buttermilk with the regular milk, and let it sit on the counter for about 24 to 36 hours. Then refrigerate. It keeps forever, and you can keep using your own as the starter for the next batch – just like yogurt.

    Been making yogurt since the 60’s. It was not readily available then, and now the price is out of sight, so am glad to have this ability. I use a non-electric thermal cooker, with hot water as a ballast, to make a quart in 3.5 hours. Again, I use whole milk, starter from a previous batch, and a good scoop of powdered whole milk.

    No need to strain to get good, thick “Greek” yogurt. We eat it every day on our cooked, whole-grain cereal. Can be thinned to use in salad dressings, or other pour-over sauces. Best if you make up just enough for current use, rather than storing it for days and days.

  10. It looks from your shopping lists that your Aldi has a much larger produce department than mine. I went today (usually go once a month) to stock up on snack foods and a few other things. I know…junk we don’t need, but at least I’m saving money. Lol. The eggs were about three times the price of yours and had short dates so I passed them over. They were also out of a few things I like to get there, which is always disappointing because it’s in the next town over and an effort to go.

  11. wow, great numbers this month!! That’s interesting about your price comparison. I was a devotee of Amy Dacyczyn, who wrote The Tightwad Gazette in the 90s. She described herself as a frugal zealot, with a goal of raising 6 kids on a limited income. One thing she strongly recommended was a price book – keeping track of prices on items at different stores. I used to keep my receipts to compare prices, and it was really helpful.

  12. The plus side of having over a week of knowing a major hurricane is barreling toward you and going to take out your power for who knows how long is that you have great incentive to get as much of the fridge cleared out as possible. Basically, if it wasn’t simply a condiment, we ate it. I then had a nice, beautiful, nearly-empty fridge, and I took the opportunity to take out everything that was left and completely clean out the whole thing. The shelves, the drawers, the where-did-this-goo-come-from that was under the crisper drawers. It was glorious. But… an empty fridge is not how we operate around here. Opening the door to find food and discovering nothing was there was just no good. Thus, shopping we went! I pulled some things out of the freezer to start using up and bought a whole bunch of perishables. Thankfully some were on decent sales. That still just massacred the budget for this month, though. Persisting in the pantry challenge in a general way means I’m still under budget for the year to date total but not nearly as nicely has I had been. I’ll have to try to tighten up again now. Plus the fridge is a little over-filled since there was a wee bit of “shopping spree!” mentality that was indulged a little too well. Probably having the kid along with his own impulse purchase requests didn’t help any either. 🙂

    We do not have an Aldi so we get most of our food from Costco. When we did this fridge restock, we went to the regular grocery store for things Costco either doesn’t carry or offers in quantities that we could not possibly use up in time. I took the kid with me and we spent probably an hour roaming up and down the aisles, comparing prices of things that we know from Costco. Even if they are not things we purchase or use, we still have a pretty decent idea of the costs of many of those items and it was mind-boggling. I do occasionally wonder if the cost of the membership and driving across town is worth it; this trip assured me that it absolutely is.

  13. Awesome job! We save so much by shopping Aldi 1x per week. We then do Costco 1-2x per month and fill in with the sales from Giant Eagle.

  14. I noticed you don’t buy a lot of ‘lunch meat’. That cost is high for us. Any suggestions how to cut that out for my meat loving people?

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