Monday, June 8, 2009

Eating healthy is expensive - or is it possible I don't know how to shop?

Ever since I read about The Women in Red on, I’ve been paying attention to my grocery bills. I spend a lot of money on groceries each month, and no matter where I shop, I can’t seem to bring those bills down.

I alternate between shopping at Winco, Bel-Air, Safeway, and Trader Joe’s. There are farmer’s markets this time of year that I need to take advantage of, but I keep forgetting to go. I shop at Winco for “big” shopping – a trend that I learned from childhood (because my parents got paid once a month (as do I) my mom did “big” shopping in the beginning of the month, buying $200-$300 worth of grocery staples, and shopping weekly for perishable items like milk and produce). I live very close to a Safeway and a Bel-Air, so I do tend to stop in there for quick things or when I shop on Sundays to get lunch items for the week.

At the beginning of this month, I took my mom to Winco for the first time. I’ve been telling her for years that Winco and Super Wal-Mart have great grocery prices, but for as long as I can remember, she has shopped at Lucky’s (until they were no more), Bel-Air and Safeway. She has recently retired, so she decided that she’d better start cutting back on expenses and decided to give Winco a try.

We had a GREAT time. Seriously, at Winco. We were there for almost two and a half hours, because we went aisle by aisle, and we had to keep stopping so that Mom could exclaim over the prices. “April, would you look at this?! This is $4.00 at the store, and here’s it $1.99!” She was hilarious, because she stopped to do that probably three to four times per aisle.

When we checked out, she had an almost-overflowing cart of items, and spent just under $150 (needless to say, she was ecstatic). Inspired by Mom’s good fortune, I went back to Winco this month to do some shopping. I went last Sunday and meant to only shop for the week; however, I did end up buying several items that would last multiple weeks (meat mostly, plus other things I could freeze like bread). I had about a half-cart of items, and spent just over $150. On groceries for the week, and some meat.

Yes, $150.00.

My problem that time was that I had a list, but I didn’t go by it. I usually make a list and then get to the store, and instead of following my list, I go aisle-by-aisle, in case I’ve forgotten to put anything on my list.

This week I didn’t need much, just fruit and veggies for the week, plus some lunchmeat. It was late last night when I headed to the store, so I just went down the street to Safeway. I actually hate Safeway – when I lived in Midtown there were two Safeways within six or so blocks of my house, and there were no other grocery options unless you crossed over the river and went to Super Wal-mart, which was not a “quick trip to the store.” I don’t know if I don’t like them just because I was forced to shop there for so long, or what, but they don’t seem to have the best prices or great specials.

Anyway, I digress. So I headed to Safeway just to buy fruits and veggies for the week, plus lunchmeat. I didn’t have a list, but to my credit I didn’t go aisle-by-aisle, either. I think that I just don’t know how to go grocery shopping; I left the store with $40.31 worth of groceries in my cart (not even two full bags), and according to my receipt, that was after I’d saved $9.39.

Now remember – there are TWO of us in my household. Just two. Well, and Bruiser, but we don’t let him eat people-food because he is slightly bulimic, so it would just be a waste of money.

Here’s what I bought yesterday, along with their “club-card” prices…maybe someone can tell me what I’m doing wrong? I’m really trying hard to buy enough groceries so that I’m prepared for the week and will continue eating healthy; I’m focusing mostly on whole, non-processed foods, which is more expensive, but hello, I need to lose weight and get in shape.

Mission Whole Wheat Tortilla, Fajita Size 3.79
Organic Large Brown Eggs 3.99
Good Housekeeping (okay, I know I shouldn’t have bought that…) 2.50
Nectarines (2.08lb at 2.99lb) 6.22
Apples (2.73lb at 1.99lb) 5.43
Carrots (3.02lb at .99lb) 2.99
Yellow Bell Pepper (.62lb at 1.99lb) 1.23
Tofu 1.5
Romaine Hearts 2.5
Strawberries 5
Ham 5
Bag credit (2 bags @ .03/bag) -0.06

-.06 (what a lame credit, .03 cents!?)

Grand total: $40.31

That just seems like a lot. I only bought five or six apples, which won’t even last us the week. Ditto the nectarines. The bell pepper will go on two or three salads, plus maybe some for dipping. The strawberries will last maybe three days between the two of us.

I should note – I used to despise fruit, so it’s huge for me to be eating (and enjoying) fruit now. Am I just enjoying the most expensive fruit around? Are there cheaper fruits I could be packing in my lunch?

I need help! How do you all plan your weekly meals? What do you make for lunches, and what do you make for dinners. Perhaps I suck at meal planning, and that translates into sucking at grocery shopping. Maybe my lifetime of eating packaged foods, convenience lunches, and Pasta-roni dinners has just made me blind to how much real, fresh food costs.

What do you think?


  1. Meal planning is the way to cut down costs, big time. I also plan what I'm going to make with the leftovers, like making chicken one night and then a casserole the next night (or like how I'm going to make a casserole out of the leftover hamburgers from your mom's party). Casseroles are not healthy, but when you're looking to save money they're huge. You can make them not so bad, either.

    So yeah, meal planning. And then don't let yourself buy things that aren't on the list. I find that I spend more and I eat more when I just roam the aisles and buy whatever looks good. Oreos always do, you know? Another option is using because they will deliver, so there's not the danger of the impulse buy. I usually wait until they have a free delivery, about once a month.

    Potatoes are cheap, rice is cheap, fruits and veggies should be.. sounds like you're on the right track. I just wouldn't go as much.

    Another hint: Organic means expensive. Buy regular stuff. Trader Joes, though fabulous, isn't really cheap either. Plus you go in there and then you see all the frou-frou stuff that sounds healthy, so you end up spending more money. Nugget is the same for us.

    I've found that I don't throw out as much food if I package it up faster--put it in small lunch containers right after we eat dinner, or bag up little mixes for myself of almonds, dried cranberries, and a few choc chips... I never want to eat leftovers when they're sitting there in a big dish, but if I can pop a small tupperware in the microwave at work, I'll eat it. Leftovers mean you end up not wasting as much... or for me, it does. When we eat a lot of leftovers our bill is much cheaper for the month.

    Another thing that helps us save money now is that we almost never buy meat at the grocery store--always Costco, and then we split it up in ziplocs to freeze it. Much cheaper. If you don't buy meat each time, your grocery bills should go down--it's one of the most expensive things.

    Anyway, ramble ramble ramble... sorry. I've just been thinking about this too, and I was just sitting down to plan out what we're eating this week. Tonight it's dijon chicken. :)

  2. Another thing you can do is return your bottles to the store for their redemption value. I just started doing this today and I made 82c on the bottles I brought. Like you I try to bring my bags to the store, so just fill up a bag with your bottles and bring them too. Its not much, but it helps and I think it gets sorted better than bulk recycling. Anyway, for a quick fix, stop eating strawberries.


Do you want to leave a comment? Don't be shy, go ahead! It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside to know someone is reading my little old blog.