Is it really possible to feed one person for $27 a week? That’s what one reader asked after I wrote about trimming my grocery bill last week.
She was flabbergasted:
“I read your column every week with the greatest of interest,” Christiane from New Jersey emailed. “It is fantastic to see that there are people in this country conscious about their spending. But, I am amazed: $27 per week for groceries???!!!?? What do you eat and how many people do you feed for $27 per week? And my next question would be — do you honestly like the food you buy for such little money? And does the $27 include warm dishes every day? I really cannot believe it. I would consider myself very conscious about spending, but when it comes to groceries, unfortunately I only like the expensive stuff and I am not willing to substitute anything I like with something I don’t like. I also would never substitute fresh and healthy food with canned or otherwise prepared stuff and may face the bill later in health care costs because of unhealthy nutrition. And when you drive around to get the weekly offer in each grocery store in your area, did you consider your time and the fuel you spend on this? I am really, really interested in what your secret is! Thank you so much for revealing it (I bet a lot of people are asking the same question)!”
I’m happy to share more details about my grocery habits if it helps other save!
I aim to feed one person (myself) on $27 a week. Some weeks I go over. And this does not include any beer or wine I buy. I eat mostly fresh food and a lot of home-cooked meals. I almost never get take out but I do occasionally graze for dinner if I don’t feel like cooking. I also love the food I eat! In fact, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about what I am going to have for my next meal. I really like food, and, yes, my meal plan includes warm dishes every day, though sometimes that means re-heating leftovers. I do eat canned food, but usually only for tomatoes, beans, and occasionally corn. I also save and clip coupons for groceries.
In terms of cheap versus expensive food, I seek out value. In other words, I don’t equate expensive food with quality food. There are a lot of great values at off-the-beaten-path grocers, Trader Joe’s, and mainstream chains.
Here are my top tips for keeping your grocery bill on a budget:
1. Be flexible with your list.
The main thing I do to keep my grocery tab down is to shop by price and quality, not by a pre-set list. For instance, instead of putting down “broccoli and asparagus,” I’ll put “vegetables — 2” on my list. Buying in-season produce is usually the best bet. When I get to the store, I’ll see what looks like the best value. I do the same thing for fruit and meat. Then I put together meals and snacks based on what I purchase.
2. Switch up with your sources.
I shop at different stores. I stock up on nuts, wine, and butter at Trader Joe’s, then buy fresh produce at my favorite local grocer. I try to only buy groceries one day a week, but if I run
out of produce I’ll make a food run with a pre-determined spending limit of $5 or $10.
3. Be careful with perishables.
I try to only buy 1 or 2 bread products each week so that I eat everything before it goes bad. Instead of buying pre-made snacks, I buy healthy food that makes great snacks, like nuts and fruit or veggies and hummus.
4. Don’t buy junk food.
I don’t buy junk food because if it’s in the house, I’ll eat it. That means no soda or pre-packaged cookies. When I break down it’s to buy candy or ice cream.
5. Make things from scratch.
I follow my mother’s rule about sweets: if you want cookies, bake them.
6. Grow a green thumb.
I eat from the garden. Instead of buying orange juice, I eat fresh oranges off my tree. Same with lemons, limes, herbs, and lettuces.
7. Stock your pantry with sale items.
I have pantry where I can stash bargain-priced canned goods, onions, potatoes, and yams.
8. Cut costs with carbs.
I eat starches that cost almost nothing, including potatoes, yams, and rice.
9. Look for pennywise proteins.
I get a lot of my protein from more affordable non-meat sources, like beans (hummus), eggs (hard-boiled eggs make a great snack!), and nuts.
What are your tips for saving at the grocery store without sacrificing quality? We want to hear from you!