Last month I issued a challenge to spend less on groceries. My husband and I like the idea of rotating monthly challenges because it’s not too hard to focus on just one area for a month. In October, for instance, we pretty much only bought gas and groceries.
Now here’s what we learned from frugal grocery November!
How we did it
We saw how long we could go between grocery trips. When we bought groceries, we stuck to economical, whole ingredients like in-season veggies, oats, and some dairy. By going to the store less, we were tempted to buy less, and encouraged to get a little more creative with the ingredients we already had.
We used what was already on hand. In our case this was: salmon, canned beans, dry beans, brown rice, lentils, whole wheat pasta, flour, and frozen vegetables. I don’t tend to hoard or stock up on food. Usually our shelves are bare by the time grocery day comes around. I like the feeling of starting fresh each week with a clean fridge and fresh ingredients. So I was really surprised at how much unused food I had. My freezer was a treasure trove of good things. I guess I have a habit of putting things in there and forgetting about them. Not this month!
We ate what was in season. I utilized both frozen and fresh veggies to make various delicious soups and curries. Sweet potatoes, apples, celery, cranberries, kale, and russet potatoes were all in season this month, and that was reflected in the amazing prices at Aldi.
We didn’t worry about buying organic, but kept our focus on whole, unprocessed foods.
We didn’t buy any unnecessary extras. This was harder to define than I first thought, because I didn’t see any of my staple items as unnecessary. We stopped buying cereal, as it’s an expensive treat and not as filling as oatmeal. We didn’t buy any nuts or seeds. Usually we load up on these, but they’re often about $7 a bag.
We didn’t buy supplements or “superfoods.” We value our health, but this month we got our nutrition from simple green salads and whole food smoothies made with only fruits and vegetables. Next month we’ll likely restock our coconut oil and chia seeds.
We bought less coffee and zero alcohol. While I enjoy them both, they are luxuries I can give up. Beverages can be expensive and they don’t fill us up or sustain us. We already don’t buy soda or juice. We focused our spending on filling, nutritious, economical pantry staples instead.
We didn’t skimp on hospitality. This is something I believe strongly in. I do, however, believe you don’t need to spend a fortune to serve your guests delicious, healthy food! We had three bands come through our home, for which I made squash curry, a huge amount of vegan chili, and pancakes for breakfast. We also bought two turkeys this month – for the two potluck-style Thanksgivings we hosted.
We’re mostly meatless. Two turkeys was a ton of meat for us! We dabble in vegetarian cuisines from around the world – mostly Indian, Thai, and a little South African. It started as a way to save money and avoid factory-farmed meat, but since neither of us really miss or think about meat, it’s become our everyday choice. When we do buy it, a huge bonus of buying a whole chicken or turkey is all the amazing broth I get to make afterward. I just throw the bones in a large stockpot, simmer it all day, and strain. (I don’t recommend buying stock from the store as there are so many added ingredients, not to mention this version is free!)
We embraced rice and beans. I’m now convinced that all one needs on hand to make a great meal is dry beans, dry rice, and some good spices (chili powder, graham masala, turmeric, curry powder, crushed red pepper, and cumin are my top picks.) In an upcoming post I’ll share my favorite frugal recipes. The possibilities are vast, and can postpone going to the grocery at least a day.
We embraced pancakes. I make them from scratch using only flour, salt, baking soda, and water. (I blend in lots of kale for nutrition, but that’s optional and results in fun green pancakes!) While they aren’t cheap, a little real butter and real maple syrup go a long way! This meal has recently become our go-to Sunday afternoon tradition. I can adjust the quantities for any number of guests we might have.
I let nothing go to waste. A friend gave me beans she didn’t want, there was leftover soup after a potluck at church, as well as bread that was on its last leg, and we accepted some Friendsgiving leftovers. There’s no shame in this. It’s okay to rescue food from getting thrown out. It’s recycling and saving resources! We took some, and we also gave some by donating canned goods to the Boy Scouts who went Scouting for Food in our neighborhood.
We ran out of things. It kind of rocked my world that it was okay to run out of flaxseed, raisins, and apples. Even bread and eggs are okay to run out of, guys! There was still food in the house! We will get back to purchasing many of these items because they are healthy and we like them, but I’m no longer traumatized by the idea of going without. If we ran out of bananas before we needed anything else at the grocery, we didn’t make a special banana trip. We managed.
So that’s how we got here. Here’s the results of our efforts:
How much we usually spend
Josh and I have kept a budget spreadsheet ever since we got married. This helps us keep track of our spending and be on the same page about our financial goals.
We’re a family of four – one toddler and one breastfed baby. We normally give ourselves a rough estimate of $100 per week on groceries – $400 for the month. It’s worth noting that we don’t eat out on a regular basis, so this generally accounts for all of our food. My goal was to get it down to $75 per week, or $300 for the month.
Our average over the past 6 months was $373.33. Not bad, but we knew we could do better.
How much we spent this month
All told, our total at the end of this month was $163.92!
That’s $41 a week.
That’s 56% less than we were averaging.
I’m pleasantly surprised. (Imagine how we could do in a month that didn’t call for turkeys!) I’m definitely inspired to do this again.
For the month.
All our food.
No eating out.
And we aren’t even completely out of everything! As I write this, there’s lots I want to restock (peanuts, milk, butter, fruit). Snacking options are slim, but I have about six dinners I can make without going to the store.
The main thing I took away was just how luxurious our lives are. Even when we’re being super frugal, we have so many choices. It’s fun to do this by choice, but everyday there’s people who scrimp by on less out of necessity. I’m ever so thankful for the little things, like deciding what I want to eat for dinner, and never having to be hungry between meals. How we take these things for granted!
This month of frugal groceries will allow us to give more generously in December, and finish off the year with an extra dose of generosity. Josh and I don’t save for the sake of saving – we save to reach larger goals. One of these goals is sharing with others.
I don’t think we’ll do an official frugal challenge in the month of December. This month, I’ll simply ask everyone to focus on giving generously from the heart. This time of year isn’t about being frugal as much as it’s about being generous with our blessings. Have fun finding creative ways to give out of your abundance! As we learned from this challenge: you’ve probably got more than you realize.
How about you? How did you do? I know we all have different size families and live in different areas, but maybe you can reduce your percentage too. What are your frugal grocery tips? What’s the least you’ve managed to spend on groceries for your family?