A lot of the traditional wisdom on saving money on food doesn't apply to me. I rarely see coupons for the food I buy and while I find the Santa Fe Farmer's Market wonderful, I don't think I've ever seen a single bargain. I also don't have storage space for a lot of bulk items. I'm not organized enough to keep a price book but I do keep old receipts so I can look back and figure out how much individual items are.
My current grocery budget is $600 a month for two people who rarely eat out. About $50 of that is fresh greens for Bubbles and that total also includes non-food items such as shampoo, paper towels, and all our supplements. We generally eat oatmeal for breakfast and include big salads with dinner. I also have a green smoothie every day.
I decided to simplify meal planning so DH and I chose two week's worth of meals and we just rotate through those. The benefit of this is that I'm not buying all sorts of random strange ingredients for unknown reasons. I know specifically what I need for those two week's worth of meals. In fact, I made a list of all those ingredients used in those meals so I can refer to it when making the weekly grocery list.
I can still go over budget with this method. Another measure in place is the running list I keep on the refrigerator that lets me know how much I've spent so far each month. If I run rampant at the beginning of each month I have to rein it in at the end of the month.
Fruits and vegetables are probably my biggest expense and I think they are too important to limit. We are in a year-round organic CSA (photos on this page show various CSA boxes) but lately I've stopped getting the boxes every week. I generally don't waste any of our lovely CSA boxes but there are weeks we get produce I probably wouldn't buy at the grocery store. For instance, lately the boxes have been including lots of oranges but I'm seriously craving apples. So then I'd pay for the CSA box and still have to buy apples. Now I only get the CSA boxes if the items are foods I really want for that week. Our CSA boxes have also recently increased in price - I think they are currently close to $35 a week.
Another strategy I'm trying is to buy fruits and vegetables at one of the local produce markets. None of the items are organic so I focus on the items that are not on the EWG's Dirty Dozen list. I also buy the inexpensive organic fruits and vegetables such as carrots and cabbage. I often purchase frozen veggies and fruits since they can be cheaper and of course last a lot longer.
I have to limit my baking. I occasionally try to price out the cost of a batch of cookies or a cake and the results are always unpleasant. I currently let myself bake one thing each weekend but try to focus on fruit or soy yogurt for dessert instead.
I order from the online retailer iHerb often. I'm purposely not going to link to iHerb because they give folks who refer them a $5 discount and that isn't the reason I'm recommending them. I'm recommending them because I save a lot of money. I like using iHerb for those items that are a bit pricier in general like agave nectar and nuts and vitamin B-12 fortified nutritional yeast. Their prices are usually very
good, you can easily search for the best price, and they give you free shipping if your order is over $40. You can choose one free sample with each order and if you start ordering from them regularly you will get a special customer status and save another 5% on everything.
PICKING MY BATTLES
I'm trying to figure out what items are worth paying the highest price and what items are not worth it. For instance, i'm a huge fan of the Frontier herbs and spices. I pay more for them than some of the generic
spices at the grocery store. iHerb sells some of Frontier herbs and I also find them in bulk at the natural foods store. On the other hand, I really can't see much of a difference between grocery store whole
wheat pasta and some brand that costs more than $4 a pound at the natural foods co-op. So there I'd buy the cheaper one.
I would love to hear from others on methods they use to save money on food!