Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half

It’s true! You can reduce your grocery bill, and enjoy better and healthier food in the bargain.

| February/March 2009

Egg basket

If you purchase eggs and other animal products, opt for those that come from humanely raised, pastured animals.


Everybody eats, and what you eat is getting more expensive all the time. By September 2008, food prices had risen 13 percent in just three years — to about $165 a week, or $8,580 a year on average for two-income families that include two to three people. Can you really cut a grocery bill that size n half? You bet you can, and in the process you will also improve the overall quality and security of your food supply.

It should come as no surprise that cooking at home is a huge step in the right direction, and it may require less time than you think. Growing some of your own food is a big help, too, whether you are growing a garden or investing some volunteer time with a community garden, school garden or CSA (community-supported agriculture, a system where members receive produce directly from a farm). But first there is another matter to address, which most people find about as pleasurable as stepping on the scale. You must take an honest look at where your food dollars are going now.

If you save your receipts from groceries and eating out for a few weeks, you’ll have all the data you need to start making plans. As you study your bread crumb trail of information, make notes on your buying patterns. These tend to vary wildly from one household to another. When a team of researchers from the University of Utah analyzed the food buying patterns of more than 10,000 Americans, they found that only about 30 percent fell into the desirable “balanced” diet category — people who tended to buy fresh food to cook and eat at home, with occasional meals enjoyed out. Meanwhile many folks were spending nearly half of their food dollars on restaurants and fast food; 7 percent spent more than a third of their food budget on alcohol.

Once you know where you stand, you can start making your food dollars stretch further, which will probably require changes in what and how you eat — and drink. As you consider the strategies below for reducing food costs, remember that you don’t need to do everything at once. There are three paths to follow: develop a food-efficient diet, keep a food-efficient kitchen, and spend your food dollars as wisely as you can. And even better, you may find that you truly enjoy some of these strategies, which are not only good for your wallet, but also maximize flavor and nutrition.

Follow a Food-efficient Diet

Eat mostly plants. A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and grains typically costs 20 percent less than a diet that revolves around meat. From a practical point of view, a thrifty veg-first strategy will take you into a wonderland of inexpensive, protein-rich, and easy-to-store dry beans and peas. If you cook a batch of beans a week, you’ll have the makings for burritos, veggie burgers, salads and soups, all for pennies a serving. Try different kinds: Beans and peas come in a huge range of shapes, colors, sizes and textures. When you find one you love, set some aside to grow in your garden.

Before you cook them, soak beans in water for eight to 24 hours (larger beans can soak longer). As they plump, the beans will release the gases that cause flatulence. Soaked beans can be simmered on the stove or in a crock pot, or you can cook them (very efficiently!) in a pressure cooker in less than 15 minutes. (And you don’t even have to soak the beans. If you start with dry beans, a pressure cooker can have them ready to eat in about half an hour.)

1/4/2016 11:05:50 AM

Wow, I'm 71 and my husband is 60, there's just two of us and we eat on $100.00 a MONTH! It would be a miracle if we had $165.00 a month to spend on groceries!

1/31/2015 10:28:01 AM

I ment to say that I retry my canning jar lids in the food dryer after washing to make them last longer. Pat Crow

1/31/2015 10:25:16 AM

Very useful info. The new canning lids seem to rust after the first use. I now dry mine after washing to make them usable longer. An elderly friend told me that during WWII they would use Brillo to remove rust spots due to the scarcity of metal items. Pat Crow

1/16/2015 4:46:00 AM

What a great article. It is often hard to justify the expense of fresh, grass-fed meats when compared with the cheap "junk meats" onsale in most stores. But the real cost is in the effect of these factory-produced meats on the body. paying the price up front for healthy meats and then using every bit of it by making soups, casseroles etc with the leftovers can greatly reduce not only your food bills but also your doctors bills! Also, growing even modest amounts of food at home in small plots, bins or pots will give you fresh, nutritious vegetables and fruits and also a great sense of independence and pride---hopefully encouraging one to grow more! And then you start saving your own seeds.....and the rest is history! Diane Lassen,RN, Holistic Health Coach

1/5/2015 1:42:31 PM

very good article. Another avanue for fresh fruits and veggies is an organization called Bountiful Baskets. They offer a good variety of fruits and veggies for a very nominal fee. You don't have any option in what you get so be prepared to try new things.

1/5/2015 8:59:11 AM

I always take my lunch when I go to town to shop, and I'm amazed at the long queues for expensive junk at the food court, while I sit there having my delicious and nutritious sandwich on homemade multigrain bread, salad and fruit!

7/11/2014 1:56:26 AM

A very relevant topic in today’s scenario where the grocery prices are increasing like wild fire. Growing your own vegetables and fruits is one of the best remedies suggested for this. Hope the prices would come down sooner. I will be making a vegetable garden in my house soon.

terri talarek king_2
11/17/2010 10:35:26 AM

Besides putting up food (canning, freezing, drying, etc.), I find that one of the best ways to save my food dollars is to make efficient and creative use of what we already have on hand. Lots of bits of things can be used for soups, stews, casseroles, quiches, salads, stir-fries, smoothies, stocks, etc. etc. I think it's fun to look at what you have, especially what needs to be used first, and just come up with something! Different every time. Also a good way to experiment with the additions of herbs and spices, and other flavoring.

terri talarek king_2
11/17/2010 10:29:20 AM

Besides putting up food (canning, freezing, drying, etc.), I find that one of the best ways to save my food dollars is to make efficient and creative use of what we already have on hand. Lots of bits of things can be used for soups, stews, casseroles, quiches, salads, stir-fries, smoothies, stocks, etc. etc. I think it's fun to look at what you have, especially what needs to be used first, and just come up with something! Different every time. Also a good way to experiment with the additions of herbs and spices, and other flavoring.

4/10/2009 3:27:17 PM

I had never heard of a buying club before, so I went online one Wednesday afternoon to find out more. By Wednesday night, I was my club's newest member! Thank you so much for turning me onto this method of buying now I can actually afford to buy many of the organic or natural items that I generally want to buy but can't always justify. In fact, I've spoken so excitedly about it that two of my coworkers went out and joined groups in their area - what a great way to make an impact on others. I encourage all of you to check it out:

joy shepard_2
3/12/2009 4:00:38 PM

AWESOME article. I fully agree with the changes that this author talks about. I say use the internet to your advantage in getting recipes for things that you would normally buy (ie tortillas, chips, fries, bread, yogurt, etc). If you don't have a trading group for coupons, excess produce, etc. start one or go on line to find trading groups (mostly for coupons and items). Coupons are a grocery shoppers best friend right now and if you look for them on the websites of products you like you can find so many. There are also many sites that have a general grouping that changes about every two weeks. As I said before, if you have internet access, then use it to your advantage. YOu will be glad that you did. Remember things are not always as dificult to do when you do it one step at a time.

3/12/2009 11:16:01 AM

In defense of CSA prices, I can only say that in my CSA I buy premium seeds, the best organic fertilizers (and my own compost), and have to cover the cost of containers, etc. I work 10 hours a day during the season. At least. Plus there is the cost of gas in the truck for deliveries. There is a certain price that I need to ask in order to make any money at all from the endeavor. I try to make my organic food available, however, to lower income people. I do offer work shares, and when I sell at the local market I take WIC coupons (which means I have to attend a workshop and do a lot of paperwork -- more work). For the best prices, it's certain that you will do best by growing your own. But for those who cannot do that or don't have the time, they will find no better food than what their local CSA's can provide. :)

joannette sieve_5
2/15/2009 2:02:49 PM

I think one of the best things you can do for yourself is learn to can food. Even meat will keep its good taste longer canned than in the freezer This year I have been drying vegetables. That seems to be working out very well. I got my very nice dehydrator at a garage sale for just $3! Usually the fruit I get (I don't have fruit trees however people know I want fruit so they call me and tell me to come over and pick apples, appricots or cherries)is canned or made into jams and jellies. If you only have a small quanity of fruit, jams and jellies are the best way to extend the delicious taste. Don't overlook wild fruits and berries as well. My favorite jelly is wild plum. Lastly, I would like to say that I am disappointed in the CSA farm in my area. I know that they have to make a profit and I don't fault them for that, but I can't afford $10 a gallon milk or their expensive meats and vegetables. I have come to the conclusion that organically grown food is only available to those with generous incomes. I will have to stick to my own small garden, as I am retired and on a fixed income.

m. haller yamada
2/15/2009 1:09:58 AM

I read your article in the magazine, and it was great! What I would dearly love is recipes for crispy pretzels and tortilla chips. (-: I've figured out the secret to potato chips (salt them, let them sit, then squeeze them out before frying them), but the really nice thing about making your own "junk food" is that you really realize what is going into that food. A single potato does not make a bag of potato chips . . . and a serving size *really* is about 10 or 20 for a snack. Keep up the great work!

raymond james
2/10/2009 8:24:45 PM

To expand on your ideas on canning your own foods and a buying club. If you and your neighbors/friends would like to start canning but do not now own a canner and the associated equipment consider purchasing it as a group. When I moved to mid-Missouri I was extremly fortunate to have a neighbor who had a large assortment of canning equipment (bowls, collandars, peelers, jar lifters, large spoons and canners)who regularly held canning parties with her neighbors and family. I overheard her asking some ladies who might have another canner to use so I offered mine. Best thing I ever did. Many hands make light work was something these ladies live by. If you have ever tried to can with small children in the house you will appriciate having someone to take turns watching the kids. Besides, somehow it is easier to clean, peel, cut and can when you have someone to talk to. Also by doing the canning as a group you will be able to share your produce and fruit making better use of it. I have a fantastic apple sauce tree (makes terrible pies the apples are too soft) but there is no way I could use all the fruit. It usually makes 60 to 80 jars of apple sauce and 20 to 30 jars of apple butter. The fruit ripens to early in the year to use them to make a good cider but it makes an OK wine. If you buy fruit or produce you may be able to buy in bulk and get a better price by splitting it. Lastly, when starting to can get a recent copy of the Ball Blue Book . I have seen it on sale next to the canning supplies in Wal-mart stores, used and new book stores.

portia mccracken
2/4/2009 11:58:02 AM

Per the National Center for Home Food Preservations: Regular glass jars break easily at freezer temperatures. If using glass jars, choose wide-mouth dual purpose jars made for freezing and canning; these jars have been tempered to withstand extremes in temperatures. If standard canning jars (those with narrow mouths) are used, leave extra headspace in liquid packs (3/4-inch for pints; 11/2-inches for quarts) to allow for expansion of food during freezing and completely thaw food before removing it. Do not use regular canning jars for foods packed in water.

daniel timm
1/23/2009 10:49:28 AM

Great article! Cooking beans and rice and other staples in bulk and freezing them in mason jars is a good way to have a quick healthy start to a dinner. Sauces can also be made this way. End of aisle displays, paired items like chips and salsa, are always "gimmick buys," and are never on sale. They are typically something the supermarket is trying to move due to channel discounts (e.g. the distributor or manufacturer is giving them a large discount, meaning that the grocery store makes a larger margin on it, or a greater percentage that they keep on a given sale). I also read a great article similar to this at Water Bottle People's website,

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