My post, What I’ll Spend for Food, has been one of my most popular posts. Several readers have asked for an updated version that includes current prices, as prices have risen since I have written that post.
At the time I wrote that (3 years ago this month) sales for both us and our agents were far and few between, and my grocery budget was $100 a month for our family of 9. A year later, were were able to increase our budget to $200 a month, and two years later (last January), as sales had begun to increase in our city, for both us and our agents, I increased our budget to $300 a month. (Note: For those who don’t know, my husband is the broker and owner of a real estate company, and we have around 40 agents at our company).
This didn’t mean I greatly increased our price points on most items, however. I still aim to find the lowest possible prices and buy items at that price.
With growing children whose appetites are increasing, I an serving larger portions than I did in 2013. I currently have a 14-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy, as well as 5 younger children. My son has the typical appetite for a growing boy his age, and my husband tells me I haven’t seen anything yet when it comes to how his appetite will increase even more over the next few years!
And so, I expect that the need to increase our budget will continue to grow, as our children continue to grow.
For now, I am keeping my budget at $300 a month for our family of 9. This includes both food, toiletries, and cleaning items. I have been asked if it includes “paper items”, which I believe means disposable items used with food. I don’t buy a lot of items in that category, but I do buy Ziploc freezer bags, toilet paper, and paper towels. We don’t use paper towels for cleaning or for drying our hands; we use paper towels for draining oil or grease from foods that need it. (Some people have suggested using newspaper or paper bags for this, but we don’t get the newspaper, and I take reusable cloth bags with me when I shop).
Keeping my purchases within my price points means I won’t buy items if they go above that price. We will choose something else (see my post “Comparing Apples to Oranges“). It also means waiting to purchase items when they get this low.
I have had some readers tell me my prices are low, and some tell me they are high. My readers are from around the globe, and prices vary a lot depending on where you live. Our “local” produce in the grocery store (and yes, the ads mark it that way) is from the next state over, because I live in one of the driest deserts in the world, and food is not being produced here. What might be the lowest price for me may be vastly different for someone on the other side of the country. When making a price book for yourself, study the ads for 12 weeks (the typical grocery cycle) and sometime in that 12 week time period, you will see the lowest prices on most items come around.
There are exceptions, of course. Some items go on sale 1-2 times a year at their lowest price. This is always the case with in-season produce, and also the case with a few holiday special items. I wait to purchase these items all year at their lowest price.
Where a range of prices is listed, that is the typical lowest price sales range in my area.
Note: For my readers outside the U.S., 1 pound equals 0.453592 kg.1 pound is 16 ounces.
I keep my produce price to $1 a pound or less, with an exception noted below. Several items that used to be on my produce purchase list are now no longer on my list, since I grow them instead.
Russet Potatoes: $0.10 to $0.25 a pound, always purchased in a 10 pound bag. I still occasionally find them for $0.10 a pound, but there is a usually a limit of one bag at this price now. I generally find them on sale in season (fall-winter) on sale for $0.20 a pound.
Apples: $0.79 to $0.99 a pound. Again, I find the best prices in fall and winter. I also grow apples in my garden; my best producing tree is a Dorsett Golden, that is ripe in June.
Oranges: With the razing of so many orange groves in California in 2015 due to drought, as well as several store closings in our area that used to have cheap oranges, this price has changed. The lowest I found this year was $0.68 a pound, with typical sales prices going to $0.99 a pound this winter. I currently have two small orange trees planted in pots, but they are young and not yet producing.
Limes: I buy a bag of 12 from the .99 store, or else I use powdered lime juice (which tastes as good as fresh) from San Francisco Herb Company.
Broccoli: This is in season in winter, and I pay $.99 a pound for crowns at Winco, and blanche and freeze it when it is on sale. I also grow a bit in my garden. If I can find it for less, I’ll buy even more at once.
Petite Peas: $1.00 a pound, frozen, bought on sale at Alberston’s a few times a year.
Asparagus: $0.99 a pound in season in spring, but I also grow some in my garden.
Corn: Canned corn comes in a 15 ounce can (16 ounces equals one pound). I’ll pay $0.33 to $0.45 on sale a couple of times a year. For fresh ears, I’ll pay $0.20 to $0.25 each. I do not grow corn, as our extreme heat means it rarely tassels and the plants burn in the harsh sunshine.
Green Beans: Canned green beans comes in a 15 ounce can (16 ounces equals one pound). I’ll pay $0.33 to $0.45 on sale a couple of times a year. The only beans that grow here in our heat are the yard-long beans, and they usually need some afternoon shade to keep them from cooking and burning on the vines. I grow them, but not enough for our family. Most of the year it is too hot for even this type to flower.
Bananas: $0.59 to $.79 is the typical price here.
Carrots: $0.40 a pound in a 10-pound bag at Winco
Onions: $0.38 to $0.48 a pound
Clementines: $1.00 a pound in season in winter
Strawberries: $1.25 a pound in season. I grow both red strawberries and white, miniature alpine strawberries (shown in the picture above with blackberries from my garden) but not enough for my family. When they are in season in the spring (typically March/April here) I buy a lot on sale to make jam, to freeze, to make popsicles, to make shortcakes, and to eat fresh.
Milk: $2.59 to $3.15 a gallon for whole milk are the lowest sales prices in my area. I also use milk to make yogurt.
Sour Cream: $1.00 to $1.25 a pound on sale.
Butter: $2.00 to $2.40 a pound. This is a seasonal deal at this price. I freeze butter to use thoughout the year in baking and occasional sauteeing.
Spreadable Margarine: $2.54 to $2.79 for a three-pound tub of Gold N Soft Light. I use this on toast, baked potatoes, etc.
Eggs: Egg prices in the U.S. doubled last year. I now occasionally can find them on sale for $1.25 a dozen, but it’s a rare price. I buy a lot at that price. (typically 15 dozen at a time). The American Egg Board says that eggs are good for 4-6 weeks past their sell-by date, so keep that in mind when stocking up on eggs.
Mozarella Cheese: $2.17 to $2.5 a pound, bought shredded in a 5 pound bag at Sam’s Club. (In summer I sometimes will also buy a 5 pound block).
Cheddar Cheese: $2.39 to $2.79 a pound, bought in a 5 pound block at Sam’s Club
Parmesan cheese: $1.32 a pound, sold ina 24 ounce container at Winco (shelf-stable Winco brand)
Feta cheese: $4.66 a pound sold in a 24 ounce pound container at Costco ($6.99) or Sam’s Club (Sam’s price is $8.48, or $5.65 a pound)
Cream Cheese: $1.00 for a half pound block, on sale usually November-December. It lasts all year in the fridge in the cheese drawer, so I buy a bunch when it goes on sale. I don’t freeze it, as it changes texture, and we generally use it on bagels.
My rule is still nothing over $2 a pound, with one exception (noted below). That hasn’t changed. Since beef prices doubled, however, it cut beef off our menu. I’ve read rumors of it coming down in 2016, but we’ll have to see if that actually happens.
When I see meat on sale at these prices, I stock up and put it in my freezer. We have two fridge/freezers, plus a stand-alone large freezer.
Chicken, whole: $0.79 to $0.99 a pound. I look for chickens that are 4 to 5 pounds.
Chicken, thighs/legs, bone-in: $0.69 to $.0.89 a pound. This usually comes in a 10 pound bag at this price.
Chicken, boneless skinless breasts: $1.99 a pound. I don’t buy this cut real often.
Turkey: $0.79 to $0.99 a pound. I buy the largest birds I can find. Turkey prices have increased greatly, as have required sales amounts to purchase turkeys at holidays.
Hams: $0.99 to $1.69 a pound, on sale at the holidays
Pork Roasts, boneless: $1.89 to $1.99 is a typical sales price that we see a few times a year.
Pepperoni: This is exception to the $2 a pound or under rule. I buy pepperoni a few times a year for putting on our homemade pizzas, and it is $2.96 a pound at Sam’s Club, sold in a 3 pound bag. It doesn’t take much to cover a pizza, so I don’t use much in a meal.
Pasta: 3 times a year I can buy pasta on sale for $0.49 a pound, so I stock up then. The exception is farfalle, which we like in some dishes. I buy that on sale for $0.75 to $0.79 a pound.
Pinto beans: $0.53 a pound, bought in a 25 pound bag at Winco
Black beans: I stocked up on these last year at $0.68 a pound, but that source no longer carries them in bulk, so when I buy more I’ll need to pay $0.99 a pound at Winco.
White beans: I stocked up on these last year at $0.68 a pound, but that source no longer carries them in bulk, so when I buy more I’ll need to pay $0.81 a pound at Winco.
Kidney Beans: $1.04 a pound
Brown Lentils: $0.97 a pound
Long-Grain White Rice: $0.34 a pound, bought in a 25 pound bag at Sam’s Club.
Basmati Rice: $0.80 a pound, bought in a 25 pound bag at Sam’s Club
Oats (Old-fashioned, also called Rolled Oats): $0.65 a pound, sold for $16.15 for a 25 pound bag at Winco
Wheat: $0.28 a pound for white wheat, and $0.24 a pound for red wheat, bought in a 25 pound bag at the LDS Cannery
All-Purpose Flour: $0.31 a pound, bought in a 25 pound bag at Sam’s Club
Yeast: $2.39 a pound, sold in a 2 pound pack at Sam’s Club
Baking Soda: $0.423 a pound, sold in a 13.5 pound container at Sam’s Club ($5.72)
Baking Powder: $0.096 an ounce, sold in a 60 ounce container at Sam’s Club ($5.78)
Cornstarch: $0.093 an ounce, sold in a 35 ounce container for $3.28 at Sam’s Club
White Vinegar: $1.99 a gallon, sold in a 2 gallon package at Sam’s Club
Balsamic Vinegar: $10.99 a liter at Costco. (This is the biggest price increase I have; I paid about 40% less at Sam’s Club, but our store no longer carries this item.)
Salt, Iodized: $0.32 a pound, sold in a 4 pound box at Sam’s Club
Salt, Kosher: $0.74 a pound, sold in a 4 pound box at Winco
Salt, Canning/Pickling: $0.32 a pound, sold in a 4 pound box at Winco
Sugar, Granulated: $0.398 a pound, sold in a 10 pound bag at Sam’s Club
Sugar, Brown: $0.698 a pound, sold in a 4 pound bag at Sam’s Club (I don’t make my own, as molasses is fairly pricey and we go through a fair amount of brown sugar).
Sugar, Powdered: $0.68 a pound, sold in a 4 pound bag at Sam’s Club. I don’t make my own, as my blender has never turned sugar into powder with any success. I only occasionally use powdered sugar.
Vanilla Extract: $8.98 a pound. I’m considering making this but not I’m not sure if the price will be much lower. However, this has gone up a lot.
Chocolate Chips: $1.99 a pound, bought in a 4.5 pound bag at Sam’s Club
Almonds: $5.99 a pound, bought in a 48 ounce bag at Sam’s Club
Popcorn: $0.48 a pound, bought in a 50 pound bag at Sam’s Club. We pop this on the stove with a little vegetable oil.
Vegetable Oil: $4.98 for a gallon at Winco
Olive Oil, extra-virgin: $5.99 a liter, bought in a 3-liter container at Sam’s Club
Knorr Chicken Bullion: $4.44 for a 2.2 pound container at Sam’s Club
Knorr Tomato Bullion: $4.8 for a 2.2 pound container at Walmart
Canned Tomato Sauce: $2.89 for a #10 can (6 pounds 10 ounces; 106 ounces) at Costco
Canned Tomatoes: $3.28 for a #10 can (102 ounces) at Sam’s Club
Cranberries, Dried: $2.66 a pound, bought in a 48 ounce bag at Sam’s Club
Raisins: $2.12 a pound, bought in a 2 30-ounce bags at Sam’s Club
Poppy Seeds, mustard seeds, cream of tartar: Under $2.50 a pound at San Francisco Herb Company. I also buy other herbs there, such as cinnamon.
Items I don’t buy because I grow them in the garden:
I have a .24 acre lot in the desert, with over 40 fruit trees, most of which are semi-dwarf trees. My garden is watered with drip irrigation. We have 6 months of above 90º temperatures, running April through October, and summer days in my part of the city are typically 110º to 113º. We have sunshine almost every day of the year.
I aim to always have something ripe in the garden. You can see my garden calendar here. I live in a U.S. zone 9a.
I grow almost all open-pollinated seeds. By so doing, I am able to collect my own seeds to replant each year, saving me the need to purchase seeds for everything every year. There are a few seeds and plants that I still need to purchase each year, but that number is becoming fewer each year as I see success with collecting my own seeds.
Lemons: We have 6 lemons trees, with 2 large enough to produce. I dry and freeze zests, plus freeze juice to use throughout the year. We make our own lemonade with these.
Peaches: We have three peach trees-two in back and one in front of the house (with the two in back large enough to produce). The two producing ones are Desert Gold, a semi-freestone that ripens in May, and Early Elberta, a freestone peach that ripens in July, and typically givens me enough peaches to can a dozen jars, plus all of the peaches I eat fresh.
Apricots: I have three apricot trees, with one large enough for good-sized crop. The producing one is a Royal Blenheim, and it is ripe in June. The other two trees are Katy apricots, and one of them (in the front yard) gives us a few apricots at the end of April/beginning of May.
Figs: I have a Mission Fig tree. Mission figs are unusual in that they double crop. I get a crop in June and again in August.
Blackberries: I harvest these in May. The heat and sunshine make them small (they need to be grown here with afternoon shade so as not to burn on the vine).
Grapes: I grow Thompson’s Seedless, Red Flame Seedless, some seeded large green grapes that were all marked Red Flame (but aren’t!) and I have a Concord vine, though it rarely produces more than a handful of grapes. My grapes ripen from late June to early August.
Pears: I have a small espaliered 20th Century Asian pear, as well as 2 Bartlett pear trees that have never grown very large.
Pomegranates: I have 2 potted pomegranate trees.
Green Onions: These reseed themselves in the garden each year, and are a cut and come again vegetable. I grow and harvest these year-round. To read more about green onions, read my post “How to Grow Green Onions and Collect Your Own Seeds.” I bought green onion plants 9 years ago, and I haven’t had to buy any since, as they reseed themselves.
Snow Peas: I plant these in fall for an April harvest.
Swiss Chard (silverbeet): I grow Fordhook Giant chard. This is an open-pollinated type that self-seeds. I also collect seeds from this. It grows year-round in my garden.
Beets: I grow these in the garden fall-spring. I grow open-pollinated types and allow some to go to seed each year. We eat the greens as well as the beets.
Turnips: These grow fall-early spring.
Lettuce: I harvest lettuce in the early spring. Last year I collected quite a few lettuce seeds from one variety.
Radishes: I grow these fall-early spring.
Artichokes: I harvest these in April. Artichokes are a pernnial plant, that may or may not return each year. I planted some new plants last fall.
Cucumbers: The only cucumbers that don’t go bitter and still produce female flowers in our heat are Armenian cucumbers. These can grow to arm’s length without becoming bitter. I use these to can pickles.
Tomatoes: I buy plants at the nursery to set out in February. Our last frost date is February 15th, and come April/May, we’ll see temperatures of 100º, which stops my tomatoes from flowering until the last week of October. Consequently, I am unable to grow enough to can, so I buy canned sauce and canned tomatoes, but fresh ones come from the garden.
Herbs: I grow enough of the following herbs that I don’t need to purchase them: Basil, parsley, rosemary, oregano, tarragon, garlic chives, onion chives, chamomile, peppermint, spearmint and thyme. I make my own herbal tea from some of these.
Flowers: I grow my own flowers in the garden from bulbs, seeds, perennial plants, and the occasional annuals. One flower I like to buy is orchids. You can see why I think orchids are a frugal flower choice in my post here. I like to have enough flowers to make arrangments all year long. Here are my tips for growing more flowers for less.
There are, of course, other items that I will buy on occasion, but these are the typical items I buy on a regular basis.
I’m sure you’re wondering why some items aren’t on this list, such as cold cereal, bread or salad dressing. I don’t buy these items. For my list of more items I don’t buy, see here. For bread and cracker recipes, click here, and for salad dressing recipes, click here.
I’ve also had questions about what stores I have available in my area. We’re blessed to have several stores not far from here, which leads to better competition and lower sales prices. Within a mile and a half, I have access to Walmart, Target, Winco, Costco, and Walgreens. Within five miles I have two Smith’s (a Kroger affiliate), Vons, two CVS, another Target, another Walmart, and two Albertson’s stores, as well as Sam’s Club. I rarely visit the drug stores (CVS and Walgreen’s), and I don’t have a Costco card (but my parents do, so if I need something from there, I’ll go with them). This leaves me with a lot of choices and options for sales. In adition, the LDS cannery is not far from here (where I purchase bulk wheat berries). I order spices online from San Francisco Herb Company.
Our grocery ads (for Smith’s, Vons, and Albertson’s) come in the mail on Tuesdays, and our sales here run Wednesdays through Tuesdays. (Drug store ads come in the mail on Thursdays for sales running Sunday through Saturday). I don’t subscribe to the newspaper, but a free local section comes with a smaller number of Smart Source coupons on Thursday (compared to what subscribers get). I print coupons online from Coupons.com, Red Plum, and Target, as well as the Target Cartwheel offers.
I’m sure I’ve left a few items out, so if you have any questions, let me know in the comments and I’ll update the post with any missing items.
Lastly, I’d like to encourage you to make your own price book with the lowest sales prices for items in your area, wherever you are in the world. This will help you to know when to stock up on items, making your money go further on the things you already buy!