Life on an $80/week grocery budget: How we do it

A long time ago I posted about buying groceries for $100.  Good stuff.  But since then out lives have changed.  Dramatically.  We are now both grad students with a very unforgiving grocery budget.  So, what does one do when the budget is tight and the expectations are high.  Here is how we eat well, mostly wheat-free, and very flavorfully for $82/week no matter what (and sometimes even less).


  • Look at the sale ads.  Before I even set foot in a grocery store I look at the sale ad for 3 stores:  Safeway, Nugget Market, and Savemart.   I usually choose 1-2 of these stores/week to go to based on what I need most and what has the most sale items of things we use.
  • Buy foods in bulk.  I do most of this at the Davis Food Coop and the foods I get include:
    • Oat bran
    • Oatmeal
    • Spelt, Oat, Rye and even Whole Wheat (sometimes) flour
    • Cocoa powder
    • All spices in bulk
    • Sea Salt
    • Unrefined sugar, as needed
    • Honey
    • Peanut Butter (sometimes)
    • Popcorn (unpopped, so I can cook it on the stove)
    • Gluten-free/Wheat-free pasta
  • Be willing to freeze things that are on sale for future use.  I do this mostly for:
    • Flaxmeal (recently got 1lb bags of organic Spectrum Flaxmeal for $.91/each – I bought 3 and freeze them)
    • All meats
    • Seasonal fruit like peaches and berries
    • Tomatoes (either frozen as puree or sauces)
    • Bread (when I buy it we freeze it and just take out 1-2 slices as needed, this is especially true of sprouted grain breads, which I only buy on sale)
  • Shop local fruit stands (I go to the Yolo Fruit stand bimonthly).   Seasonal, local and perhaps even organic produces is inexpensive there
  • CLip coupons.  It’s not always fun, but save 2-5$/week with coupons. Things I never buy without a coupon or on sale are;
    • Almond milk ( I refuse to pay more than $3/half gallon).  Coupons are plentiful in the paper or even at the store
    • Any boxed good like granola bars or FiberOne bars, which I buy when I have a coupon
    • Paper towels and TP (BTW this stuff fits into our $82/week budget)
    • Hair coloring (this is not from grocery budget but I buy it about every 6 weeks so it’s worth mentioning since the good stuff is spendy)
  • Don’t buy all the expensive stuff at once.  For instance I buy extra virgin olive oil about once/month or 6 weeks.  I even get Organic stuff for about $8-9/liter sometimes if I look at the ads or go to the Grocery Outlet.  Same goes for meats.  I buy organic beef about 1x/month because it’s expensive and then we have it for 2 meals/month.  Look at your most expensive items and see how you can spread the cost around.
    • On this note, don’t pass up a smokin’ deal of something you need but is pricey.  I don’t always wait until I really ‘need’ certain things to buy them.  Instead I buy when they are a really good deal so it’s already in stock
  • Avoid last minute ‘have to’ purchases.  THings like eggs, cheese, and even certain vegetables can be very expensive if you buy them last minute and they aren’t on sale.  I grocery shop 1 day/week so we don’t run out of things and have to make quick (and expensive) trips to the store.
  • Live without some things.  I don’t buy nearly as many Gluten-free products because of price.  I also buy my whole grains in bulk more often than in a package due to price.  Premade desserts, alcohol, and out of season/sale fruits and veggies aren’t an option any more.   Same goes for nuts, trail mixes, or frozen entrees (which I didn’t eat a lot of but sometimes for lunch at work).   We have a flexible list of the things we eat regularly  and sometimes we substitute our first preference for something else.  For instance, when mixed greens are on sale, we eat them as our bulk green for the week.  If next week it’s spinach and not mixed greens – we have spinach all week.  Same goes for the type of cheese and yogurt we consume (which we do in small quantities anyway) and even meats.
    • This means a lot more meal planning, using recipes, and thinking about how foods are going to pair together in meals when I’m shopping.  It’s like mixing and matching your wardrobe…only for your stomach!
  • Look at your beverage spending habits.  Coffee, flavored waters, teas, juice – all of that can add up.  Water should be the basis of your beverage diet.  Sometimes we buy flavored bubbly water and it can get pricey if we rely too much on them.  We also don’t go to the store mid-week and get more.  Whatever we have, that is what we eat.
  • Don’t be wasteful.  It should go without saying, but I used to throw away a lot more food than I do now.  I also don’t overbuy.  When I hit the stores every Sunday it’s because I need to go; we are running out of food!

I hope this may help some of you.  I love grocery shopping and figuring out how to get our needs/wants met without breaking the bank.  It’s like a puzzle for me.  I’d also love to hear any of your tips, faithful readers.

One thought on “Life on an $80/week grocery budget: How we do it

  1. Karen August 15, 2011 / 7:04 pm

    When buying meat, I buy a little larger portion than I need. I then use the small left over piece with pasta, rice or in a stir fry.

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