Financial Friday: The Thriftier Grocery Plan for Busy People

Earlier this week, I discovered that every month the USDA publishes a table for what families should spend on food if they are on one of four financial “plans”: liberal, moderate-cost, low-cost, and thrifty. I was floored when I discovered that on this so-called thrifty plan for a household of 2 adults between the ages of 19 and 50 that we should be spending around $90.40 per week! Seriously, I was shocked! We spend about that on food in the typical month. And, if it were just me in the house, I should expect to pay about $38.60 per week on the thrifty plan. That is about double what we pay for the two of us. (If you want to know what they suggest for you and your family, check out the October 2014 table here). I think I am simply confused on what they consider “thrifty.”

Photo credit: SodanieChea / Foter / CC BY

With a little planning (I am talking about 15 minutes per week here!), anyone can maintain a monthly food budget of at most half of what the USDA predicts for “thrifty” families.

Make a grocery list and stick to it.

Even if you just write on the list when you run out of something, sticking to a list should help keep your grocery run within budget, although I would always suggest making a meal plan. Many people find that they see something that looks good while they are in the grocery store and add many extra items to their cart. Sticking to your list could save you an average of $10 or more every grocery run.

Limit your shopping to once per week.

The less you shop the more time you have in your busy life. Plus, shopping less means picking up fewer extra items every week. If you forget something, use the items already in your pantry and get creative.

Put your freezer to good use.

Even with careful planning, we often find that we don’t use the entire stalk of celery we bought in a week or other fresh vegetables. In these cases especially, the freezer is your best friend. Before the vegetables go bad, chop them up and stick them in a freezer bag in your freezer and you can use them for soups or stirfrys in the coming weeks.

Shop your pantry first.

If you check what you have in your pantry first, it is less likely that you will buy that item again in the store. Not doubling up means savings. It is really that simple. Plus, if you make a meal plan based on what is in your pantry, you might only need a couple of items from the store.

Make your meal plan from the items on sale and what you have in your pantry.

When people hear, “make a meal plan,” they think it will take a lot of time. The truth is you do it throughout the week anyway when you ask yourself “what am I going to make for dinner tonight?” Consider everything in your pantry and the weekly circular and write down what meals you want that week. It is really that simple.

What do you do that doesn’t take that much time but saves big on your grocery bill? What category of spender do you fall into on the USDA’s chart?


About Danielle Beranek

Life can get away from you when being young, married, and still fairly fresh out of college. Taking on a pet, student loans, going back to school, and soon a new house is enough to leave ones head spinning. For me, life is crazy, but only on the outside.
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4 Responses to Financial Friday: The Thriftier Grocery Plan for Busy People

  1. LD says:

    I think a trap a lot of people fall into is following a recipie exactly. Just because you find a recipie that looks good, doesn’t mean you have to use it the way it is. Try finding variaitions of the recipie that better fit what you have on hand or will be buying that week.

    Additionally try finding recipies to make out of items that are cheaper to buy in bulk. I know I’m excited to try making Sirniki (Russian cheese pancakes) the next time we get ricotta in bulk and FuFu (An Afro Caribbean staple) the next time we get yams on sale.


  2. Gedy says:

    I think a key point you didn’t stress for people is the couponing/bulk purchasing you and Kyle do. I spend at least $40-50 a week on groceries for myself alone. The most meat I get is a pound of deli turkey cuts for lunches, I only get groceries every 1-1.5 weeks, many of my dinners are just centered around pasta, and I only shop at a large supermarket (ie not whole foods). I can spend $7-10 on fruit/berries if I want them, but that’s buying them on sale. My parents probably spent a few hundred a month feeding a family of 6, buying in bulk from Sam’s Club like once a month.


    • You’re right! LD and I actually do a lot of planning (buying in bulk and actually very little couponing these days), but I would like to point out that you are in the “Thrifty” category on the table without really putting in much conscious effort. I guess my question for you is do you make a list and a plan ahead of time and stick to it? I’m not saying that busy people can get to where we do without putting in some time. I’m saying that you can get to half of what the USDA believes with about 15 minutes a week.


      • Gedy says:

        I do plan and put in conscious effort though; I don’t just go to the store without a list and ignore prices. I could maybe save a few bucks by using some of the supermarket’s coupons, and get better prices if I had a Sam’s club nearby to buy in bulk. But I could also easily double or even triple my grocery bill if I bought all organic food; splurged more on unnecessities like ice cream, chocolates, meat, and quality cheeses; and shopped at higher quality or more novelty markets.

        I think a lot of it has to do with the type of food a person is getting. I agree that my purchasing shouldn’t be considered thrifty. I often go through two boxes of cereal and a gallon of milk every week just by eating a bowl (sometimes two) of cereal each morning. Even at $2/box (usually 2.5-3.5 for the kinds I get) and $3.5/gal that’s $7.5/wk for part of breakfast alone for just me. Often with cereal I’ll have some yogurt, a banana, and/or some berries. Plus tea and sometimes a bowl of oatmeal. I’m a huge breakfast eater. Or I might substitute something out for eggs, but usually there’s always a bowl of cereal at the center unless I’m making pancakes/waffles.

        I could probably save $5-15/wk if I just ate oatmeal instead of cereal and the only fruit I got was bananas. Similarly I could shave down my bill if I relied more on canned beans and frozen bags of veggies. But I like quality food.

        The USDA categorization definitely seems high. They might be trying to account for higher food prices in different areas of the country. Or it’s just statistical findings and most people really do spend that much, which isn’t actually that surprising.


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