Wow, I guess we're doing better than I realized! We spend about $350/month, or about $85-90/week, for groceries for 3 of us: me, DH, and our 2 yo. (The baby is EBF.) That bill also includes household items like toothpaste, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, cat food/litter, etc. It jumps a bit higher on the rare occasion we buy disposable diapers (those things are just stupid expensive), since we don't normally budget for those.
We've had to work REALLY hard to get the bill this low. We also live in a fairly low COL region; in another area this might not be possible. Also, a couple of caveats. One, we do not count beer and wine in our grocery budget; I keep that as a separate line item so that I can use the cost to convince DH to consume a bit less. It's not excessive, IMO -- I usually have one beer or glass of wine a night, and DH usually has 2 -- but it still adds up. We still need to work on this. If we tallied this in with our grocery budget it would probably add another $50-75 a month. Two, we have a restaurant budget (this includes take-out, like pizza) of about $100/month, so that's usually a few meals for which we would otherwise need to buy groceries.
Here's what we do to keep it low (and it's been a LOT of work to figure all this out):
- We split a CSA share with our next-door neighbors. This costs us $15/week and provides enough produce for about 3-4 meals. We still have to supplement with store-bought produce, though.
- We stopped buying organic (besides the CSA share). The organic produce in our stores is usually too old and goes bad too quickly to justify spending the extra money on it.
- We don't buy or eat any meat.
- We mooch off our parents! At least two nights a month, we eat dinner at my parents' or my MIL's house.
- We mostly stay away from packaged foods, though we spring for a few things: graham crackers, generic bran flakes and cheerios, tortillas, bread, Goldfish crackers, frozen veggie burgers, etc. I make my own tortilla chips, tomato sauce (from canned tomato purees), salsa, etc. We often get excellent bread for free from friends who pick up and distribute out-of-date stuff from fancy bakeries.
- Besides grains, beans, spices and flour, we don't buy in bulk. I don't find that it saves us money (on most things) and we end up overconsuming some items because we have so much of them that the supply seems endless. Having smaller amounts of things seems to keep us from 'pigging out' on them.
- We treat expensive items (olives, nice cheeses, avocados, fancy crackers, frozen fake-meat items, etc) as occasional treats and luxuries. Cheap food is for everyday consumption. I use very little of the expensive stuff, adding cheaper things when possible to make it 'stretch.'
- I buy the cheapest versions of things if it doesn't make much difference in the end product, i.e., dried TVP rather than the frozen 'designer' variety, dry beans rather than canned, frozen spinach rather than fresh, etc.
- I nearly always buy generics.
- Besides the aforementioned beer and wine expenditures, we generally only drink water. Juice, milk, soy/rice milks, and soda (ick) are way too expensive. DH gets store-brand carbonated water and splashes lemon juice into it as a "soda" treat.
- I shop at our local discount supermarket for everything I can get there, and then go to the expensive supermarket for only the things I can't get at the first place.
- I try to be careful with coupons, and only clip coupons for things I already buy. Otherwise I find it's just a ploy to get me to buy more-expensive varieties of things.
- For ethnic-food items, I seek out the local food import stores and buy in bulk there. I would never ever ever buy spices, rice, cornmeal, tamari, hot sauce, etc. at the supermarket. These are often also good places to buy things like vegetable/olive oil, flour, tofu, fresh herbs, and canned/jarred items like olives, pickles, etc. I've figured out what items are cheaper at our local Indian, Lebanese, and Vietnamese markets. We're lucky that we live in a big city with easy access to so many small ethnic markets.
Probably the single most important cost-saving thing I do is plan our menus about 2 weeks at a time. I plan around what we already have and what we're getting in our CSA share for the week, and then I make the shopping list to reflect ONLY what I need for those meals. That way I'm not overbuying (especially produce, which will go bad). More importantly, I have what I need for those meals, necessitating fewer "last-minute" or "only a couple of items" trips to the store (which tend to be the kind of trips where I buy expensive treats we don't really need). I was finding that when I was planning meals on the fly every day, I often needed to run to the convenient store at the corner to pick up some item I needed, and paying an enormous premium for the privilege of grocery-shopping within sight of my front door.
We've also identified the things that really matter to us in terms of getting a 'premium' product, and we've made compromises to make sure they fit in the budget. For example: it is important to us to support fair-trade coffee production, so we will not buy any coffee that is not fair trade. In order to accommodate this in our budget, we compromise by drawing a hard line about "off-limits" expenditures: no fancy coffee creamers, no coffee at coffee shops, etc. I've also had to reduce the amount of coffee I drink in a day in order to keep this budget line item within reason. We have made similar compromises to allow for organic yogurt and organic, cage-free eggs. (We buy the better product, but we agree that we will use less of it. This seems to work for us.)