Grocery shopping sometimes feels like you’re buying a car: Either you marvel at the great deal you got—or get sticker shock after all the costs are added up.
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Complicating matters is that no two grocery budgets are alike. Your spending depends on how big your family is, how willing you are to search for those deep discounts, and where you live. How many times have you been traveling, visited the local grocery store and declared, “They pay what for that here?”
So we asked two real families across the country if we could take a peek into their weekly grocery bills to see how much they spend, where they save and what they splurge on. They also shared their grocery game plan with us, telling us how they tackle the weekly chore as a team.
Family Number One
Who: Marissa Vicario, 35, a health coach, and fiancé David McFarland, 42, a sales director. They spend about $180 a week on groceries.
Location: New York City
Our must-haves: David loves purely elizabeth granola, and I love tempeh. We make our own salad dressing, so we also invest in good quality coconut and olive oil. We also love leafy greens, ginger and lemons. We try to buy mostly organic, especially for produce with edible leaves or skin that isn’t covered by a rind or peel.
How we save: I grab the store circular to see what’s on sale. If something is a two-for-one special, we actually avoid temptation unless it’s something we know we’ll use. I love using coupons for items we already buy. David used to think couponing was crazy, but once we saved $10 off our total bill—now he gets it.
The bulk aisles are great for nuts, grains and dried beans. We also buy our fruit and vegetables in season. Certain things, like bananas, we get a lot of, so we choose non-organic to trim a few dollars off our bill. We’re fortunate to have plenty of space in our kitchen, so we don’t feel constrained. That said, we buy only what we need—if anything, we’re a little conservative.
To make our food last longer, we use our freezer for fruits and vegetables and fresh seafood and chicken, as long as they weren’t previously frozen. If we have a lot of leftovers, we’ll freeze them to be eaten the following week, or we’ll eat them for lunch or dinner the next day. We rarely throw food out. It’s one of my pet peeves!
How we shop: David and I usually shop together on Sunday and sometimes on weekday afternoons, when it’s less crowded. I’ve tried grocery shopping online, but can’t get into it.
Weekday meals are kept simple. We’ll meal plan when we’re organized, but frequently, we just wing it. While we use a shopping list, we don’t always stick to it—it really depends on what looks good, what’s on sale and what’s in season. David and I shop at our neighborhood Whole Foods in TriBeCa, which is within walking distance. We invested in a wheeled tote, which has paid for itself in all the delivery fees we’ve avoided!
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We’ve got our routine down to a science. We tend to follow the same path: We shop the outside aisles, starting together in the produce section, and then split up. I’ll go to the bulk aisle and David goes to the meat counter. We also love farmers markets. We belonged to a CSA for a couple of years, but found we couldn’t use all the produce before it went bad. If we did it again, we’d share it with another couple. In the meantime, my dream is to have my own vegetable garden!
Family Number Two
Who: Melissa Garcia, 38, a blogger, and husband Daniel, 40. They have a daughter, Taylor, 17, and a son, Ryan, 14. Because Melissa is a coupon blogger at consumerqueen.com, her weekly bill ranges anywhere from $20 to $60, depending on how much of a discount her coupons nab her.
Location: Edmond, Okla.
Our must-haves: Griffin’s Syrup, which is the brand I grew up on; Heinz Ketchup—the only ketchup I’ll eat, hands down; and Hiland French Onion Dip. You won’t see any other kind in my house! While I’m not yet fully organic, I try to purchase as much organic as possible. I also look for products that are non-GMO.
How we save: I always use coupons when I can, but I don’t let that limit what I buy. My motto is “Save where you can, so you can spend on what you want.”
When I find sales on fresh produce and meat, I stockpile them, within reason, in one of my two large upright freezers in the garage. I plan our meals around the contents of my stockpile on a large dry-erase board. This helps me organize what I need to buy and saves me time and money. Despite my best efforts, though, we do occasionally throw food out. We also have a strawberry patch and just planted a vegetable garden with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, cilantro and garlic.
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How we shop: I shop with my mom and cousin after church on Sunday. We love shopping together and make it a team effort. We’ll attach our coupons to the top of our lists to help stay organized. I also do quick weeknight trips when a new sale starts.
I don’t limit myself to just one store, since I shop the deals. I love Homeland because they double coupons and Walmart because they price-match. I rarely shop online, but I’ve occasionally snagged deals on Amazon. I also love supporting our farmers market. They don’t just carry fresh fruits and vegetables—I recently picked up some amazing fresh tamales!
You can read the full story here.
This article originally appeared at Learnvest. Read more from LearnVest:
8 Easy Ways to Get More From Your Food Budget
Secrets of a Coupon Queen: How to Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half
The CSA Craze: Is It Really Worth the Money?