Budgeting a Weekly Grocery List

In my last post, I discussed the importance of recognizing the necessity of paying an appropriate price for sustainable groceries. However, I also stressed the fact that shopping at organic, environmentally-conscious grocery stores doesn’t have to mean spending exorbitant amounts of money. Instead, by shopping wisely, consumers can find the Aristotelian mean between extremes, staying within a reasonable budget while still buying high quality food.

The most important way to accomplish this goal is to make a weekly grocery list. Also, it helps to have a budget in mind, especially once you’ve done enough shopping to be able to predict what the cost of your items will be. For my wife and I, we always try to stay somewhere in the ballpark of $170 for all of our food, toiletries and miscellaneous goods for the week.

In general, when creating our weekly grocery list, we have a good idea of when we need to forgo an item or when we can accommodate an extra. For instance, if we had plenty of leftovers from the previous week or are cooking fairly inexpensive dishes, then we’ll likely splurge on a sweet treat from the bakery or a few eccentric ingredients. Or, if we want to make more extravagant or costly dinners, we might skip getting a six-pack of beer or fresh herbs.

Generalities aside, I want to share with you all our grocery list for the week so that you can see first-hand how this scheme works in real life. Below, you’ll see the list of items we bought, along with their individual (rounded) prices and the overall cost of the week’s grocery bill. Next, I’ll explain how we planned all of this out, focusing especially on what dishes we decided to cook for the week.

Grocery List For the Week of 7/30/2016

  1. Oatmeal – 4
  2. Bagels – 5
  3. Neufchatel Cheese – 3
  4. Shampoo – 12
  5. Tom’s Deodorant – 5
  6. Mouthwash – 5
  7. La Terza Coffee – 15
  8. Ice Cream – 5.50
  9. Madtree Beer – 10
  10. Hot Dogs – 6
  11. Hot Dog Buns – 5
  12. Onions (x3) – 2
  13. Cucumber Salad – 8
  14. Lasagna Noodles- 5.50
  15. Pasta Sauce (x2) – 9
  16. Cremini Mushrooms – 8
  17. Pecorino Romano Cheese – 5
  18. Spinach – 2
  19. Ricotta Cheese – 3.50
  20. Chicken Thighs (1.5 lbs.) – 6.50
  21. Tikka Masala Sauce (x2) – 10
  22. Mataak Paneer (x2) – 7
  23. Chickpeas – 1
  24. Lentils – 2
  25. Forbidden Rice – 5.50
  26. Naan Bread – 4
  27. Ciabatta Bread – 4
  28. Sliced Turkey (1/3 lb.) – 6
  29. Arugula – 2
  30. Heirloom Tomatoes – 6
  31. Kettle BBQ Chips – 3.50

Total = $176

The first thing to note about this grocery list is the way it’s organized. The first couple of items focus on breakfast, and then I list all of the odds-and-ends items for the week. I have the rest of the groceries grouped by what meal they belong to: hot dogs, lasagna, chicken tikka masala and turkey sandwiches. The only anomaly to this is the note for three onions with the hot dog items. Instead of writing “onion” three times for each meal, I simply tally up how many I need and list it once.

Next, let’s take a closer look at the types of ingredients on the list. As you can see, we don’t cook everything from scratch. The pasta sauce, tikka masala sauce and cucumber salad were all bought premade to save time and work. Since this food just feeds my wife and I, we don’t need to make huge portions, and therefore it would be a waste to buy all the ingredients necessary to make the sauces in particular. Remember, as Ina Garten says, “Store bought is fine.”

Keep in mind, though, that if you need to save more money, you can always make more of the items yourself. For instance, we bought a premade cucumber salad from the deli for $8, but we could have easily bought the individual ingredients and made it ourselves for around five to six dollars. Also, you can swap packaged extras like chips for freshly made sides like roasted potatoes to save even more.

Another important feature of the grocery list to be aware of is the number of meals each dish makes. The lasagna and chicken tikka masala are meant to make four meals each (that’s eight portions), and the hot dogs and sandwiches will both make around two meals (or four portions). Making dishes in larger portions saves a considerable amount of money because you don’t have to buy numerous ingredients for multiple different dishes. Instead, you can buy fewer items more in bulk, which lowers cost.

The final thing to note about our grocery list is the low amount of protein and the high amount of starch. We always try to make at least one vegetarian meal a week, which in this case is the vegetable lasagna, but even for our non-vegetarian meals we try to use less protein when we can. On the whole, meat is expensive, especially popular cuts and red meat, so we avoid these as much as possible. Conversely, starch items are relatively inexpensive. Therefore, we added rice, chickpeas and lentils to stretch our tikka masala, and we included more toppings for our sandwiches to cut down on the amount of sliced turkey we would need.

I hope that you have found this breakdown of a budget-conscious grocery list helpful, and I hope it has inspired you to not be afraid of organic grocery stores. Please keep in mind, though, that we already have a pantry stocked with staples – like spices, olive oil and condiments – so if you are just beginning to create weekly grocery lists for cooking, you will need to spend extra money to purchase these necessities. Finally, I realize that what works well for my wife and I may not work for everyone, but with a little bit of time, a desire to cook and some smart planning, anyone can buy quality food for reasonable prices.

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