Frugal Friday: Grocery Trip, part 2

I’ve been talking about how we keep our grocery bills affordable. I averaged $550/month during September and October. Most months I spend no more than $700 on groceries.

Last week I went around the perimeter of my grocery store, telling you which foods I find to be good deals and which I don’t buy. This week I’ll talk about the main aisles.

PAPER PRODUCTS I buy mostly generic–paper towels at 60 cents/roll, big packs of paper napkins $2/300, and til recently I bought the cheapest generic TP. A couple weeks ago, though, I discovered that a local grocery store does double coupons and I had a coupon for Scott TP–one ply, in big rolls. Those rolls last forever! I may be a convert even though the per-roll price is higher.

I also buy generic facial tissue- $1/box. I look for the cheapest unit price on plastic wrap and aluminum foil, and I buy store-brand sandwich size ziplocks. Usually I have at least some gallon-size ziplocks around too, but we wash these at least a time or two and reuse them, as long as they didn’t have raw meat in them. I also save and reuse bread bags. As much as possible I try to cover pots with the lids in the fridge (as opposed to foil) and I try to put left-overs in plastic containers with sealing lids, which minimizes the plastic wrap we use.

Windex is cheapest at the dollar store. Y’all aready know I love Barkeepers Friend, though Ajax is OK too. Bleach is another essential cleaning agent at my house. I get the cheapest brand of liquid dish soap and liquid hand soap in big bottles, and refill little squirt dispensers in both the kitchen and in all the bathrooms over and over with one big bottle. I buy ‘SunSations’ powdered dishwasher detergent in a plastic tub, and ‘Sun’ laundry detergent with bleach. Both work great, and are bunches cheaper than the fancy name brands.

We use Attaboy and Atta Cat dry dog & cat food. We have tried generic brands but pets did not seems as healthy. Walmart sells the cheapest guinea pig food. Pine shaving bedding for the guinea pig is bought at the feed store. and yeah, these are added into the grocery bill.

When we are camping in the summertime I buy water bottles and Shasta cola. For birthdays I buy either Koolaid or 2 liter bottles of cola. But we rarely have pop/soda any other time. We do iced tea in summer and sometimes koolaid. Our dentist says cavities are mostly related to pop/soda consumption these days, so I figure we are saving money at the grocery store AND at the dentists office.


I buy big bags of Calrose rice at Costco -50 lb/$10. (Uncle Ben’s/instant gives me the heebie jeebies, sorry). I buy kim (dried seaweed squares), sesame oil, soy sauce, and bean thread noodles at the Asian market for my Korean cooking. We also love Mexican food. I usually keep flour tortillas and taco chips around for enchiladas or taco salad. I make my own salsa. Cook my own beans for refried beans. I buy teff flour for Ethiopian cooking locally from the farmer in 50 lb bags.

I usually get bread at the bread store for 89 cents a loaf– always whole grain. Also hot dog and hamburger buns. Occasionally splurge on bagels, which I serve with cream cheese for some breakfasts. Donuts, cake & cookies we make ourselves. Sometimes we also make our own bread, but we go through so much bread we’d be making it every day if I wanted it all to be homemade.

We buy generic raisin bran, cheeries, corn flakes, rice crispies, occasionally corn chex. Nothing more expensive than $2/box, and most is only $1.50/box. Sometimes I buy cocoa puffs or capn crunch (generic in sacks) but it goes so fast that I usually just buy the healthier varieties of cereal. We eat cold cereal 1-2 breakfasts a week. I also cook grits (cheaper than cream of wheat -bought at Walmart) , oatmeal (from 50 lb sacks, jazzed up with butter, apples, sugar, cinnamon), and polenta(from cornmeal) for breakfast–all non-instant, nothing in the little single servings unless we are camping. No pop tarts. No instant breakfast stuff. Hot cocoa only when camping.

The usual stuff here: flour, sugar, raisins, oil, shortening, syrup(by the gallon)–we check all unit prices. I can regularly be heard saying to my kids as we scan the shelves, “Here’s 7.5 cents/oz– can anyone beat that?” Sometimes I’ll buy a cake mix, rarely pudding or jello. Occasionally I’ll spring for Costco brownie mix (mmmmmm) but usually we bake from scratch. We don’t buy pancake mix or muffin mix or anything like that…

I am having a hard time being really specific, because this is a huge category. But in general if it is INGREDIENTS for cooking, we probably buy it, but if it is something ready-made in a can we probably do not buy it. Yes to spaghetti noodles, no to spaghetti-o’s. Yes to dry chili beans, no to already-made chili. Yes to ramen noodle packs (I add my own chicken and veggies), no to chicken noodle soup. Yes to tuna, no to the little packets with tuna and crackers all together.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with these items. If you are only feeding a person or two, those ready-made cans seem pretty OK and probably do not impact your budget in a huge way. But in my case, it would often take 4 or 5 cans of chili or whatever to a meal for a big family like mine. And ready-made food simply is not the cheapest way to go. So if you really want your budget to be the lowest possible, it’s best to avoid prepackaged stuff the majority of the time.

We buy generic peanut butter, checking for unit prices. Sometimes the tiny jars are better prices than the big ones. Salad dressing is generic or homemade (vinegar & oil).

We buy lots of noodles of different types. I do lots of homemade mac and cheese and spaghetti, so I be sure to keep these noodles in stock. Be sure to check to dollar store– often you can find excellent prices on fancy types of pasta there, like bow ties and other fun shapes that I usually am too cheap to buy elsewhere.

We mostly avoid this aisle. About the only thing we buy here regularly is saltine crackers and taco chips. (And the mexican food aisle is often the cheapest place for taco chips, not the chip aisle). In summer when camping we buy pretzels and potato chips to eat in the car. But we don’t keep chips or pretzels or nuts around otherwise.

We do mostly Suave shampoo/conditioner/hairspray–or whatever else you can buy for $1 a bottle. Oh, and here’s a tip: conditioner makes awesome shaving cream, both for faces and legs. The conditioner makes the razor glide beautifully, and the razor is WAY easier to clean out afterwards too. My husband tends towards breakouts if his skin gets too greasy, but he hasn’t had a bit of trouble with breakouts from the conditioner.

As I have mentioned on my other blog, I love Suave 2-minute conditioner on my Ethiopian daughters’ hair. I use it as a leave-in detangler/ conditioner. It makes their hair really manageable– and it’s a bargain at $1.50 a bottle.

Toothpaste can sometimes be found at the $1 store, or on sale at the store with double coupons. Often I buy toothbrushes at the dollar store.

I have gone back and forth between cloth and disposable diapers, depending on how behind the laundry is. But when I am using disposable, I usually buy them at Costco or with double coupons. Wipes are NOT as good a price at Costco– I buy the cheapest brand of them at Walmart. If you use the disposable bottle liners for baby bottles, Walmart is the best place for those.

I think a big key is really paying attention to where you can buy things cheapest. I will sometimes buy thngs at a more expensive store for convenience, but as much as possible, I try to buy things where I can get them cheapest. if it is a place I don’t go often, I’ll stock up so I don’t run out before I can get there next.

Hmmmmm….. winding down here. I’ll add more if I think of more. Questions? Additions?

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  1. Mary, these are excellent tips! I’m going to be a lifelong fan of Frugal Friday. I’m the “banker” in our Monopoly game of life, and I’m always looking for ways to keep us in budget. Thanks!

  2. Golly, you’re a smart shopper.

    I don’t think wetwipes had been marketed yet when my sons were babies. I usually had tap water to wet a regular paper towel or two during diaper changes.
    I noticed when I worked daycare that house brand wetwipes caused much dryness on the little bottoms–and on my hands if I didn’t always have the gloves and was changing 12 babies an hour. Sometimes all the research and price tag from a bigger company can make a difference.

    Even in the days when we were broke, I still needed the name brand hot chocolate. One of life’s little pleasures on winter evenings. We’d all gather ’round the table with graham crackers and mugs, watching the marshmellows melting.

    But golly, kool-aid! Only by a child’s birthday request did I ever put it into the cart. The dye wreaks all kinds of havoc on the innards of 3 family members–mostly me. I still cannot have anything colored blue–not icing nor drinks, or I’d better stay real close to the bathroom for several hours.
    Sun Tea is the drink of choice around here. Cheap too, with teabags $1.99 for 100, then add 1/3 cup white sugar to a gallon.

  3. Yep, you have to allow a ‘splurge’ here and there. I need my chocolate. Hubby’s thing is ice cream. We all enjoy the occasional trip to Pizza Hut. The nice thing about being careful most of the time is that little infrequent splurges are affordable. I think where people really get in trouble is by ‘splurging’ every day!


  4. now, where do you live????

    Food and everything is SO CHEAP there!! Alaska is… not!! 🙂

  5. Oh Mary, how I envy you guys living in the states. Here in Italy we have one “department” store and one “grocery” story on base. Yes, there are other choices off base, but they are usually way more expensive unless you hit a good sale by accident while window shopping. Sometimes I miss Walmart and Target, etc. But you know what? For the most part we’ve SAVED money not having them around. Stopping in at Walmart for one thing usually led to a $50 shopping trip. None of that here!

    But I’m still amazed at your shopping savey with 8 children and pets included!

  6. I love a good bargain and can’t wait to hit the store to find it. We love Walmart at our house. It’s our main place for groceries. I don’t know how people shop anywhere else! Oh yeah and we love Sam’s club.

    Thanks for the great tips!

  7. Great tips! We are in the process of hopefully growing our family through adoption and my husband and have both said a firm budget has to be in place.

  8. You may try a Farm Supply store for guinea pig food. We buy ours there and it’s the cheapest we’ve ever found, including Wal-Mart. If you feed your guinea pig hay, you can buy it by the bale at a farm supply store for about 7 dollars. One bale lasts us six months (for our four guinea pigs and rabbit). We used to buy those 10 dollar bags- I cringe when I think of how much money I wasted!

  9. Ok, this is kind of related (to food and frugality) but not totally. I keep having questions about your garden and canning I’m dying to ask, as we finally will get to plant a garden in our own yard next spring. What do you plant that you can preserve, other than tomatoes? I keep googling to find sites that have ideas for the best gardens for food preservation, but nothing has good answers. Maybe you could do a post on this in the future? I’m so excited for our garden, I’m already planning!

  10. I have loved shopping the aisles with you! There are a few “quick lunch” items that I buy now, like Amy’s burritos, but I always find myself thinking “if we add anymore children, that’s the last of those!”

    Teff flour! I have a (very expensive) bag sitting in my freezer right now. I am a celiac, so I try all kinds of different grains, but I failed miserably when trying to make In’jef bread. What is your recipe? It sounds yummy…mine was an inedible mess. What are other uses for it?

  11. Thank you for the great strategies! As a family of seven so far, I am always looking for ways to save. You gave me some new ideas! Excellent post!!

  12. Thanks, Mary for another great shopping trip! Once again, you’ve encouraged me and given me a few ways to trim my budget!

    Here’s a question for you: How many days a week are you out shopping? I feel like I am always running to the store for this or that! It’s enough to make a mama crazy!


  13. we love CVS brand wipes and the supreme diapers are like huggies, we stock up when they have Buy one get one free.

    Great tips thanks.

  14. jen– I hit Walmart once a week, Winco once or twice a month, Costco once a month, and odds and ends of other stores once or twice a month. it probably averages out to twice a week that I do some part of my grocery shopping.

  15. You are so amazing to only spend $700 a month with a family of 10!! I also can;t believe how you cook from scratch, home school and keep a household going!!! I would love to hear more about your daily schedule and meals. Do you ever cook ahead of time and freeze it for quick meals? Do you use a crock pot often??

  16. You can make window cleaner w/white vinegar and water (super cheap, and works great!!!)

  17. no questions, i’m just impressed. 🙂 also impressed that your beautiful hair has no more expensive shampoo/conditioner than that! must just be healthy hair. 🙂

  18. Wow, I really should try to be more frugal. I’ve been very unfrugal of late.

  19. YOu remind me of my mom, in a good way. We had two deep freezes, and she would buy in bulk when things were on sale and then bake it or prepare it and freeze it in all for later. We usually made a giant batch of something once a week and then divided it into meal size portions for freezing. She would also make homemade freezer pockets for us to take for lunches, she would just make a big batch of pastry and fillings and then we would cut crcles, put some filling in the center and fold them over and pinch them closed. My mom would bake them and then freeze them and we would take them to school for lunch.

  20. You’ve done a great job covering this topic. I used to do all these things, and was able to buy groceries for my family of 4 for $40/week. That DID include diapers, toiletries, etc.

    I fell off the wagon a few years ago. Now that I have a family of 7, with three pre-teen appetites included, I am getting back to my old ways.

    Thanks for sharing all the great tips!!

    PS I am envisioning great amounts of cheering when your kids catch sight of the grocery haul for vacation and camping. That must make the trips even more fun!!

  21. Mary, I agree w/ Annab about the white vinigar. I switched to cleaning pretty much my entire house with a spray bottel of vinigar/ water and a few drops of lemon dish soap. It seriously does a great job and is super cheap.

    I switched to using the two ply double rolls of Angel soft TP a couple years ago because they do last so much longer and I figured if I’m not saving money I’m sure saving space storing the rolls.

    I agree totally w/ your shopping habits. We have to spend a little more on costly snacks avoiding sugar and hydrogenated fats since my hubby and I are old and apparently on our death beds with high blood sugar and high blood pressure. But we make a lot of our healthy alternatives too.

  22. Thanks for the great info! I’ve often thought I could benefit if I could just be the fly on someone’s wall when they put their groceries away — and here I feel like I have been. What a blessing…

  23. Awesome ideas…thansk so much!

    Quick note about the Scott t.p. I am a convert, after having friends in town, and having to change the cheapo roll almost everyday. I bought the Scott t.p. and then discovered that Kroger (here in TX) models their store brand of t.p. after Scott’s. SO CHEAP!

    Love it.

  24. I’m in awe of your dedication to keeping that budget! way to GO, Mary!!

  25. Hi,
    Can you tell me how you cook polenta for breakfast? I have just cut gluten out of my diet and am DESPARATE for some new recipes!
    Any polenta recipes gratefully recieved.
    Oh, and I love your stories about adoption… you are an inspiration!

  26. This was a really good read. I think our shopping habits are very similar! Although I’m shopping for half the kids you are. I am somewhat shocked at how cheap some of the items were that you mentioned. I’m wondering now if it would be worth crossing the border to do some shopping. We’re only 45 minutes away. Anyway, thanks again.


  1. […] November 16, 2007 by Owlhaven I got a question from a reader who read that I spend $700 or so a month on groceries. Actually these days, with two new kids, I think it is more in the range of $800. But I thought that in case others were interested, I’d share a link to a couple posts I wrote awhile back describing my grocery shopping habits. Let’s Go Shopping, Part One | Part Two […]