How We Save Money...by shopping at expensive grocery stores

How We Save Money...by shopping at expensive grocery stores 1
Whole Foods Market - Austin, TX

I am a fan of upscale grocery stores. They have wide aisles and beautiful displays. They tend to offer in-store amenities and samples. They usually offer superior customer service. AND - they save us money.

In our family, we don't abide by the "eat everything on your plate" mentality. In fact, we adopt quite a different philosophy: "Eat delicious, healthful foods until you are full." If we buy rolls and they end up being stale, we throw them away. If I go to a dinner party, sample a truffle, and don't care for it...I (discreetly) throw it away. If I order something at a restaurant and find that the side dish is salty and unsatisfying, I leave it on my plate.

It is important to clarify that our family does not invite complaint, rudeness, or unnecessary waste to sit at our table. We are teaching our girls to say "please," "you're welcome," "excuse me" and - especially - "thank you." We encourage them to try new foods and, if they don't like something, to eat other foods quietly. We strive to lead by example in practicing these principles.

The purpose of food is twofold: to nourish us AND to be enjoyed.

We save money when we buy from high-quality food vendors (upscale grocery stores, independent bakeries, farmer's markets, health food stores) because we tend to eat all of the food. The produce is more likely to be ripe and in-season. The meat is more likely to be organic and unadulterated. The bread is more likely to be fresh and heavenly. We eat every last morsel - or save the rest for leftovers (which we actually eat). Zero waste. Plus, our bodies feel alive and energetic (rather than sluggish from eating processed, hormoned, salted, and high-fructosed foods).

How We Save Money...by shopping at expensive grocery stores 2Over the years, we have acquired a taste for good-for-you food. Our girls love peas, corn, broccoli, pears, peaches, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh bread, and whole milk.

One time, when we were very busy, we took the girls to Chic-Fil-A and ordered a kids meal. Our 4-year-old took about 2 bites of the chicken nuggets and fries, and then said quietly, "This doesn't taste good." Touché. I didn't have the heart to make them finish.

Another time, we bought a smoothie from a fast-food place. "Our smoothies are better," our 4-year-old declared after a few sips. Maybe because they actually have fruit in them?!

When we drive by Burger King or a similar establishment, they wrinkle their noses, "What's that smell?"

Even on a meager budget, eating well is possible. Think: rice, beans, frozen veggies, made-from-scratch baked goods, and as much produce as you can manage (look into co-ops and CSA's).

We save money at better grocery stores because the quality of the food is better...which means that we waste less and also stay healthier (less illness; fewer doctor's visits). Food is medicine, after all. I do believe that.

* We also cut corners by limiting meat consumption, eating simple meals, and - most importantly - eating IN. 

How do you save money at the grocery store? Please share your expertise.  (I'm still looking for ways to bring our monthly total down a notch).

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39 comments on “How We Save Money...by shopping at expensive grocery stores”

  1. We enjoy the upscale grocery stores too, but I have to admit that I really think that some of our local grocery stores are pretty high quality. We pinch our pennies each week by shopping the ads. I make a list of foods that are actually a "good buy" before making my weekly menu. Hence - we eat what's on sale. And if the sale items are the ones we love (whole wheat pastas, brown rices, etc.) we stock up. The fruits and veggies we eat that week are the ones on sale - we love berry season. Our few exceptions - staple items on the list every single week - bananas, carrots, broccoli, green onions, tomatoes. We simply consume enough of those, and they are so healthy, that we get them every week.
    I have also recently gotten really into pressure cooking - always looking for new ways to make the same old foods - loving the pressure cooker - and finding that the time it saves me is worth a little extra expense for "unique" ingredients sometimes needed.
    As for the "eat it all" philosophy - NOPE!!! We have also worked hard to teach our girls that there are very polite ways to express dislike for certain foods. Our exception - veggies at dinner are a must. Sometimes they are more favorable than other times, but we always eat a full serving of veggies. We work around this by having at least two different types of veggie samples on the table at ever dinner. We have one VERY picky veggie eater and the other not at all. But we manage.

    1. Sunflower is our favorite local grocer lately - lots of fresh produce, excellent prices! We also like to buy meat there - and bulk goods.

      We go to Costco about once every three weeks. They have delicious fish...and berries too!

      I'm not a fan of Fry's or Safeway, but we go there begrudgingly because they are close and offer better prices on non-edible items (toilet paper, laundry detergent, etc).

      1. Don't give up on Fry's and Safeway completely. They are both starting to offer a variety of organic options, including organic meats. I still prefer buying my meat directly from ranchers at the farmers markets, but the regular stores are coming along. I try to buy from them occasionally, if only to vote with my dollars.

  2. Do you ever try to get your girls to finish their meals? I remember a facebook post about that a while back and wonder what your thoughts are on that.

    1. We don't require our girls to "finish their food" or "polish their plates." Neither of our girls are big eaters, but they're not particularly picky either. They're pretty good about eating most anything (veggies, fish, fruit, breads, etc) - in small quantities.

      I know some families have very specific mealtimes and/or don't allow snacking throughout the day. We, however, snack often throughout the day - dried fruits, fresh fruit, granola bars, pretzels & cheese, smoothies, popcorn, sliced veggies, etc. I prefer to eat that way...so I suppose they "got that" from me. ;)

  3. At some point I became very irritated at the amount of money I was spending on BEVERAGES....juice, soda, beer, boxed kids drinks, coffee, etc. Really, who needs that many beverage options. We still have some guilty pleasures or occasional pleasures, but I have cut back in this area.
    (But you probably didn't need that piece of advice...)

  4. Stephanie, have you thought of joining a CSA? There are even some organic CSA's. A great way to find one is to search on localharvest.org.

    It takes a bit of an investment and some time, but last year I starting canning and would purchase produce from local farms or orchards. I made jam, apple butter,apple pie filling, apple sauce, and canned pears, diced tomatoes and peaches. If you're interested in canning, you might be able to find cheap jars at yard sales or on Freecycle.

    Another idea is to go in with another family and buy a 1/2 side of beef or pig from a local farmer. Ofcourse, you'll need to invest in a freezer for this idea.

  5. Our family has made it our goal to eat healthy! I think that it is so unfair to not teach children how to make healthy choices when they are young. Thank you for "leading by example", Steph!

    We buy quite a bit of food at Costco which includes fish and chicken, dried fruit, spinach, strawberries and blackberries. We eat so many different types of salad that buying in bulk is better for us.

    We work out and exercise every day and can tell a major difference in our energy levels now that we have chosen to eat healthy and only feed our bodies with fuel it can use:)

  6. Another for the whole chickens. I either roast or crockpot - saving the bones for soups. I also save the veggie bits from juicing for soups - either just to nourish the broth (usually carrots) or to stay in for color and texture (spinach). We are fortunate to have a nearby elk farm for infrequent red meat cravings. A great way to make yogurt is to crockpot. I have found this recipe to work: http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/2008/10/you-can-make-yogurt-in-your-crockpot.html The first time I tried it I checked all the temps as I went, everything worked perfectly. I do prefer the yogurt to sit longer - min of 12 hrs but better at 18 or 24...thicker and sharper. Reading the other posts, I really wish there was a Costco near us. We do buy drygoods in bulk off the web, mainly flours. Amazon is good for some and I HIGHLY recommend Nuts.com for bakers. They have a wonderful assortment of certified gluten free flours/products as well as an extensive selection of organic and hard to find flours and powders. I love to multipurose sweets as a nutrient source, then in my son wants a cookie I can give him a nutrient dense, refined-sugar free snack.

  7. We have very similar philosophies on food but I'm still not convinced that I save money at upscale grocery stores. You didn't mention any stores by name so it's hard to compare apples to apples especially when grocery chains vary greatly from location to location.

    I shop for most of my groceries at Trader Joe's but I save a few staple items for the inexpensive stores. Whole wheat bread, cereal, oats, eggs, butter, and milk are a few examples of staples I can find in larger quantities and for cheaper at the discount stores without losing quality.

    As for produce, I buy mostly organic at Trader Joe's. We do have a Whole Foods down the street and the only difference I find between the two is that Whole Foods does a better job at display but still charges a lot more.

    Which grocery store chains do you shop at the most?

    1. I would consider Trader Joe's to be in the "upscale" or "specialty" category. We shop there occasionally, but not often...in large part because the nearest location is 30+ minutes away.

      We do most of our shopping at Sunflower Farmers Market, a chain that has locations primarily in the western half of the U.S.

      If we had a Whole Foods nearby, we might also shop there because we appreciate the higher food standards. (We took a tour of the flagship store in Austin, TX...and I am now convinced that they have the tightest requirements for the foods they carry).

      We also go to Costco with Tim's grandpa about once a month. It's a great place to buy meat and fish...and dried mangos too! ;)

  8. Yes, we buy mostly organic food. The organic produce is exactly cheaper than the conventional ones. I only buy small packs of organic meat. I make things that I can use to fill up the meat mix- like stuffed peppers, cabbage roles, casseroles, meatballs, etc. I put more veggies and oatmeal in the meat mix and it makes plenty of it. No one really can tell the difference. Other things I love to make, which can last us for 2 days and have enough left to freeze is stew. I put oatmeal in the blender to make it like powder then use it to thicken up the stew sauce. Oatmeal is great since it's very cheap, also high in iron and fiber. My son also hates fast food. It's so sad I read in the news about that young girl that only ate chicken nuggets and was hospitalized. When you think about it a meal at a fast food restaurant for a family costs about $15-20. With that money I can get some bags of organic produce like celery, onions and carrots- that can be used as a base for any nutritious meal for a couple of weeks.

    1. I'm glad you brought up the point about the cost of fast food. The media often portrays that as the "cheaper" option, but - in reality - eating in is MUCH more affordable.

  9. I am all about food co-ops. We LOVE ours and it has been great to find something new in the bunch. We have a local dairy that delivers milk and eggs, which is actually more expensive, but like you said, it saves us money. I get milk delivered every week, which makes it possible for me to only have to shop about twice a month. We also make our own bread and yogurt. (And honestly, making yogurt takes all day, but it is seriously so simple.)

  10. I love this post, Stephanie! You get what you pay for!
    I agree so much! I can't claim to dislike all garbage food. But I love good food & seek to eat that most of the time.
    I agree about the whole chickens. I usually just boil them & then use the shredded chicken in various dishes. You can get organic ones at costco.
    We buy eggs from the local chicken ranch that we love. If we are out of town and grab regular eggs from safeway & I always surprised. I don't like them. there is a huge difference.
    Anyway. yes. the waste of buying bad food is high.

  11. This is what we do too! We eat in far more often than a typical family so our total food bill, even with the upscale grocery stores, is probably about the same as other families. As you said, we do not get sick. None of us, including our 3 year old, has ever been on an antibiotic since my husband and I started dating in 1999! Our 3 year old eats fruit like candy. Sometimes I can't wash the blueberries fast enough - those were fun diapers to change! ;)

    Do you have a Costco near you? We have enjoyed buying their organic ground beef and organic boneless, skinless chicken breasts. We most recently paid $18 for 3 lbs of organic, grass-fed beef. They package them so you only have to use 1 lb at a time. They also have some limited produce, and they also sell organic frozen and canned foods. We bought two huge organic salsa jars for $7.

    1. Isn't it great to be so healthy? We haven't been to the doctor in ages and I attribute our immunity, in large part, to nutritious foods, regular exercise, and lots of love.

      I agree about Coscto. It's a great place to buy meat + fish. Have you tried the tilapia or salmon? So good!

      1. No, we haven't, but I love both of those. Are those safe to eat while pregnant and breastfeeding? How about for little kids? Chris and I have been leery of feeding fish to our 3 year old.

  12. I love this approach to eating, it is so much more sensible than demanding that your kids finish everything on their plate. You're teaching them to really taste and appreciate food. We try to instill that in our kids, too, but they're way more junk food-ready than your girls! They're really only interested in vegetables when they're out in the garden. Bring them inside and cut them up or cook them and Roo and Jasper turn up their noses. Sigh.

    1. Oh! Our girls like sweets too and, believe me, they get their fair share (especially since we have lots of grandparents that live near us!).

      Also - No matter what I do, I cannot get them to NOT like hot dogs. ;)

  13. I buy whole chicken as well and believe it or not I grew up in Africa where we had our own farm, I am very skilled in killing chickens and taking off their skin, then cooking them. I know it sounds gross, but that is the reality of eating any kind of animals. Most especially, this chickens are free range and not raised on hormones or any other type of stimulants. These days in America, we buy from the local organic market, whole foods which is a little cheap. Our daughter still loves to eat at Chic-Fil-A which is by far better than burger king, mcdonalds and wendys. We just try to balance everything. Her pre-school is all organic meals which makes us even more confident that she is eating well. I love that your kids really understand food, that is a rare skill for kids that age.

  14. Good post. We've been doing alot of farmer's markets lately and buying local. We love that it is so sustainable to our environment and the quality of produce is so far beyond what we would purchase from our local chain stores. Some of my goals for the year are to make my own homemade bread and learn how to can my own salsa, spaghetti sauce, and jam. I read this article today that you might be interested in: http://www.positivelypositive.com/2012/01/30/eat-well/ from Positively Positive.
    We try to cut costs by reducing our meat intake, purchasing bulk staple items (beans, rice) from Costco, and purchase sale produce when shopping at the store. I always review the ads before meal planning for the week.

    1. I do my best to review the ads ahead of time too. It makes meal planning easier and also helps our overall bill to be less.

  15. Good post. We've been doing alot of farmer's markets lately and buying local. We love that it is so sustainable to our environment and the quality of produce is so far beyond what we would purchase from our local chain stores. Some of my goals for the year are to make my own homemade bread and learn how to can my own salsa, spaghetti sauce, and jam. I read this article today that you might be interested in: http://www.positivelypositive.com/2012/01/30/eat-well/ from Positively Positive. You mention alot of key points that the other blogger does as well. Good stuff!

    1. Thanks for linking to that post! I appreciate the author's creative suggestions, particularly the one about making use of the salad bar. I tend to dismiss it as being too expensive, but she's right - there may be some items that would be more affordable there!

  16. We eat in a lot - it's definitely the best way to save some food money in the household budget.

    Whole chickens are definitely the way to go! I either roast mine then boil it after we eat the roasted chicken to get the rest of the meat off the bone and to make chicken stock. Or I'll boil it down - with lots of seasonings! I use that chicken for anything with shredded chicken or for soups, gumbo or jambalaya.

    I don't have a high-end grocery store close to me, but our local grocery store is an excellent place. I just wish it had a better selection of organic fruits and vegetables. During Farmer's Market season I try to buy those things at the Farmer's Market.

  17. I find I save a LOT of money when I plan ahead - then I stock up when organic items are on sale. I do use canned and frozen a lot to stock up, but I buy these organic or at the very least salt-free. It's when I don't have a plan that I buy randomly and end up with too much food or have to run out AGAIN for that one forgotten item. So... I TRY to plan about 2-3 weeks out and adjust as necessary, but at least my grocery shopping has a method to the madness!

    We also eat in A LOT...

  18. Jealous at how much produce your girls eat! Eleanor is the pickiest person on the planet, so ironically she ends up eating more processed things than we do. She loves those Gerber yogurt snacks, which are so pricey!

    But, I got her to start eating peas recently, hooray! At least we've got 1 vegetable in the rotation.... And, I guess I can't complain too much, because she'll eat grapes and strawberries and blueberries by the bowlful. It's just a matter of weaning her off those little snacky things and replacing them with veggies. :)

    1. It goes in bursts and seasons. Right now, they're both loving snap peas, avocados, cherry tomatoes, and blueberries. But - they're not so keen on salad (including bell peppers, jicama, and such).

      Tim & I just keep eating lots of veggies and offering them at meals. We figure that they're bound to appreciate the versatility of produce eventually. ;)

      Side Note: I have to admit that I've never really understood when people dismiss vegetables as being less appetizing than junk food. I would MUCH rather have well-prepared roasted carrots, fresh cucumber slices, or sautéed green beans than a slice of cake. Really. Truly.

  19. In the past year I have only purchased whole chickens. That saves us a lot, because I use and reuse the bones for making our own broth. And then there are all the leftovers to throw in the soups! We usually get 5-6 meals from 1 chicken.
    We make all our own bread, and I used to make my own yogurt. I got out of the habit and need to get back in.
    And I totally agree about the better food, less waste. And you enjoy it more in the philosophical sense, too. You are more connected to your food (we try to buy almost entirely local, which is a little easier, since we live in a more humid climate!).
    I would love to bring our budget down a notch, too. Looking forward to reading some ideas!!!

    1. Tell me your technique for cooking the whole chickens. Do you use your oven, the crock pot, or a rotisserie? Do you freeze the cooked meat or only make enough to last you the week? Also: where do you buy your chickens?

      We make our own bread frequently too - especially Cinnamon Raisin!

      I've never attempted homemade yogurt, but perhaps we should give it a shot. For now, we buy Plain yogurt by Mountain High. http://www.mountainhighyoghurt.com/

    2. I would LOVE to know your techniques too - I can barely get 3 meals out of a chicken and there's 2 adults and 1 toddler in the house. I do a roast, then leftovers for either chicken pot pie or a chicken salad sandwich. Then I boil the bones for chicken broth/ soup.

      How big of a chicken do you get? Need to learn more! :)

      1. I am pretty skimpy on chicken in most of my recipes. I usually get a 4ish lb chicken. I really love doing it in the crockpot lately, because it just falls off the bone after (and that means I can usually get more chicken off it!). After we eat it (with lots of sides, so we don't just fill up on chicken), I debone it, and put it in the crockpot with filtered water for 12-18 hours. That makes the broth pretty concentrated, so I can at least use the broth for many, many meals. Then I chop up the chicken in 3/4 c. servings and freeze it. I usually get 5 baggies out of that. Then I can pull that out whenever I need an addition to soup or pot pie.

    3. I only buy whole chicken too, for the same reason. I coat mine with a layer of kosher salt, stuff a coarsely sliced onion into it, and roast it at 450 for an hour and then let it sit for 15 minutes before cutting. It's easy, quick, and super yummy! It's one of the few things my picky toddler will just eat.

      Did you know that if you add a splash of vinegar when you're making broth, it pulls the marrow out of the bones more effectively?

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