A Year of Good Food: Shop the Perimeter

Aldi grocery cart www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Another month is done. Here’s what happened last month in your next chapter of… A Year of Good Food.

This year, our family is challenging ourselves to spend less on food so we can reach our goal of location independence by the end of 2019. Last year, I adopted one habit a month that would translate into better money moves for our family. You can read all about what I called A Year of Good Habits here.

That experiment worked so well that we tried a new one this year. In 2018, we are challenging ourselves to do better at our food spending. Last year our family spent over $12,000 in groceries, or $966 per month.

This year, our goal is to spend 20% less on groceries. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s almost $200 per month in food savings. The extra $200 per month is going into a travel savings fund, so we can see the results of our hard work in spending less on food.

We could have adopted a radical goal to keep our spending under $500 or something like that. But we know better. We thought it made much more sense to consistently hit our modest target, month after month, for an entire year, to show ourselves we could do it, than to maybe hit the $500 goal once or twice and then face plant with more $1000+ grocery bills.

And if we consistently hit sub-$772 spending, then perhaps we’ll challenge ourselves next year to shave off more.

Each month, we’re trying out a new way to save money at the grocery store. We’ve tried shopping with cash, making only one trip to the store per week, and shopping with a list. So far, shopping with cash has worked best. That’s in line with the idea that parting with your money is painful, and so you’re more likely to part with less of it if you’re paying in cash. When we use credit cards, we separate ourselves from our spending just a bit, since when we pay with a card, we feel like we’ll pay for the groceries later (and we will, when we pay our monthly bill). Strangely enough, when we pay our monthly credit card bill, it feels like we’ve already paid for stuff in the moment of purchase. So there’s a lot less purchase pain, which is the reason we tend to spend more with credit cards.

As of now, we haven’t adopted an all-cash system because it’s convenient to pay with credit cards. But I might start this summer.

A Year of Good Food: Shop the Perimeter www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Further Reading on Our Spending and Saving: 

The Details

Total Budgeted For APRIL: $772.00 US

Total Spent for APRIL: $670.50 US

This month, we spent a lot less at the grocery store because Mr. ThreeYear was gone for a large chunk of it. He had several work trips and so we only had three people to feed instead of 4. That translated to spending $100 less on our grocery budget for the month.

Our goal for the month was to shop at the same store each week. I thought I did really well at this until I actually looked at our expenditures. It was something of an epic fail. Wow. I didn’t shop at the same grocery store at all. I meant to. But I shopped all over the place. Sorry, guys. I guess I have the answer to my experimental question, though. You should shop at the grocery store that’s most convenient at the time, especially if you get the chance to hit up a lower-priced, but out-of-the-way store.

Weekly Expenditures:

Week 1: $54.74, Market Basket & liquor store

Mr. ThreeYear got supplies for his gin and tonics. He bought a few odds and ends from Market Basket, I believe on the way back from the airport.

Side trip: $19.94, Co-Op

Week 2: $141.43, Hannaford

This was a normal grocery haul. We were stocking up after our small weekly grocery trips in March. It was nice to be able to spend my normal $150ish again.

I made this amazing homemade yellow curry paste this week. Try it. It’s so good and easy. Here’s the recipe for the meal.

Yellow curry dinner www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Here’s a homemade steak-and-yellow-curry meal I made. We eat beef while Mr. ThreeYear’s away. He’s allergic.

Side Trips: $13.70, Asian Market. $22.96, Mighty Nest

At the Asian Market I got some rice and coconut milk. I placed an order at Mighty Nest and got some shampoo and soap-based cleaner which I love (just in case you’re curious. I always am).

Homemade sushi dinner www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
I made a batch of homemade sushi with the sushi rice.

Here’s the sushi-making in action:

Making sushi www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
I love sushi.

Week 3: $156.20, Hannaford and $62.97, Market Basket

After I bought my normal weekly groceries, I bought about $60 at groceries at Market Basket because I was on the way back from the airport with my mom, and I wanted to make sure she had enough food while I was away in Portland with Mr. ThreeYear.

Side trip: $30, Co-Op

I believe I was buying a couple of things for my mom’s visit here too.

Week 4: $82.83, Market Basket

On the way back from dropping my mom off at the airport I hit up Market Basket again. When I pass Market Basket, the food is such a good deal that I take advantage of it! It’s just amazing to me that I didn’t remember all these trips (it was a really busy month). I didn’t buy as much because Mr. ThreeYear would be gone for the entire week so there were just 3 of us to feed.

Week 5: $72.77, Hannaford

Same thing this week. I bought less. When it’s just the 3 of us, I don’t tend to cook “formal” meals. It’s usually stir fry and salads, pasta, or hot dogs. The kids get meals “short-order cook” style. I eat more veggies. It’s a win-win.

Week 5 Grocery Spending www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Our grocery haul from the last week of May. We bought less than normal because Mr. ThreeYear was traveling.

What I Learned

I think the big takeaway from this month is that when we have less side trips, we spend less money. I’m also getting better at buying the right amount during our weekly trips to the store. Yes, the refrigerator can occasionally be bare at the end of the week, but that also means we get a little more creative at finding things to eat and eating the food we have.

My family eats snacks like crazy. We eat way more snack food than meal food, especially the boys. I wish we were more like the French, who eat three meals slowly and appreciatively, and rarely snack, but we aren’t.

Here’s my favorite snack food being prepared:

Air-popped popcorn www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
We love popcorn. We bought an air popper this year and it has been an incredible purchase. We’re getting really good at the process of adding butter and salt at the perfect intervals.

May’s Focus

May’s focus is going to be Shop the Perimeter. Since it’s FINALLY Spring here, I’m going to focus on buying fruits, vegetables, and meat almost exclusively. That means I’ll need to buy more fruit as snacks, since I’ll be buying less snack food. I’ll also try to do some more baking. I made a batch of banana bread muffins for a playdate, and the four kids at all. eighteen. muffins. in an afternoon. One of the kiddos over to play actually asked me, “Can I eat every single one of these?” Um, no. But thanks for the compliment on my baking.

Happy May! Hope you’re enjoying more fresh food this month. 

Author: Laurie

Hi. I'm Laurie, and my family and I have set out to double our net worth and move abroad in the next three years. Join us on our journey!

17 thoughts on “A Year of Good Food: Shop the Perimeter”

  1. nice work on that sushi. mrs. me has been making crackers and they’re pretty easy. we also snack on toasted baguette slices or bagel chips that we toast in the oven. they might be a less processed snack. you have a price chopper in your part of the world? i still have my original PC card from the 90’s in my wallet for when we visit family. i saw you instagram from quechee. i grew up 80 minutes from there in ny state. i like that cabot cheese store at the gorge.

    1. Thank you Freddy! Yum–homemade crackers sound delicious. Good ideas for less processed food. We buy baguettes anyway. That’s hilarious that you have a Price Chopper card! I bet it still works too. That’s really cool that you grew up so close to Quechee. Have you been to the Gorge lately? They’ve got a new whisky distillery/store there called Vermont Spirits that I bet you would love…

      1. i haven’t been to the gorge in probably 15 years. we might to to new england in june, maybe to maine for a budget trip and that would be on the way. i’ll bet they have maple booze at that distillery. i had that idea for a vermont-centric product in the early 2000’s and never went anywhere with it. doh!

  2. Food is hard! Great job keeping on budget. For our family of four: not so much, although better than last year, when I was spending around $400 per week (note I buy EVERYTHING at the grocery store, one stop shopping, once per week). I tried to get it to around $300 per week, but that was making us unhappy—those little extras go far in feeling like luxury ($5 loaves of bread are my weakness, fresh berries are my husband’s), and I think we do make up for it in only eating out when we travel (save the occasional Friday pizza night or school break lunch out). $350 seems to be our happy medium.

    It is shocking when you add up all you spend on food—our spending on food is more than our house mortgage, insurance, and taxes per year!!!

    I really enjoy your posts, as we share common values—we are budget conscious without being frugal, and maximizing family travel is our goal. I’m happy to have found your blog!

    1. So glad you found it, Amy! 🙂 I agree with you on food–it is a major expense (fresh berries are my weakness, too, like your husband). In the US, we actually spend less percentage-wise than other countries. Most developed countries spend well over 10% of their budgets on groceries, so I’m always hesitant to cut too much, because I think we’d be cutting nutrition. A fellow family traveler! Love it. We are all getting antsy for the next trip around here. I know summer’s coming!

  3. Sounds like a fun challenge – and you’ve definitely got scope to reduce that food budget if you want to and still eat lots of yummy food.

    More fruit and more baking sounds like a great combination.

    1. More baking is always a plus, but I do struggle with consistency. Yes, there is still some fluff in our budget. We also live in such a high food cost area. I see people who spend $400 a month and I really wonder at how they do it. Then again, last year I thought it was impossible to spend $700/month consistently. And we’re close to that. It’s a slow process for us for sure. 🙂

  4. The perimeter of the store is where they hide the healthy food! That’s how we do most of our shopping too. Though I may venture further in to find dark chocolate – my weakness! Your grocery haul looks really healthy. So many people assume eating healthy is more expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, I find it can be done pretty cheaply.

    1. Yes it is! Oh, I love dark chocolate! Yum. I think if we’re buying mostly fruits and veggies we eat a lot healthier. Right now we eat a lot of snacks so there’s that, plus I think I need to buy more fruits and veggies because we always run out. So that’s what I’m going to focus on this month.

  5. That’s really awesome, that’s a pretty decent slash in expenses. Congratulations! I know we should shop more with cash but we haven’t been able to consistently do it. I just prefer the convenience, and the rewards don’t hurt.

    Nice post! maybe in a couple months you will be under the $700 mark…. talk about radical! cheers!

    1. Thanks! I know–I think if I had a grocery store like Aldi’s nearby we’d definitely be under $700 consistently. But again, my goal is just to consistently hit 20% less for this year so I can adopt the habit. I figure if we can keep it up for a year there’s a good chance we can keep it up forever. 🙂

      I’m back and forth on cash, too. I know I spend less with it but it’s a pain to go to the bank because it’s far away. So I hear you!

  6. Yum coconut milk and beef goes really well.

    I can’t roll sushi like my mom. She has her actual sushi worker friends teach her and all I can make are…poke bowls haha. This is quite a slash with more than $100 on the balance. How much was that salmon? My store has sushi grade salmon for $25 per lb, oooof, it’s a lot of $$$.

    1. I love coconut milk. I could eat it with every meal. I think I need a sushi worker friend to teach me too. My rolls are ok but sometimes are weirdly lumpy. Here’s my confession on the fish: I just used regular flash-frozen salmon to make my sushi. I’m probably playing with fire but I can’t find sushi grade fish up here, and I figure if it’s frozen, they freeze it right after they catch it for maximum freshness. So that’s my hack.

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