Sunday, December 5, 2010

Take a Shopping Trip with Me

My shopping habits change with the year and the season. During the CSA season (now 46 weeks long), I always pick up our fresh veggies on Thursday after work. (except next year, I think I signed up for Tuesday. After 10 years on Thursday, how much do you want to bet I'll forget the day?)

When my son was in daycare, I would often shop once per week at Tri County Produce because it was close to his child care provider, and had very good prices. When I was working Sundays, I would hit the farmer's market at lunch time near work. The Saturday farmer's market is one of the largest and is my favorite, but during the year or so that I was training for half marathons or triathlons, I always almost missed it.

When I worked part time, I shopped several days per week as I needed things, because I simply had more time. When I went back to work full time and got tired of that, I decided to only shop once per week (not counting the CSA pick up and farmer's market). When that got to be too stressful, I took a page out of some others' books (those who shop once every month or two or three), and attempted to shop only every 2 weeks. My thought was that I still had the CSA to pick up every week for vegetables, and there was now a farmer's market at my son's school on Wednesday, so I could shop without an extra trip.

I found the challenges to every 2 weeks were milk and fruit. It's not that if I ran out of something else, I couldn't work around it. I have a lot of practice with that. No bread for sandwiches or toast? Eat oatmeal or rice or pasta or soup. Milk does not stay fresh for 2 weeks. I know that you can freeze it, but I wasn't able to find 1/2 gallons or organic milk in the plastic jugs, and I didn't want to attempt to freeze paper cartons. And we eat a LOT of fruit. I eat 2-4 pieces a day and the spouse and child eat 1-3 pieces each. Our CSA supplies little fruit (some weeks, none at all), and the farmer's market choices are heavily dependent on the season (as expected). The market at my son's school is very small (1/8th the size of the Saturday one), with few vendors. I found myself having to shop at least once a week for milk and fruit, so I gave up the "every 2 weeks" shopping pretty quickly. I think I lasted 6 weeks.

The frugalness of my shopping trips has varied over the years and months too. A lot of frugal shopping and cooking habits can be learned and practiced bit by bit. Using a price book. Shopping loss leaders. Buying (and cooking) in bulk. Putting up "excess" (yours and friends'). Avoiding convenience foods. However, like healthy eating habits, it's pretty easy to find yourself drifting away from the good habits over time. One holiday party here and a pizza lunch at work there, and you find yourself hitting the bread or chocolate or wine a bit too much. Likewise, a week or two of craziness at work, a sick kid, or a traveling husband can mean you find yourself ordering pizza more often, or not using your price book, or buying convenience foods, or shopping at only one store because it's easier than shopping at three.

My shopping habits have also changed because of my reading habits. What to Eat, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Eat for Health, The China Study etc... now I purchase organic dairy whenever possible. We eat less meat (a LOT less) and buy organic and free range (local when possible). We eat about 5-10 lbs of meat in a typical month (for a family of 3). We try to eat organic for the "dirty dozen" fruits and vegetables also.

"Back in the day" before I embraced the more-organic path, and when I was working part time, I would use cash to shop and could feed us for $70/week plus $20 for the CSA. We ate more meat, I shopped more often at Tri County, and my son was mostly fed on breastmilk and baby food. I sometimes think longingly of those days of shopping aggressively and cooking from scratch 5 days a week (with leftovers on the other two days). But my shopping and eating habits have had to change for my own sanity's sake.

So, frugal or not by your standards, here's a day (sort of) in the life of my family's shopping habits. I was able to shop myself (no kid), which was relaxing.

At the Wednesday farmer's market this week, I discovered something dangerous. The hummus guy. Oh my goodness. I was shopping for my son's school snack for the next day. I like making my own hummus, but there's that time factor again.

Weds Farmer's market: $15
3 tubs of hummus: $13
1 lb broccoli: $2

Weds Grocery store: $9
crackers and baby carrots

Saturday Farmer's Market: $34.50
raw almond butter: $8 (this stuff is GOOOOOD)
10 lb bag oranges: $6 (great deal! and they keep pretty well in the fridge)
3+ lb avocado: $5 (from the best avocado ranch around)
1 ripe avocado: $1.50 (from a different vendor)
2 heads lettuce: $2
24 oz honey: $9
2 lb carrots: $3 (vs. 33cents a pound at Tri County. Not the frugal choice, but they are tasty)

Contrast these prices (some good, some not great) with Tri County Produce (location of origin listed).
Total Tri County: $14.82
yellow onions (USA) at 0.33/lb
kabocha squash (USA) at 0.79/lb (oops, they charged me for acorn)
organic pink lady apples (USA) at 1.39/lb (best price I've seen all year for organic)
cabbage (USA): 0.49/lb
poppy and sesame seeds: 0.69/ea
celery (USA): 0.79
red bell pepper (Mex): 0.49/lb
eggplant (Mex, though the label on the shelf said USA!): 0.99/lb
soda (bad Marcia): $1.59

I read recently that our poor farmers feed our rich people and our rich farmers feed our poor people. I wish I could remember where. Probably from a link from another site, like Casual Kitchen. When you compare our farmer's market prices vs. our store prices, you can see that is true.

Trader Joe's: $56.94
drinks: prosecco, limade, grapfruit soda (for a party)
sparkling water, apple juice (for home). Yeah, I pay for bubbles.
milk (1 gal, leaking), 2 kinds of yogurt (32 oz each) - I haven't made my own in awhile
fruit applesauce pouches (a jar would be better, but it's a treat for my son)
olives, capers, pickles
whole wheat penne and fettucini, bowtie pasta
bananas, gorgonzola, sour cream, bread

So, there you have it. $115.44 for the week. And we ordered pizza one night.


Joanne said...

Loved reading this! People's shopping habits always interest me for some reason...

The hummus guy does sound dangerous. I try to avoid all premade goods at the farmer's market for fear of becoming addicted :P

Daniel said...

Me too, really interesting, and even more interesting to see the pricing idiosyncracies of different foods--and to read about how your frugal-ness fluctuates depending on your life situation. Frugality is a powerful tool, but it's a tool you can choose to put down sometimes too. Thanks for sharing.

Dan @ Casual Kitchen

Alyse said...

Really enjoyed this post. The Omnivore's Dilemma really changed my eating habits.

Amy B said...

I am a single woman, trying to be frugal and eat healthily, but I don't seem to be able to get much below spending $50.00 on food a week, and, truthfully, it's often more like $70.00 a week. We just got a Trader Joe's in Portland, Maine, so will see if that helps!

sara said...

Just found your blog :) We're a family of five on a $60 a week grocery budget, and I'm working on switching over to organic as much as possible. I am a sahm so I do have the time (in theory at least lol!) to cook and bake from scratch so that helps make my grocery budget doable.

Anonymous said...

Amen, sister! I wholeheartedly agree with your post and write about similar topics on my blog. In particular, I love your principle about eating real food--as an Asian American, the idea of tofurkey leaves me completely miffed, though I love tofu, seitan and edamame. Eating locally and seasonally, as you say, is not just better for you and the earth but also benefits those local farmers, producers and communities and connects each of us with what's required to grow great food. We just enjoyed venison chili made with a deer my dad-in-law hunted while visiting them for the holidays. Thanks for a great post!
-Stephanie M at Together In Food