23 April 2012

The slow and mindful grocery challenge

I think it's a good idea to review and rethink what we do every so often. Without noticing, we slip back into old ways and bad habits. Having our own review keeps us on our toes. Hanno and I are concentrating on four key areas at the moment - the 50 percent meat reduction, which is going really well, getting the entire vegetable garden planted and productive, decluttering and reorganising our bedrooms, and our food expenditure.  I'm pretty sure some of you will need to check these areas too, so all this week, I'm going to write about those four things and hope you follow along with your own review and adjustments.

 We have plenty of fruit and vegetables.

I'll start with what we spend on food because we've made a good start on all the others and this needs to be kick started. We haven't changed much on our meals menu, except to eat less meat, and we're currently budgeting $85 a week on groceries. However, I want to spend the savings made on that reduced meat consumption on organic oats and flour so there will be some juggling happening. I'll keep a keen eye on my prices and let you know how it turned out. I stopped doing any grocery shopping when I got really busy and Hanno took over that department, and did it very well I might add. Now I'm going to give him a break and for the next month at least, I'll be doing the shopping, although Hanno went to the market this morning and bought $9 worth of fruit and vegetables - a cauliflower, half a large cabbage, bananas, avocados and pumpkin.

Last night's dinner (and tonight's) - a simple celery and potato soup.

I think it's an important part of our home economics to keep focused on what we're spending on food. I want to cook nourishing meals, I want them to be interesting and what Hanno and I like to eat but with prices rising so rapidly these days, a challenge to mindfully look at what and how the family food budget is being spent makes real sense to me. Cutting back on the amount of meat we're eating will give me the money to buy organic oats and flour and I'm very happy to be able to do that. And I guess that's what we all do with our various ways of shopping for food. We juggle this and that, we stretch meals out, we never waste leftovers, we shop for fresh food that's in season, we make do with what's in the cupboard and we build up a repertoire of good meals taking into account all those factors. That gives us a reasonable food bill while still serving up good meals.

Checking out the pantry before shopping is a must.

Yesterday afternoon I went through my stockpile cupboard, pantry and freezer so I'm sure of what I have in the house when I go shopping. I'll do some shopping at Maleny today and the rest at Aldi on Thursday. I don't have to buy meat, cleaners, laundry products, eggs, fruit or vegetables so it will be interesting to see what I spend during the week on groceries. I'll also keep a keen eye on the prices and will see how much everything has gone up since I last shopped for food.

Last night's dessert - whole orange cake with homemade custard.

What I'm hoping to do is to work out a challenging, but realistic, amount that I'll set as our new food budget. I doubt it will be $85 a week but I don't want it to be too much more. I want you to all come along on this journey with me. I think it will do us all good to check what we're doing to make sure we're still on track. But I don't want to jump right into it. I want to do this mindfully and carefully, by next week I'll have a better idea of my figures but it will take me a full month to get an accurate idea of what we should stick to in the near future. This week, and during the coming month, I'll write about my progress. If you want to join in, please let me know you're here and as usual, I'll start a forum thread so we can discuss what we're doing, give hints and tips and try to find the best way of doing this for all of us.

There is no doubt we all have different shopping lists, numbers of mouths to feed, dietary requirements and restrictions. There will also be plus points with some of us producing some food in the backyard. This could be anything from fruit, vegetables and eggs like us, to milk and cheese for some, and beef, chicken, lamb, fish or honey for others. The aim here is to work together to understand YOUR particular needs for your unique family - or if you're a single person, for yourself. Your aim might be to check your budget figures, or to write a budget for the first time and check the grocery part of it for accuracy, or to change how you shop - it should be anything. It will be different for all of us. There is no pressure, no common goal to reach. It's all an exercise on working out what we're spending each week on groceries and the making sure we're get the best value for our dollars, pounds and eruos.



  1. It’s actually a nice and useful piece of post. I am glad that you simply shared with us. Thanks!

  2. I look forward to this thread! After a couple of weeks of vacation - eating out one meal a day almost every day (part of our vacation plan & budget) - I am looking forward to home-cooked meals, beginning TOMORROW!

  3. hi Rhonda, I have been a regular reader of your blog over the last months and am enjoying it immensely. I am a single person, although at the moment I have my parents over from holland until the end of next week. My regular grocery budget is 50NZ a week although it usually is about 60. so I am joining the challenge and will be trying to get it down further. I will aim at two meatless meals a week and will be making my first laundry liquid this week.

  4. I think this is a fabulous idea, Rhonda. My "food budget" is a little higher than most people, because I have a very strong gluten intolerance right now. That and I'm eating a diet that is specifically targeted to heal bad bacteria in the gut. So far, so good :) :) Now having said that, I do make all meals at home now, so that helps keep costs down.

    Oh, it's funny you should mention talking about grocery spending, because I've been blogging about that for the last three weeks or so...usually on Friday's..and now Saturday's. Although I missed yesterday because I was at a ladie's spring tea at church. So I'll probably have that post up on Monday.

    I'm familiar with Aldi from when I lived in Germany. However, the stores I shop at here in California are Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. Plus I also receive a lovely box of fresh, organic fruits/veggies every week from a local CSA :) :)
    Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather :) :) :)

  5. Morning Rhonda. Would you mind sharing your custard recipe? I've tried many home made versions and am never happy with the outcome. Yours looks delish x

  6. Please refresh us Rhonda as to what you are including in your grocery budget. Does it include paper products like toilet paper, or things needed to make your household cleaners, chicken feeds, seeds or veggie garden supplies? Or does it only mean food you and Hanno eat?. Would that include the things you only buy when needed like 25 pounds of flour from a special store or the meat you might buy from the farmer only once a year? Would that have to be considered as part of a months food allowance? I do not mean to complicate this. We have had a change with us now both at home all day and our eating habits have changed and this is the perfect time for us too to reconsider this too. Sarah

  7. Will get back to you with the custard recipe, Jade, I'm on my way to the neighbourhood centre right now.

    Sarah, it includes toiletries like toothpaste and toiletpaper, shaving gear for Hanno etc., the ingredients for household cleaners and laundry products, all food including bulk flours and all meat that we by in bulk and fresh fish. It doesn't include seeds and garden supplies or chicken feed. Basically, it's everything we eat and the requirements for inside the house - like cleaning and personal hygiene. Good luck, love.

  8. Excellent challenge! Our lives are in transition here - we are moving at the end of May and I am focusing on eating down our stockpile. It is interesting how that has changed my shopping habits. I've only been buying fresh veg, fruit and milk, and using the meats from the deep freeze.

    Normally we do not eat much meat due to the price of quality, pastured meats. To make meatless days feel more "normal" we typically have beans and rice cooked in bone stock. A few times we have had friends over and they've been surprised by a meatless (but not vegetarian due to the stock) meal. They didn't know there was no meat.

    I try to purchase our meats in bulk when I find a good price, so I try to save a portion of my budget each month for these bulk purchases. Having a little grocery nest egg also allows me to stock up on grains, dry beans, and other things when I find an exceptional price. This challenge might help someone build a small grocery nest egg for the same purpose.

  9. i would love to get my shopping budget down some. We are a family of 6 adults and also have pets. I allow $300 per fortnight to feed us all including non food products. My boys have a high protein diet and they work out at gym and are also good eaters. So im very interested in getting some tips on saving more.

  10. Hi Rhonda,
    I'm keen to join the forum on this subject. My kids have grown into hungry, hungry teens and I am spending heaps on feeding them! I have just planted up the winter vegie garden here in Melbourne but it'll take a little while for that to get going. Any help will be much appreciated! celia

  11. I've just registered in your forum Rhonda and am really looking forward to dipping into certain threads and having a conversation there. In the meantime, this post offers plenty of food for though. We eat mainly wallaby for our meat - at $6 per kilo it's good value and 'wild' meat is very lean and nutrient dense.

  12. Hi Rhonda,
    I am looking forward to this. I never planned our week of meals but recently started doing so. So I am trying to shop according to the meals. I hoped that this will help lower the cost of groceries. I make soap, laundry soap and use bicarb to clean. We plant a veg garden and this year plan on growing and canning more which will help the grocery bill. So I am looking for more ideas and hints to lower the bill. Thank you for starting this at a perfect time for me.

  13. Thank you Rhonda, I'm going to be working on this as well. I'm off to do a shop this morning and I'll be noting the various prices as I go along. The celery and potato soup looks delicious. I'm just about to see if you have included this recipe on your blog.

    Blessings Gail

  14. We are undertaking a $22 challenge this week. Our aim is to feed our family of four on $22 for this week. It is intended as a fun challenge that helps us understand what we already have in our cupboard and garden and makes us really think about how we will eat this week. Another mum told me about the challenge which I think is outlined on a website called simple savings or something like that :-)

  15. Great post.

    I'm keen to join the challenge. Having gone down to one income while I'm on maternity leave I'm keen to reduce our grocery bill and figure out which is the next homemade item I'll take on. (I already cook from scratch, make laundry liquid and use cloth nappies.)


  16. I am excited about the upcoming posts! I finished your book last week and it has challenged me to be more mindful of spending for groceries, clothing, utilities, etc. I have been "shopping" in my home freezer - using up what needs to be eaten so that there will be room for what the garden produces. I have been "shopping" in my closet for clothing that my husband and I need to either wear, repurpose or take to our local Goodwill store where someone else can make good use of the things we no longer need nor want. I have become more mindful of combining errands into one trip away from home in order to save gas and time. I am gathering my meatless recipes and have vowed to cut back to no more than three meat dinners per week. That's a real challenge that in which I want to succeed!

    Your posts always inspire me to become more organized. A common theme that reassures me more than any other message from you is that we don't have to do everything all at once or overnight. Your messages give me such energy, yet I feel a calm resolve that frugal changes are possible and that I really can make a difference in our lives - my husband's and mine. I've been reading passages from your book to my husband (especially the one where you talk about Hanno's initial resistance to your plan), and I am happy to report that he has become more open to the changes I've been trying to make to simply our lives. He told me that he is proud that we've been able to save more than ever in our lives, despite that I am now retired and have only Social Security to contribute to the household income. He "gets it" that I have taken on the role of saving us money instead of earning us money by these lifestyle changes.

    I know this post is about grocery shopping, but I just couldn't help sharing with you (and your readers if they read my comments) how your wisdom guides folks to a better, more fulfilled way of living.

    I will be eternally grateful to you, my friend Rhonda.

    Diane in North Carolina

  17. Great idea. It's easy to lose our way a bit even with the grocery shop. I think that you should easily do it on $85 per week with just the 2 of you and no need for meat, eggs or fruit and vegetables. We are a family of 4 and try to spend $100 per week on all grocery shopping. It's not easy but worthy of the challenge. We focus on a lot more cheaper meals that are still very healthy, but don't cost big $. Stews, soups, cassaroles and baked dinners feature most often.

  18. To succeed at living this economical life really does need rethinking periodically. I've enjoyed reading an article by Tamara Adler in the Huffington Press about ways to cook. Most of us are already doing most of these things but I got a few new ideas.


    She wrote a very interesting cookbook called The Everlasting Meal with a subtitle somelike Cooking with Economy and Grace.

  19. I too am in a stage of reviewing things Rhonda. Most of us do slip into old habits and ways and, even if we don't, we can always use some refocusing and refining. Currently I am reviewing housework and spending wouldn't hurt as well.

  20. Hi Rhonda,
    Thank you for this post. I agree wholeheartedly with Jimmie (above). Your approach of one size does not fit all is so helpful, it allows us to slowly take what you have to teach and apply in the order that suits each individual situation and thus the changes become possible. Please keep holding up that light it is invaluable.

  21. Rhonda I used to follow and read your blog a couple of years ago and always enjoyed watching your garden grow, but I fell away from writing and following blogs and somehow you got lost in the shuffle.
    So imagine my surprise and delight to see you featured on my TV, advertising your new book, congrats this is going to be a must read for me as I have now retired and need to be a little more budget savvy.
    So you will see me around often, great to have found you again....

  22. Thanks for your good common sens! I am looking forward to the upcoming posts (but I enjoy ALL your posts,,). I know I tend to buy too much food and really find if I eat a lot less every day I FEEL so much better..talking about these topics keeps us focused and mindful. I have been purging clothes as well- how many do I need or even wear?
    Keep up the great work and thank-you from the US!

  23. Sorry I am a newby and this is my 5th try at this if it does not work this time I am going to clean the oven

  24. Great timing Rhonda. After a couple of 'blow-out' shopping trips to WW over the last couple of weeks - you know the ones where you come out and think how can I possibly have spent that much - a tightening of the spending reins would be a good thing. However, we have my Mum here at the moment and a baby due any day so I might need to revisit it in the next couple of weeks rather than immediately:)

  25. Rhonda, when I returned from a 2 week vacation recently I also had the thought to carefully consider many things we do in our home. Two of ours overlap - decluttering and successive garden planting. I can always learn more about mindful grocery shopping as I have a family if 6 and they are all bug eaters.

  26. Great timing once again Rhonda.

    I have just started looking at my grocery budget as I have found this year I have been over budget as many times as I have been on. I've decided to meal plan as I'm not a very inventive cook and it will help me to not only vary our diet but also plan more vegetarian meals for my family to save money on meat.

    I can't wait to see what your results are. So far after auditing the fridge, freezer and cupboards over the weekend, planing my fortnight of meals and doing my big fortnightly shop this morning it's looking positive.

    Can't wait to hear more and will be following on the forum.


  27. Good I am onto it, just want to say I read you in the WW and bought the book, now I am enjoying your Blog. Hubby and I are both working full time, living on 1300 sq mt block with our friut trees, vegie patch and the chooks. I am already doing alot of these things, but since buying the book I have not been clothes shopping! or shoes! And have now put restrictions on what I will be purchasing.ie need or want? Thank you for the sourdough site in the weekend reading I have had a failed sourdogh career, fed and nurtured it for over a month it looked great but the bread was a dismal failure. But I am still interested, maybe when I retire I will try again. We have almost finished painting our house in Hog Bristle which I love, so has been a good chance to cleanout any unwanted items to the Salvos. I used to shop with my eyes, I now shop with a list and it makes a huge difference, not so much to the total on shopping day, but stops me from going back for anything missed and getting tempted to buy more that I intended. My stockpile is kept so that I shop for what is on special, do not run from shop to shop,but if it is on special and we use it I buy it, if it is not on special I can wait till it is. Thank you all for letting me rave on, nice to find some kindred spirits, just enjoying my lunch pea soup from the weekend and toast from bread made in the breadmaker. I will get back to the Sourdough!

  28. Thank you so much Rhonda, we have a family of six and this post has given me a lot to think about. I would really like to cut down on eating meat in our home, the prices here in South Africa for meat are huge at the moment.

  29. This is another great challenge! In our household (2 adults + dog-son) we spend a total of $200 - $250 on groceries, meat, cleaning and amenities each month, simply by ensuring we don't buy what we don't need. I'm 100% vego so we eat meatless quite often, and SJ purchases his red meat and chicken from a wholesaler and catches his own fish, which saves us a heap of money. We also cook everything from scratch, including all meals and snacks, and I stockpile the pantry. Some weeks we don't even need to go anywhere near a supermarket! I love those weeks. :)


  30. Hi Rhonda, I'm new to your website. For the last two years I've been able to feed my family of 4 - two adults and two girls aged almost 15 and 12 on $300 a month. I do this by buying everything I can no name and cooking every meal and most snacks from scratch. I have a vegie garden and a lemon tree.
    Some months I only spend $260 or $280 and the leftover money goes into a food slush fund for those unbeatable specials.

  31. I try to keep an eye on what is getting low in the store-cupboard as I use it. I like to have a spare of stuff for baking - treacle, syrup, baking soda, Vanilla essence - that sort of thing, and as that spare is used, I put it on my shopping list on the back of the kitchen door. Same goes for other things used regularly. I hate finding I've run out.

    I'm currently building up my stores of tins again, after having a lean spell where we had to fall back on them. Like you, I try and build up my store-cupboard when things are on special offer.

  32. Having a NO SPEND YEAR, I have been really keeping an eye on the food budget this year and been pleasantly surprised that our average daily food spend is $7.84 as I have a healthy stockpile and full freezer thanks to our productive garden, which by the way, is still producing throughout autumn and winter, for 2 adults.

  33. Great post Rhonda...very thought provoking! I really need to do this as i admit i am struggling going from 3 mouths to feed to 5 mouths. I can no longer factor the twins in as babies as they near 2 yrs now. I have been providing for 3 for so long that i seem to be having trouble keeping to my budget for 5! I need to go back and examine and think about what changes i need to make to old habits...thank you Rhonda!

  34. What a wonderful post! I came over here to share a qoute with you today.
    I just found it while looking for some quotes for my own blog which has been slacking lately. :)

    When I go into the garden with a spade, and dig a bed, I feel such an exhilaration and health that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have done with my own hands. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

  35. hello rhonda
    i have followed your blog for some time now and really enjoy it. i have been trying to watch my shopping bills again these last two months. (used to do this last year but havent done so in a while) trying to see how the increase in food cost is affecting us. i keep a notebook and everytime i shop i put the total for that day so i have an idea over the week what my end of month total will be. i am in uk and set myself a 220 target for the month for 4 adults. last month wasnt so good i did it for 275. so trying to cut down this month. (although did buy some things in bulk as they were on offer) i wondered have you or any of your readers noticed that their gas bill has gone up a lot by making bread and other things often ? and if so does it then work out cheaper to buy rather than make. ive recently had a very high bill and we are trying to work out why.
    karen uk

  36. I've been able to cut my grocery bill by having salads for dinner. I can grow what I need in the garden, and I make my own salad dressing and bread. I also make granola for breakfast and buy popcorn in bulk at the organic co op. It's a a great snack. Growing as much fruit as I can will also really reduce my grocery bill. I drink less juice, and more water. I eat a lot of casseroles, and love homemade Mexican rice with cheese. The chicken broth and spices give it a great flavor. The more I garden, the less I have to purchase!

    awakened soul

  37. Good day Rhonda,
    I enjoyed your friday reads, especially "no hooks, no clips, no struggles" Dressing when you're older, certainly an eye opener.
    Enid Blyton was also my childhood favorite and now I get to enjoy her books again through my girls. Coincidentally, a month or so ago whilst re-reading one with my youngest, I too was struck by what they ate even whilst they were out on a cycling adventure. Good solid food too.
    Just a note on this post...A reminder to check, clean and service your appliances. I used to think that I surely was buying sub-standard produce because it went bad so quickly. It turned out that my refrigerator's seals needed to be replaced. I wasted too much food to mention because of this silly little detail. So please take heed of my error.

    Trinidad & Tobago

  38. I just found your blog last week and it couldn't have come at a better time. My hubby and I are also cutting back on meat and looking at a more plant based diet. We are doing this both for economic reasons as well as a healthier diet. In addition, cutting back on the clutter and re-organizing are also things we have been working on in the past several months. I'm glad to have found your blog.
    Thanks, Linda

  39. Hi Rhonda--

    We have slashed our meat eating by about 85% so far...it feels good. We mostly have none at the house, but still eat some when we eat out or go to friends or family for a meal,. which isn't that often.

    The grocery challenge is one I really want to participate in. Even though I am the world's greatest food shopper (lol) and I grow an enormous amount of our food, I still spend upwards of 50 dollars a week for my husbandman and myself.
    I def. need to start with a pantry inventory. And figure meals using what we have stocked. It's garden time up here again (up in the midwestern US), and things are starting to rock and roll. I made a batch of breakfast granola yesterday that had dried fruits from 2 years ago...I bargain buy fruits that I don't raise or that are a little more exotic (bananas and pineapples) when they come around and then dry them or freeze them, tho I'm trying to get away from much freezing.

    Anyway--starting in the pantry--here I go!!

  40. I forget to tell you when I wrote earlier, we had Pioneer Woman's "Crash Hot Potatoes" for dinner last night. (she got the recipe from an Australian lady) My meat eater husband commented on how good they were...so that recipe is a definite keeper..I used red potatoes that were a little on the bigger side, but they still turned out great...only had to cook a little longer.


  41. I will rethink my grocery amounts and keep a set amount back for future bigger buys like flours and such in bulk. So my true total weekly will have to include a bit from that fund. I have always included toiletries and toilet paper in the total. We use cloth where ever we can for wash ups of any kind. We have been using cloth napkins for over 25 years. It is amazing how long a cloth napkin will last isn't it!! Since we eat out of the garden I was wondering about adding seeds and such to the total but will not any more. We are blessed here to have many stores to choose from to buy from. So keeping stocked up is a matter of seeing if any of the stores has a number of things we need on super specials that week. If not we stay home. Also stay home if the store is out of the way from any activity we will be doing that week as wasting gas is not good either. We have been only buying $22 a week in groceries on the average. That though is because we have a good stock already. Plus the garden and caning things. It is always a challenge to see what we can cook very healthy yet within budget. It is well worth the thought though we put into it. I am glad for your post. Sarah

  42. This is something I have been working on and admit it is a huge challenge. We are a family of five and have two dogs and a cat. The cost of everything has gone up and is pushing us to our limit. I will be following these posts for sure.

  43. This is such a timely post for me. Thanks! I retired recently and I've been revisiting my budget accordingly. I'll be following your progress with interest.

  44. Rhonda, I am so keen to read how things go with your budget investigations. For a long time we have been trying to cut our grocery bill down so I am very keen to read everyone's comments and to discover things that might work for my family.

    I am so glad I came upon your blog a couple of months ago...you have given us much food for thought and we are almost ready to start the slow journey to a different way of living - so THANK YOU!

  45. Rhonda - this is something I have never done - budget on a weekly basis. Never having much money to throw around, I've always been careful - the meals reflected what money was available. Now retired we are still watching the cents to eek out the super. Looking forward to the forum discussions about this. Joy


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