Eat Well, Spend Less: My money-saving, time-saving, healthy-eating method

This post is the third and final post in the Eat Well, Spend Less series! I'm honored to be a part of this series along with other great bloggers representing various parts of the U.S. (and Canada!).

If you're new here, welcome! I'm Tammy, I'm a Seattle transplant, and we love good food!

Money-saving. Time-saving. And healthy eating?! One of the goals of the Eat Well, Spend Less series has been to help you learn how to get the best from your grocery budget, your family dinners, and your time investment...

...because I don't know anyone who has limitless time or money to spend in the kitchen or in the grocery store aisle! But we all want to eat good healthy food, right?

So in this post, I'm going to tell you what works for our family. In short, we:

1. Eat affordable + nutritious (or "whole") foods.

2. Shop at 1-2 stores.

3. Plan for healthy eating, even during busy or stressful times.

1. Eat affordable + nutritious (or "whole") foods.

We've found some inexpensive, healthy foods that we like to eat, and I make sure I plan those weekly! This gives us more resources to enjoy variety the rest of the time... because we really do enjoy good food! :)

I've elaborated on this in my post about our top 5 favorite frugal foods: Oatmeal, beans, soup, bread, and yogurt/kefir. Check out that post for lots of creative serving suggestions, because those foods are anything but boring! :)

2. Shop at 1-2 stores.

I know, I know. I have heard over and over again from people who use coupons and shop several stores weekly, that the reason my grocery budget is "so high" is because I'm not taking advantage of the loss leaders at different stores.

When we first moved to the Seattle area, I was in awe of the number of grocery stores within a 5-mile radius! I even blogged about it, and got lots of great advice and even more suggestions about where to get good deals on food in the Seattle area!

My excitement was short-lived, though. I quickly realized that 5 miles, or even 3 miles, was quite a drive with traffic, and as a 1-vehicle family, grocery shopping during lighter traffic hours wasn't always possible.

Stores move around their items frequently, so just running in for a couple items wasn't always very quick, especially with lots of little kids.

Most of the truly good sales (in my opinion!) have ridiculously low limits for a large(r) family size.

We started getting Red Plum coupon inserts in the mail, but I could rarely seem to match up a coupon with a good sale to get items we needed for a price I was willing to pay. I use very few toiletries, we don't have pets, I use cloth diapers, and we don't buy processed foods (very often).

The "normal" sale prices are almost always quite comparable to Costco's everyday prices.

That last part was the clincher! I love shopping at Costco. With a growing family, we just don't have trouble using those 5-pound bags of organic veggies or big bags of dried beans. Is Costco frugal? I certainly think it can be, and I've been getting the majority of our groceries at Costco for a couple years now. You can see pictures and price breakdowns from some of my Costco shopping trips here.

My reasons for doing most of our shopping at Costco include: We go through a lot of food, Costco is 3 miles from our house, I don't like spending lots of time running to lots of stores, and more. I think most weeks we spend a total of 2 1/2 hours (including driving time and making the grocery list!) on shopping. Many weeks, Joshua does the shopping for me (with a list I've prepared) and despite the occasional (not on the list) doughnut purchase, I love not having to go to the store at all!

3. Plan for healthy eating, even during busy or stressful times.

When we're busy (and who isn't busy these days?!), it's HARD to eat well on a budget. I've been trying to do some planning and preparing for each week (on Sunday, for me) to help us eat better all week.

What my weekly planning includes (or should include!):

--Making a weekly menu plan.

--Making salads for the week. These keep in the fridge and are an instant healthy lunch option. I would NEVER eat a salad for lunch if I had to make it every day. Doing them up ahead means I WILL GRAB one when I'm hungry! :)

--Making oatmeal for the week. I cook a big pan of oatmeal and put it into containers for Joshua's breakfast at work (he re-warms in the microwave). The extra oatmeal, we re-warm in bowls for breakfast(s) through the week. I usually end up cooking oatmeal 2-3 times a week this way, instead of every day! A bowl of oatmeal also makes a good snack.

--Cook beans in the crock pot. I love the texture of dried beans in the slow-cooker! If you've not tried cooking dried beans in a crock pot, you're seriously missing out! A big crock pot of cooked pinto beans can be put in containers and frozen or refrigerated for use in bean burritos (or make freezer bean & rice burritos), or eaten with hot sauce and sour cream for lunch. We love pinto beans, and having some cooked ahead makes them a quick, filling, healthy lunch or snack.

--Put washed fruit (apples, or whatever's a good deal) in a produce drawer in the fridge for a quick healthy snack. I don't usually cut/prep fruit more than 1 day in advance, so it stays fresh and delicious.

--Make homemade mocha frappuccinos for Joshua's lunchbox. (Yes, I always pack a lunch for Joshua!) These can be made with protein powder added, to make them more than a morning coffee pick-me-up drink. Joshua drank one of these daily for probably 18+ months, but recently stopped so I haven't been making these any more. But I used to mix up 5-7 at one time and store them in the fridge so they were ready for the week! :)

I'll be linking up to the rest of this week's Eat Well, Spend Less posts tomorrow, so stay tuned! :)

Comments

Hi Tammy. Just a question, what type of salads do you make that last for the week in the fridge. I love salads for lunch and it is great for me to take a salad in to work each day, but making them each morning before I head out to work at 7am makes it all too difficult. I would love some salad ideas that I can make in advance for the week ahead.

This post details how we make our salads for the week.
A few things help them keep longer -- spinning the lettuce dry, storing in individual containers (i.e. not opening the container at all until it's time to eat it -- so it hasn't been opened during the week to let fresh air in there to cause faster spoilage), etc...
We don't add dressings until we're ready to eat the salad.
And I wouldn't do anything too juicy for longer-term refrigerated storage. Things like ripe fruit, fresh chopped tomatoes, or avocado wouldn't keep well for a week.
Drier vegetables like carrots, celery, onions... those are all fine.
And Romaine seems to keep the best for lettuces, and is easy to get dry! I also like to buy the 1 pound container of washed organic baby spinach at Costco ($3.99) because I can mix it in without washing so it keeps well! :)
Hope these tips help! Let me know if you have any more specific questions about it. :)

I think one reason I love your site so much, is that you shop, cook, and live a lot like we do.

I too have had the pressure to be a coupon clipper, but the junk foods that found their way into our house, the time and pressure to not miss a deal, and the quantity of room those air filled boxes took up made me decide otherwise.

I wish we had a Costco nearby. We shop at a BJs warehouse club which isn't as good price wise, but not too bad. And the money saved making a trip a week or less and only shopping with a list works great. I am thankful also for the food co-ops I have been able to be involved in in our area (for produce and for bulk grains/beans)

~ MrsKatie

MrsKatie, I agree! I have gotten a few good deals using coupons (one time for cheese, something we would normally use anyway!) but after watching closely for a number of weeks, saving lots of coupon flyers, etc. I just wasn't able to actually get any substantial part of our groceries for a much better deal than Costco! And I had spent hours trying! :) I'm glad that coupons are such a great tool for some people though! Maybe part of it is that our stores here don't double coupons? :)

How do you think BJs compares to Costco or Sam's Club? I'd be interested to hear about the differences... I'm glad we have Costco because I have not been impressed with Sam's Club! But our Costco carries a lot of organic/healthier food so it's more my style. :)

my DH has asked me to buy the little packets of oatmeal for him to eat at work. In addition to the fact that they are very expensive per serving I don't like all of the "extra ingredients" in them (the preservatives and such). We have talked about doing what you do with making the oatmeal ahead but I was wondering how you go about adding milk to the oatmeal when it is time to eat it? Also do you add the sweetener to it before you store it? and do you add anything else to it (ie raisins, walnuts, cranberries, etc.) ? old fashioned oats, steel cut, quick oats? which one do you use?

thanks so much if you get a chance to answer! :)

I use old-fashioned rolled oats (from Costco) because those are Joshua's favorite! :) Any kind would work though. :)

I either stir in some brown sugar and cinnamon in the whole pan before putting it into containers, or else put a spoonful of sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon on top of the oatmeal after it's in the container. Joshua doesn't use milk with his, but for mine I would put a splash of milk in the container as well (or, stir milk into the pan). We don't always add things but you could add raisins, nuts, etc. any time -- stir in the pan or sprinkle on top in the container! :)

I usually make 5-6 days' worth at a time... l I wouldn't keep it longer than a week though! :)

When I homemade instant oatmeal, I put dry powdered milk in the mix, so you can just add water. I also add dried fruit and brown sugar before storing. I keep mine in a large Tupperware container with a scoop in it to make it that much easier for the DH and DD. I haven't had a problem with it going bad, but it's usually eaten up within two weeks.

another option for oatmeal (what my DH and I did) is to use the quick oats, and put the oats, a pinch of salt, and whatever other flavorings you want into a ziplock bag together. You can use dehydrated milk when doing this if you like oatmeal with milk. :) Then, when you get to work, you just add hot water. If your DH's office has anyplace to get heated water, this is a really easy way to do it. (my DH's office had a coffee-maker that had a hot-water spigot-like thingy on it).

hope that helps!

ok. I typed this up once but I don't think it posted for some reason.

I was wondering what you do about adding milk to the oatmeal? Do you do it once it is cooked and store it with the milk in it? what about additives (fruit, nuts, sugar (sweetner) etc. ) do you add those? if so, before eating or before storing? I'd love to get away from buying the little oatmeal packets. :)

thank you Tammy!

I have both cards (thanks Mom!) ans was shopping at BJs for the longest time (though not very often). A few months ago I went into BJs to get a few things, Maple Syrup being one of them but I had to go to Costco because they are the only ones that carry the Italian Tomatoes that I want ($3.69 a 10# can for IMPORTED!!! AWESOME PRICE). I went by the Maple Syrup and found out it was $2 less than what it was at BJ's. Most of the stuff is cheaper at BJs, and I do find Costco (at least here) has more of the fresh foods than BJ's, though BJ's does have a good amount, Costco has a lot more. The meat section is a lot bigger and the veggies with a room dedicated plus some floor space definitely is bigger than BJ's. BJ's accepts Credit Cards and manufacturer's coupons and for those reasons I think that is why the stuff is higher priced...But I have found that BJ's wil have a little bit more of a selection, like Almonds. I have purchased sliced and slivered at BJ's but Costco only carries the whole. I have never cared for Sam's so I can't comment, though my parents gave me a card for there too-I am not sure it is even up to date though.
The more "whole foods" my family becomes the less coupons I use-however there are still coupons out there (stonyfields-horizon-kashi... plus in my state wine tags that do not require wine purchases)...I do use a lot of coupons on our HBA and I do save a lot of money on that aspect. But if I had to drag more than one kid with me (and even that is too much) I am not sure I would want to coupon.

Thanks for this!

I wish Costco accepted "normal" manufacturer's coupons! Do you get the Costco coupon booklets in the mail though? I try to (as much as possible) wait for items to appear in there that we need/use... :)

I have been hitting my Costco pretty hard this week and I don't see some of the stuff you get, like the beans and organic sugar. Also the biggest I can get the heavy cream is qt (though it is $3.39)...I was looking forward to the organic sugar. Funny thing is specifically with the sugar they carry some other stuff in the same brand. And $7.69 for 2 -23.5 bottles of Agave Syrup is a really good deal!

These are great suggestions! Thank you!
Blessings in Yeshua HaMashiach,
Joycelyn

I shop almost the exact same way only I go to Sam's Club because our nearest Costco is 45 minutes away. I love, love, love the salad idea. We buy huge things of Organic spinach and Organic spring mix each week and I think your idea of making up individual salads is great since I make one up everyday for my husband's lunch (which I also pack every single day).
I have always loved your site but thank you for all of the great tips and suggestions.

Gretchen
(http://www.extraordinaryordinarylife.blogspot.com/)

Thank you, Gretchen! :) I like your blog too... thanks for all the kitchen tips you post! :)

Such wonderful tips Tammy! I think it's really sweet that you make Joshua's lunches and I bet that really saves money and every day when he opens his lunch he finds a nice meal especially made for him. I've known lots of people that go out for lunch every day and spend $8-$10 a day on it. Can you imagine? I also love the crock pot beans. We used to always make them on the stove and it's so much easier in the crock pot. My mother always shopped at one store throughout my childhood. She's a thrifty person and said the gas wasted driving around cut into your savings and that's when gas was under $2 a gallon! :)

Aw, what a sweet comment. :)

My mom always shopped/shops at a few different stores, but they are all literally in a 1/2 mile stretch in the same (small-ish) town. :)

Joshua's lunches are unfortunately not too special... he tries to eat really healthy so it's stuff like oatmeal, bananas, nuts, and apples! :) But yeah, packing a lunch saves so much money! :D

Tammy,

This has been a great series and I really appreciate your take on shopping at many stores and using coupons. I've sometimes felt I wasn't doing something right because couponing never really worked for me either. We all just need to do what works best for us.

Yes! Really we are not all alike, our families are not all alike, and there is no one-size-fit-all method! :) I love learning from others... and am happy to hear of others' successes even in ways I have not experienced! :)

I agree with you completely on Costco, and I was once a heavy couponer! But, right now I have four children, two who are 3 and under, and one who has Asperger's and Tourette's and I'm having to homeschool.

There are only so many hours in my day and I just don't have time right now to run around cherry-picking at the stores. We can afford to spend a little more on groceries right now, so I'm taking advantage of it and going the Costco route. Time is money, my mom would say.

I do think that how much money you have to spend does play a big part in it. You and I are willing and able to spend a couple hundred dollars per shopping trip. Some people just don't have that money available, so for them, money is more important than time.

In fact, my dh is encouraging me to shop more at Costco. Ours is about 25 minutes away, and we have a BJ's less than 10 minutes away. Our Costco has a lot more organic stuff, along with organic chicken and grassfed ground beef. I just found out that I may be able to buy a case of meat at a time which would help with the savings.

I'm anxious to take a look at your salad post. I feel like I'm stuck in a rut with my menu planning, and with 5 kids, everyone's got an opinion on something. Thanks for doing this series!

hi! I just found your blog through stumble upon. Love it! We have a big family, and want to eat healthy, good food. Mostly we shop at Fred Meyer because it's close and has a great natural foods section. We do some Costco shopping, too. I grew up couponing, but I'm not finding the deals on the things we use. And - I am looking forward to trying out that black bean brownie recipe! Thanks!

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