How My Grocery Budget Works


*My most recent grocery shop last week*

Grocery budgets are tricky things. There are so many variables that come into play: family size, special dietary needs, family members appetites, where you live (which country, what part of the country, urban or rural)…

I've been wanting to share how my grocery budget breaks down for quite a while now, but feel that it's important to state up front that I know there are so many variables that affect what our budgets look like. This is simply my budget, that works where I live, with the resources I have available to me, and the needs of my family.

A few things to note about our family and what makes my budget distinctive: I live in Canada, the Vancouver area to be exact (a fairly large, urban area with surrounding farmland). I have a husband who is a somewhat lighter eater as far as men go, two young kids (2 and 4) who are excellent eaters, and I happen to be eating for two at the moment (I'm pregnant). We entertain or serve food to others in some manner at least once a week. We don't eat wheat products (we all have wheat sensitivities) which raises our costs for baked goods significantly because we only buy alternative grains. I would guess that I buy at least 70-80% of our food either organic or naturally raised, which costs more, of course. We eat a whole foods diet and very little that is packaged or processed. I cook almost entirely from scratch. We live in a rental house, but I have a decent sized garden out back.

Now that my caveats are through, I hope that this can give you a little glimpse into how a whole foods diet (done frugally) can look, and it will give you a better idea of what I buy and how/where I buy it.

Monthly Grocery Budget:

$400 CAN (based on today's conversion rates, this would be about $343 US)

How it breaks down:

$72   

Raw milk cow share (this gives me 1 gallon of grass-fed raw milk per week)

$10-15   

Free-range/Organic eggs (generally about 5 dozen). I usually buy "seconds" (non-perfect eggs) from a local organic farmer, which are a great deal for me. Every spring/summer there is a window of 2-3 months when he transitions to new hens and doesn't have any eggs for me. At the moment, I've just found a woman who raises about 20+ hens in her yard, about a 10 minute drive away, and will sell me free-range eggs for $3 a dozen.

$70   

This is for 2 trips to my produce market, each totaling about $35. This gives me 2-4 large bagfuls of wonderful, fresh produce every two weeks. The one that I choose to shop at also brings in some organics, and in season, grows much of their own unsprayed and organic produce. I'm excited this summer to also try out a fairly local (30 minutes away) Farmer's Market that I just learned about, since there isn't one truly near me. I may shift some of my spending to that market, while things are in season here.

$50   

Grass-fed beef and free-range poultry (chicken/turkey). This looks different every month. I try to set aside a minimum of $20 each month towards a large purchase of beef, and more if I can manage it. About every second month or whenever I'm running low, I make a trip out to my local meat shop in the country, where I usually spend between $50-80 on whole chickens, ground chicken and turkey, preservative-free sausages and deli meats, soup bones, etc.

$100-175   

Azure Standard Food Co-op. This is where I am spoiled. My MIL lives in Seattle, WA, which gains me access to this fantastic natural foods coop. We generally see her about once a month, whether she comes up or we go down, so that's how I get my orders. I have, on occasion, had my order sent to a pickup location just across the border (we live within 20 minutes of the USA border) when I knew I wouldn't get it as fast as I wanted it. This used to be an amazing deal for me, when the dollar was at par. Now, it's only so-so and some items aren't actually worth buying anymore.

Nonetheless, this is still the place where I buy all of my bulk grains, baking supplies, raw honey, raw cheese, sometimes pastured butter or colostrum, some natural concentrated cleaning supplies, dried beans and lentils, some spices and herbs, dried unsulphured fruits, etc. If prices continue to rise in the US, and the dollar gets any worse, I will be purchasing my grains and other bulk grocery supplies in Canada, from places like Anita's Grains and Spud!.

This is also where I would take money from to do a large order like buying Coconut Oil from Mountain Rose Herbs.

$50   

This is the amount left over for picking things up from my local grocery store or from Costco, and it is a bit higher on the months when I make a smaller co-op order. This includes items like discounted organic milk for making yogurt, organic lemon juice, nuts and seeds, teas and coffee, some spices, toilet paper, ziploc bags, brown rice, sour cream, butter, coconut milk, fresh or frozen fish, canned salmon, tomato paste, bananas, organic tortilla chips, olive oil, the odd treat like Knudsen Juice Sparklers or Kettle Chips, etc. Though it's not always possible, I try to stretch this through coupons and/or store sales or discounted items.

If it sounds like a tight budget, it is! There are many months that I struggle to stay within this budget, and occasionally I go over, though I do my very best to avoid this using my cash system.

I have definitely been feeling the crunch lately, as my Azure co-op orders have gone up in price by almost 30% due to the exchange rate alone. That's not to mention the general rise in grocery prices, in both the US and in Canada. As well, I've recently upped our cow share by $13 a month, in order to have more milk for myself to drink (most of it was going to my kids before and we never had enough to really go around).

My budget changes in the spring and summertime, as my garden begins to put out fresh produce and I try to limit my produce shopping by focusing on what we have on hand. I also try to reduce the other areas of my budget in the summer (by stocking up pre-summer when possible), in order to make room for purchasing about 150 lbs of fruit to put away in the freezer and through canning. This includes picking blueberries and raspberries (mostly for the freezer, a bit for jam), canning and freezing peach slices, as well as foraging for wild blackberries to freeze and make jam, etc. The past two years we have also gleaned (ie. picked for free) apples from a wild orchard, which I used to make canned applesauce, fruit leather and dried apples.

I do my best to put away garden produce as well. Last year, this included a lot of frozen zucchini, frozen pumpkin puree, winter squash, dried herbs (mint, basil, oregano, dill, parsley and thyme), cucumbers (dill and sweet) and a whole lot of canned diced tomatoes and tomato sauce.

Though it sounds like a lot of work (and it is, I won't lie to you), all of that summer preserving really pays off. I haven't had to buy a single can of tomatoes this year, less herbs than usual, barely any squash, and not a speck of frozen fruit. We've still got zucchini and pumpkin, which I need to use up now. There's still a bit of jam, one can of peaches, and the applesauce only ran out recently. The pickles were long gone, sadly. We like pickles in this family! :)

That, my friends, is how my grocery budget works!

Do you have any more questions about the specifics of what I buy, or why I do it a particular way? Care to share a bit about how your own budget works?

About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie Langford has a passion for sharing ideas and information for homemakers who want to make healthy changes in their homes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke and with simple meal planning. She is the creator of Keeper of the Home.

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Comments

  1. I found your blog through a pinterest search on whole/real/organic food budgeting tips. I’ve recently starting buying all real/organic food and my family budget for 4 is ~$600/month I dont think thats outragous (especially for ALL organic) but I would love to bring it down!
    I would also love to see a current update on this for 2 reasons.
    #1 I’m interested in if the “dollar” has gotten worse. WOuld be an eye opener to the US economy!
    #2 its a bit old and I’m interested to see if you’ve learned new tips

  2. Since you said you have a surplus of zucchini and a deficit of pickles, perhaps you could pickle some of your next harvest of zucchini. It makes great relish, too. Young firm zucchini makes good slices or spears.

  3. I love that you’re from Canada! Canadian blogs of your seem to be a bit tougher to come by. I live in southern Saskatchewan, and I’m finding that my quest to begin eating more whole foods and more organically is very challenging. I see that you’re still able to get in on Azure Standard, but are you aware of any Canadian equivalents? Being able to purchase food online or from a co-op of any sort would be so much more convenient. We have 5 young children (two 3 year olds, 1 two year old, 2 6 month olds), so as you can imagine, any kind of grocery shopping is a grand adventure!! :)
    I look forward to snooping around on your site some more, and I think I’ll subscribe!!

    • @Karen, Unfortunately, I haven’t found any good Canadian equivalents. It does seem that there are some smaller co-ops in different provinces or local areas, but nothing nationwide. The best thing I can suggest is to search for co-ops in your province and see what you come up with. I agree that it is much nicer to place an order than to go shopping with young children! Especially with all those twins- wow!

  4. Courtney says:

    I know you probably already know this and really with regular prenatal checkups it shouldn’t be a problem but I thought you should hear it anyways (and maybe somebody else reading this didn’t know this). Raw milk (unpasturized) can be harmful to unborn babies IF (this is why it shouldn’t be a problem) you don’t get regular checkups throughout your pregnancy and tell your doctor that you consume raw milk. Like I said it shouldn’t be a problem because most every pregnant woman gets regular checkups during pregnancy but I just wanted you to know. If I hear of any pregnant woman drinking raw milk I try to tell them this because I know I’d want to know this if it was me.

  5. I’ve just found your blog through Passionate Homemaking and love it! It’s nice to find a Canadian natural homekeeping blog. I’m in Ontario (though I used to live in Fort Langley,BC!) and though I’ve always cooked from scratch, I’m slowly adding more Traditional food practices into my cooking. One sticky point is raw milk. Because of it’s grey-area legality in Canada, I’ve found it impossible to find any within a reasonable distance. What is a good alternative? Should I just use 3.25% Homo milk? What about goats milk? It’s available in the carton around here too, albeit also pasteurized. Any advice would be great!
    Cheers, meg

  6. I love your values, your educated and disciplined stance toward nutrition, and everything you have to say about how you keep your home happy and healthy. Is there anything especially “Christian” about your blog as opposed to having “Judeo-Christian” values? I am Jewish but you would see identical attitudes and values in my home.

    • @Rachel, Welcome! I think that overall you would mostly find ideas and values similar to your own. Although my faith is very important to me, I don’t write too often on specific faith-based topics. It is often my motivation for the things that I share, of course, and this comes out in my writing from time to time, although as you said, the values and attitudes would be similar to yours.
      I do occasionally write more specifically about my faith in Christ, his substitutionary death, Christian Reformed doctrine, etc. However, anyone with different beliefs is always, absolutely welcome and so are their thoughts and opinions as well!

  7. Jamie Riley says:

    I have been reading your blog for a couple of months now and was really encouraged by this post on your grocery budget. Our grocery budget is right around the same amount that your is and I was really enouraged by that. I struggle every month to stay within it but felt likem gosh if she can do it in Canada where it is more expensive than I should too. I appreciate your honesty and openess to the world through your blog. I have gained much from reading it and wanted to say thank you for your time, energy, organization and obedience to the Lord. The only regret I have about the blog world is that it has replaced getting to know someone over coffee or through playdates where you pass wisdom back and forth and am so thankful for the way that God can use this modern technology to encourage us through this world of being a wife, mother and daughter of His. Thank you.

  8. Hello; I just thought I would share a comment. We live in Wi. and are blessed to buy milk for $2.00 a gallon. I thought I would share that the average farmer is paid .80 a gallon from the creamery. May I suggest that if you could buy a goat it’s healthier milk…

  9. Hi Stacy,
    Yep, I’d go with the 100% grass fed cows. I know it’s a lot of money, but the nutrition really is worth it! I actually think you’re getting a good deal, lol! Half of what I pay! I’m excited for you! And yes, I’m blessed with Azure, and I don’t take it for granted at all. It’s a wonderful company!

  10. Hi Stephanie,

    I am grateful that you shared this budget with your readers! It’s very helpful.

    I am just getting ready to start buying raw milk. There is only one place in our town that has milk from 100% grass-fed cows. It’s $36 a month (1 gallon per week). There is another place that offers milk from cows that eat a lot of grass…but they also have about 2 pounds of grain per day. It’s $10 cheaper.

    I think it would be best to go with the grass fed cows…what do you think?

    It is such an big investment, but a worthy one. I am excited to start on it.

    And I have to say…you are so blessed to be able to order from Azure Standard! I often look longingly at their catalog. Hopefully they will deliver to an area near me sometime soon :)

    Thanks!
    Stacy

  11. Wow – I’m in awe of your grocery budget. My family has only recently started to eat natural/organic foods and we’re amazed at the difference in taste/texture of much of the food.

    Having said that, we’re also spending $1000.00 a month (CDN) on groceries for a family of 5 (two adults, 6 yo, 2.5 yo and infant) – this budget includes diapers, formula, toiletries, cleaning supplies, etc. I feel like our ‘budget’ is killing me and am striving to lessen it.

    I recently found a local farm that produces UMPTEEN varieties of fruits and veggies – organically grown- and supplies dairy as well from another local farmer. We’re working on the meat. I hope by bypassing the stores and buying direct from the farmers we may save some $$ – will be trying that out this month and hopefully by starting to live by cash and not debit card, we’ll be more conscious of our spending.

    Wow, I ramble – regardless, thank you for your detailed info – much appreciated! Great blog :)

  12. Thanks for answering my question from a previous post! Amazing, really. I don’t know how you do it. Well done!

  13. You would fall over dead if you heard what I spend on groceries each month. I’ve had a hard time cutting back, cooking is my husband’s turf… it’s his hobby and also the way he personally feels like he provides for the family (even though he works too and I stay home with the kids!). We eat organic and all natural, just on the gourmet side. Having a Whole Foods within a mile from our house does not help. I know the only solution is to put it in God’s hands, which I am trying so hard to do :)

    Anyway, I love your posts on groceries and recipes. They are always fun and inspiring to read :)

  14. Got a recipie for your pickles? :) I made pickles for the first time last year from our garden stuff and I’m afraid I’m hooked.

    It’s a trick from my greatgrandmother– if you don’t have a whole lot to serve at dinner it helps to have a lot of little dishes of pickles and jelly and crackers and cheese and olives etc., just little picky things that make you feel like you’ve had a lot to eat (because there’s so many of them). It’s the best “company dinner” trick I know–you know, for that company you weren’t expecting and you’ve only got half a chicken and three potatoes? :D

    Homemade pickles make that even more successful. I’ve been collecting recipies for this year.

  15. I had two more quick comments/questions…

    Firstly, my daughter, through my husband, got me your e-book for mother’s day! I’ve just skimmed through it so far to see what is in it but it looks great!

    My question is that in the last part you say you have $50 left and list some things including toilet paper, ziplocs etc. do you also buy all your other household supplies out of that? Like I am talking for me that would be things like the natural cleaning supplies, vinegar and baking soda for cleaning, kleenex, the odd thing like that? Currently I have a seperate budget for those things but keep them minimal like we don’t buy paper towels or diapers or feminine products etc. but the other things still add up.

  16. Thanks for posting the details of this! I post my grocery bill each week, and we are on a slightly tighter budget (I spend about $500 US per month for 10 people). The only way this is possible is to make most things from scratch (we don’t eat artificial food colors or sweeteners, MSG, or petroleum based lard substitutes, so really that’s the only way we CAN eat!)

    I am not able to obtain raw milk here, and we were buying organic but right now I have had to go to regular, as it is 1/3 the cost (we go through 4 gallons a week.)

    One area I really struggle with is meat. We’ve cut back to eating meat 3-4 times per week (breakfast and lunches are meat free, usually). I’ve been buying regular meat from the groceries, but am quite unhappy with the quality; unfortunately, the nearest health food store that carries free range organic is quite far away. (Even though I live in one of the biggest US cities!) How much on average do you pay for beef, whole chickens, etc., and do you eat them for every meal? How much do you eat?

    If you don’t mind my answering another commentator’s question, how I save up for big purchases (i.e., holiday meals, party, etc.) is to use a cash budget. I budget $140 in cash; on average this year, I spend around $120 a week. That extra $20 stays IN THE FOOD envelope to be applied later, for stocking up, etc.

  17. Thank you for sharing this. I really appreciate it, and appreciate seeing it in CDN funds too. You’re doing much better than I am for better food, which is hard for me to hear, but like we all know, we have to do our best with the resources God has given us and the place he has us living in. I’m going to work out my budget in the same way to figure out where my money is going too in a simpler form. Its so hard to budget. We recently upped our budget $20 but also have had to cut back on buying some things organic at the same time.

    I would love to hear about what raw honey is, vs. not raw, sometime…I’ve been trying to find the answer and can’t figure it out.

    I’d also love to hear more about your system for saving up for the big things like for us its saving for the chicken and turkey we can only get once a year, stuff for canning that I can’t grow or pick myself, etc. Its the upfront and all-at-once costs that really get to me. I know I will save money AND have better food in the long run but its all up front.

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