I spend $175 a month on groceries for my small family of three.  I wrote about spending less on groceries in this post about eating meat-free.  Several people (okay, two people) asked me how I manage to pull this off.  According the USDA’s “thrifty” meal plan, a family with a man, woman, and three-year-old would spend $414.20 per month.  (We’d spend $800 on the “liberal” plan!)  So it seems that we are spending less than half of what other “thrifty” eaters are spending–and we eat mostly organic food!

This is a bit puzzling to me, as we don’t do anything too extraordinary to save money on food.  I haven’t planted a garden since two summers ago (and it was a failure), I don’t clip coupons, and I don’t shop at Costco or other huge warehouse stores.  I also buy many expensive ingredients, like olive oil, nuts, and fancy cheese.  If I had to, I could save even more money if I got better at gardening, stopped buying organic foods, and cut out a few costlier items on my grocery list.

So here are my only real “tricks” to spending less on organic food:

Eat Vegetarian.  Going meat-free is the main way I save on groceries.  Now, most people do not want to cut out meat from their diets, which is why I wrote about Meatless Mondays a while ago.  Cutting out meat just one day a week can still save you money!

According to this article, “How Much Meat Do We Eat?,” the average American eats 200 pounds of meat a year.  Now, I know you can buy cheap meat at the grocery store, but let’s say I wanted to eat mostly organic/free-range/hormone-free stuff.  I just looked at the sale prices for meat at our natural food store: $5.99 for top sirloin, $3.79 for ground chicken thigh meat, and $6.99 for tilapia filets.   With that average of $5.59/lb, we’d spend $279.50 a month on meat if we bought 600 pounds a year–which would more than double the amount I spend on all of my groceries now!

Know my prices.  I never buy butter for more than $2.00 a pound (it’s usually around $4.00/lb, so when it goes on sale, I stock up.  It lasts at least six months in the fridge and longer in the freezer.  I also never spend more than $2.00/lb on natural peanut butter.  I can get it for $1.50 at Grocery Outlet.  It costs more than $4.00/lb if you buy it from the machines at Whole Foods or other grocery stores.

Limit convenience foods.  Looking at my receipts, I see that I did buy a few convenience foods: tortillas, boxed macaroni and cheese, pretzels, and jarred applesauce.  All of those are fairly inexpensive.  The organic applesauce cost $2.29 for 25 ounces–that’s about $1.47/lb.  Fresh organic apples often cost more than that.   Organic shells and cheese cost $1.29, or about $.40-$.60 a serving.  That’s a pretty cheap–albeit no-frills–meal.

Cut back on household goods. I am not sure if the USDA’s meal plans included household goods or not.  I know that many people include things like paper products and cleaners in their grocery budget.  In the six weeks I was tracking expenses, I spent nothing on household goods.  We buy recycled toilet paper, Biokleen laundry detergent (I wrote about how it’s actually cheaper than conventional detergent here), dishwashing liquid, soap, and baking soda and vinegar when we need it.  I bought the Biokleen detergent almost a year ago for $11.00 and still have a lot left!

Make things from scratch.  I make most of my own baked goods, including bread, cookies, and other snacks.

Don’t eat too much. Our caloric needs are not very high, which allows us to spend less on groceries than–say–a 200-pound body builder or an avid marathon runner.  This isn’t exactly a tip, but it does partially explain why we spend less on groceries than other families our size.  Some of our meals probably seem down-right insubstantial to others.  We regularly eat nothing but a bowlful of soup or a salad for dinner.

Those are my main cost-cutting tips.  What are yours?

Stay tuned for more posts on this subject.  I’ll show what, exactly, I was spending that $175 on and give some examples of what I made for dinner.

This post is a part of the Works for Me Wednesday blog carnival over on We are THAT Family. This is a themed edition, where we share our favorite frugal ideas.