Not your typical how-to-reduce-your-grocery-spending blog post

I can't stand (Ok, that was a bit harsh, how about... I have a hard time reading...) the usual blog posts about how to save money on groceries.

The typical advice to clip coupons for products we don't eat, stock the freezer with meat on sale, or shop at stores that don't exist where I live (or that I'm philosophically opposed to) are not very helpful.

Where is the "how to save money on grocery spending" advice for families like mine?

Families who believe what you eat is foundational to health. Families who want to support local growers and producers. And families who want to figure out ways to buy more organic products but are stretched to the limit already.  (This sounds like a lot of families I know actually.)

For years I read posts from frugalistas about insanely low food budgets, thinking I must be totally missing the boat somehow, but knowing I was doing the best I could. 

After huffing and puffing about people who can spend $100 a week to feed a family of 4 my husband told me, "stop reading about those people". So I did.

We now spend about 35% of our income on food.

This jumped quite significantly when we moved to rural Canada. Canadians spend more on food anyway, and rural Canadians are hit the worst I believe.

Our family doesn't buy a lot of cheap calories, instead we load our fridge with produce and our cupboards with nuts, seeds, dried fruits and the more expensive gluten-free grains and flours. Our family spends a lot on food and we earn well below the average household income for a Canadian family.

Our grocery shopping is a mixed bag of non-organic grocery store produce (and a few staples) purchased each week, an organic summer farm share, year round purchases from a local farmer and producers group, monthly bulk food purchases (these are mostly organic and Québec grown as much as possible), and weekly visits to the health food store for everything else.

With the exception of a few products (salsa, canned tomatoes, pasta, rice cakes, "emergency" canned beans and soymilk, etc.) we don't buy many processed foods. We cook our food from scratch. I menu plan. And it still costs us a pretty penny to feed our family. (For the record, we do eat out a couple times a month and I include these costs in our food budget. This has changed since moving from the US, where we could afford to eat out once a week.)

I will not give you a dollar number for our groceries, because you would wonder, "how can they manage to clothe, house, feed and educate those younguns when they spend so much on groceries?" I'll spare you that mental anguish but the math looks something like this:

cost of food > housing+fuel+insurance+education+clothing+entertainment

None of this is a complaint. We were just talking recently with our kids about how wealthy we are. We have a nice home, we eat well, and we have fun adventures together. We are rich.

I simply share all this as the financial reality of feeding a family of five, on a nutrient-dense, plant-based diet in rural Canada; keeping in mind, we don't grow any of our own food. If we invested time into that (which we're not prepared to do right now with our other life goals) we could save money on groceries and eat more local, organic produce. But we'd still have to buy a lot of food.

There is a good news part of this story.

Over the years I have found ways to save money on good food, accessing organic food staples I otherwise couldn't afford.

What's my secret? Food buying clubs.

Last fall I wrote a little e-book about this very thing. And then I somehow forgot to tell you about it.

I didn't forget so much as other things kept coming up. And I don't want FIMBY to be all about selling stuff so I kept putting off telling you about it.

But that's crazy, because this is a really helpful resource about something that affects all of us - the rising price of groceries and the very real costs of accessing quality food.

Since originally publishing this post I've made this e-book available as a free download here.

Now I feel bad that I didn't mention this e-book sooner because food buying clubs are a very effective means to source quality food at a price you can afford.

Want to save money on the food you buy and be more connected to your community?

Start a buying club.

Want to learn how to start a buying club? Download this e-book.

What are your tried and true methods and strategies for saving money on food? Or, how do you save money on other things so you can afford the rising cost of food? (It seems it's gotta be a bit of both.)

Renee Tougas participates in affiliate marketing, including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Whenever you buy something on Amazon from a link you clicked here, I get a (very) small percentage of that sale. See disclosure for further explanation.

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  • Tonya

    Tonya on June 4, 2013, 2:14 p.m.

    I hear you all the way down here in northern Vermont Renee! Our food budget is almost exactly the same percentage of our income - it is our number one expense for sure. We just put healthy food as the number one priority as far as spending goes. We buy all of our fruits and veggies organic, pasta, organic local raw milk, occastional local pastrue rasied beef and some juice (which we don't buy much juice). None of the saving money on groceries blogs speak to me either - we spend most our budget at a local natural food store and the rest at a small grocers. Our local general store offers a food coop buying club and I do order with them from time to time which helps. One cookbook I do like for whole foods (although it is not all) is More-with-Less by Doris Janzen Longacre. It is good to know that there is another family out there that shares this priority.




    • renee

      renee on June 4, 2013, 3:37 p.m.

      I'm so inspired that you buy so much organic produce and shop according to your values - small grocers, etc. I am still "too cheap" to shop completely the way I wish we could. Or maybe it's just that we have other priorities that take precedence right now - like saving for adventures and such. Your family is always such an inpiration to me though Tonya. 


      • Tonya

        Tonya on June 4, 2013, 8:26 p.m.

        I am unable to buy many foods, though, that I would like to buy that I know would be so good for us - such as almond flour, more nuts (we eat lots of beans and some nuts), coconut oil only occasionally, maple syrup only every so often, and I know there are many more really healthy but too expensive foods for us right now like wild salmon - I just love wild salmon but we do buy dark organic chocoate every week for my husband's high blood pressure:) - so I do have to make some hard choices as well as we are feeding right now my husband and myself, a 19, 17. almost 15, 13, 9, 5, and 20 monthy old:)


  • Melinda

    Melinda on June 4, 2013, 3:25 p.m.

    I can't tell you how much reading this post has helped me. Through the years I've gone back and forth between spending more on quality ingredients and buying inferior junk because I want to be one of those "big savers" that I read so much about. It keeps sticking in my mind that our family of  shouldn't spend more than $100 a week at the most. But we spend way more...and while I do see areas where I'm wasteful (eating out too much and buying non-necessities like alcohol) I don't want to buy less. In fact, there are places on my list where I would like to spend MORE. Like switching from regular cod liver oil to fermented. Buying less meat but making the meat I do buy 100% organic and grassfed.

    Thank you for the information on buying clubs!


    • renee

      renee on June 4, 2013, 3:40 p.m.

      What is it about $100/week eh? That number sticks out in my head also! We also buy non-essentials, alcohol occasionally and we also like to have people over to eat and so our hospitality budget might be more than normal, but not overally so. There are so many places I wish I could spend more also, like 100% organic produce but where we live we simply can't even get all organic stuff, even if we could afford it. Compromises, compromises... (smile).


  • Kika

    Kika on June 4, 2013, 3:28 p.m.

    I always appreciate these food-related posts - sooo discouraging sometimes reading blogs (especially American) re: super low food costs, even for those trying to eat a healthy diet. That just isn't my reality. We've always done alot of (but not exclusively) second-hand (clothing, dishes, vehicles, etc.) to help cut costs, rarely eat out, and when we do often choose a cafe rather than restaurant b/c it lowers cost - and I like it better anyways; we've lived mostly with one vehicle over the years though now have a second as there are 3 drivers in the house so we share but my husband still mostly walks to and from work; we attempt to be careful at home about energy use, etc... all so that we can buy real food and live within our means. I buy my staple grains, beans, seeds from an organic food coop but must also source many foods from the nearest city and because gas is costly we can't go in constantly so at times I run out of myhealthy options and do without or make do with foods from closer to home. We buy local organically raised eggs, honey from about 1 hour away when possible, and sometime buy part of a locally raised animal for the meat eaters in my home or joyfully accept wildmeat that friends need to get ride of to empty their freezers for hunting season.

    Having said that, this past year or so has been rough. I've had to cut my food budget because we are paying for braces for my son and tuition for me in addition to a couple other rising costs in our budget. Ouch. I've tried, how I've tried, but I keep going over my (unrealistic) food budget and then pulling from other areas to compensate. Last month ALONE I overspent by $520 and looking in my kitchen you couldn't really tell! That ate up the $ I had been saving for a new clothes washing machine.

    This is always such a balancing act - we put extra $ each month to pay off our mortgage early and there are months I wish we could literally EAT that money instead. But my husband and I both feel this is important to our major values and life goals of being entirely debt-free. Fortuntately, braces and tuition payments end this fall and we can reallocate most of that money toward groceries once again.

    One area that I often consider where I could save money is in supplements - sometimes I want to quit buying any and instead put that $ toward food. But I read far too much convincing research regarding the benefits of fish oils and probiotics, as examples; also, because I believe I was seriously deficient in some areas following my 3rd pregnancy and my youngest had severe allergies/resulting behavioral issues which were resolved through diet but also supplementing, I cannot give this up entirely.

    Oh dear, this is turning into a short essay:) I'll end by saying that I sooo appreciate your recognition that you are wealthy. So are we - I will happily wrestle with all of this because of the recognition that we are incredibly fortunate to even have choices, to have a home, and so forth.


    • renee

      renee on June 4, 2013, 3:59 p.m.

      Wish we could share our wild-meat offers with you (the meat that friends offer us). 

      I totally hear you on overspending. It is so discouraging to me, so I up the budget and then freak out about the other areas we have to cut back in (ha, ha!). And you have an older teen boy. As our kids get older the spending will just go up. Yikes. 

      We also buy supplements and these are included in our food budget, but I feel they are non-negotiables. 

      I respect and appreciate they way you have to balance, prioritize, compromise on your spending, the way we all do. Celine needs braces. I have no idea how we will afford those. And working towards being totally debt-free is so awesome. A life goal of ours also. 

      You and I have had grocery spending conversations over the years (similar food values, family size etc.) but now that I live in Canada I can totally understand the reality of rural Canadian food prices, and I too feel discouraged reading American prices for food that costs us so much more. 

      But again, like you say, I don't want to complain about this because yes, we are so wealthy! Over the top wealthy. We are safe in our sleep, can educate our kids at home, we eat three meals a day, we travel cool places, we skiied all winter. Honestly, complaining about the price of food seems so shallow in light of that all. 

      Can't wait till I can feed you from my kitchen and share some of this wealth with you. xo 


  • Alaina

    Alaina on June 4, 2013, 4:08 p.m.

    I did try being part of a food buying club where we used to live.  It didn't save me much money at all, and was a lot of stress.  I hate to leave a negative comment about it, but I wonder how you made it work to actually save money AND not be stressful.  For me I was in charge of a lot of the emails and people would send their orders in late and some items wouldn't come.  I actually found that I had to be super careful about prices as sometimes (lots of times, actually) even buying in bulk did not compare to the grocery store prices (comparing organic and organic or conventional and conventional).  Maybe this would be better with other buying clubs. I found the one I was part of seemed to mainly sell prepared foods eg. packages of things.  They did have some bulk too but it wasn't all bulk.


    • renee

      renee on June 4, 2013, 4:15 p.m.

      I talk about this in the ebook - the management of club, how not to get stressed out doing (sharing the load with others) and the need to price compare. Not everything is cheaper just because it's in a food club catalog. I always price compare (the ebook includes templates for that).

      Also, what's available  - bulk vs. packaged stuff - depends on the distributors you order from. My ebook has large list of those. 


  • Alaina

    Alaina on June 4, 2013, 4:12 p.m.

    Also wanted to add that we, too, spend a lot on food, and I also get discouraged about the prices I hear about on blogs.  I tried following one blog in particular about how they did things to make the food budget work for them and I came to the conclusion that we must need more food than that family.  I was really hungry and started losing a bit of weight trying to make the food stretch! Yikes!  I find being active and nursing = a lot of food needed.


    • Kika

      Kika on June 4, 2013, 5:14 p.m.

      I have a wonderful friend, very healthy, whose food budget is tiny compared to mine but her children, too, are built tiny and eat very little. My kids are tall and have their dad's muscle mass and eat A LOT. So we can't always even compare family to family in the same town:)


    • Michelle C.

      Michelle C. on June 4, 2013, 10:30 p.m.

      Yes!  I notice most budget food blogs do not mention portions at all.  I often see advice to roast a chicken and then stretch it for 3-4 nights by using leftovers in enchiladas, sandwiches, etc and I immediately wonder if these families are made up entirely of skinny picky 3 year-old girls or something.  Obviously they are not living with my muscular Marine officer Crossfitting/triathlon husband, or my hollow legged super tall and super active 6 year-old boy.  One chicken indeed!

      We now eat an unprocessed low-carb diet and I can no longer even dream of matching those super low food budgets - grassfed beef, wild caught fish, nitrate free lunch meat, free range eggs, coconut oil, nuts, and avocado, are all pricey! 




    ELANA on June 4, 2013, 5:06 p.m.

    thanks for sharing this. will definitely look into buying club in my area. have you ever shared some thoughts about supplements? i saw you wrote that you use them and would love if you share what you think are the important ones for adults and kids who eat mostly plant based food. thank you.


  • Stephanie Stevens

    Stephanie Stevens on June 4, 2013, 6:15 p.m.

    Just want to say that I really appreciate you being honest about the cost of eating healthfully, especially when it's more challenging to find healthy foods.  Because of health issues we were forced to change the way we eat (something that never would have happened otherwise, simply because my husband and I come from such differing backgrounds about food)--and we spend so, so much.  Now the health benefits are worth it, but I, too, have felt that nagging guilt that this should be an area of big savings.  It helps to just honestly face the fact that we'll have to save in other places (which we do) in order to be healthy.  I just read and so enjoyed both your other ebooks last night and this morning, so hopefully one day soon I will be in a position to think about a buying club...I know your ebook will be the perfect road map.  Your writing is always practical and encouraging.


  • Julie

    Julie on June 4, 2013, 7:16 p.m.

     We also spend ALOT of money on food.  We eat absolutely no pre packaged processed foods, but to buy organic of everything isn't feasable either.  We would go broke in a hearbeat.  My kids eat ALOT and they are only  12,12,9,6 years old.  We also buy from a food buying club and the prices we pay are always cheaper than the HFS in our areas by a $1-$2 /package especially for things like almond flour, or coconut flour.  I was just wondering how you  budget for your family of 5, wondering what your secrets were on saving money, and thinking that we probably spend about the same amount probably more on our family of 6!  Sounds like we are saving in the same way!!  Thanks for the post, I like to hear others that eat like we do!!!




  • Shelley R.

    Shelley R. on June 4, 2013, 7:23 p.m.

    We 'save' on our food 'budget' by having low clinic bills.  i.e. Since we eat well, we're healthy, and typically are not ill.  Although we do not see that percentage saved on the bottom of our grocery receipt, I do believe our family can avoid some major health issues by eating well and being active.  I gave up on coupons long ago for they typically are for foods we don't eat (and, when we do eat 'those' foods we're tricked by the food science in the ingredients that it is good only to feel physically icky and crabby later on).  Also, we buy our clothes and as many items as possible used.  

    However, a lot of my husbands income goes toward food for us and 3 kids under 10.  It doesn't exceed our cost of living, but maybe close if I actually looked at our bills.  Every so often I have a little cringe when the total at the co-op is given, I swallow, I pay, but know I wouldn't make any other decisions.  Our food values and non-negotiables seem similiar to yours and a few others who have commented here today (organic as much as possible, locally sourced/owned, supplements) and so I won't go into our overall approach too much.  Actually, it's encouraging to discover a little niche here of other families who think of a $100 a wk. food budget as low and hard to obtain without dropping some non-negotiables.  So, let's not feel guilty about this challenge to strive for nurishment and nutrition.  Isn't it worth the thriving in our days that we experience?

    I have tried a sort of food buying club, but the first one I was involved in was a little stressful and am unsure of how to start one of my own.  A friend of mine and I did order together through a bulk company in dry goods last month, but to meet the minimum truck order was costly.  We need to expand our participants in order to make it worth the while.  All to say...  your book is mighty timely!  


  • Amanda

    Amanda on June 4, 2013, 10:06 p.m.

    Oh, I hear you!  We spend a fortune on food, and I used to get sucked into reading those "tips" for frugal food purchasing, even though they were aleays completely useless to me.  I shop all over the place here - I get raw milk and eggs from a nearby farm, I'm part of the buying club (same distributor as our co-op) we have a year round farmers market and I've got a prepay CSA with one farmer, I have a HUGE garden and grow berries, and I shop at the co-op (which is too $$) and the regular grocery store.  I am unable, so far, to get meat at prices that I feel are affordable (DH and kids eat meat, although not very much, I eat chicken or ground turkey on occasion) but I can't bring myself to buy meat at the grocery store!   I feel so lucky to have the resources close by that I do, but it's still a lot of money.  I try to keep in mind that I'm paying ahead, so to speak, to avoid paying the doctor!  (or insurance company, as the case may be)  If I can swing it, we'll do a meat CSA next year and I'll still get chicken/turkey from another local farmer.  Honestly, I can't fathom $100 a week - that is nowhere near manageable for our small family of 4, with the food choices we make.  I feel like I'm doing well if I keep it to $200 a week.

    I'd really like to get out from under this house and it's oil furnace, so I could feel more comfortable spending what we do on food.  Honestly, if it weren't for our other expenses, I'd feel completely justified, because I really do like supporting the local farmers and the co-op here. 

    And I think it's kind of funny that I imagined gardening would save me $ on food.  Based solely on the cost of seeds, it probably does, but there are a lot of other costs that have gone into it.  But starting my plants under electric lights, that's not a big savings!  And I can't generate nearly enough compost to cover my garden, so I pay for that, too!! 


    • renee

      renee on June 4, 2013, 10:15 p.m.

      Amanda, your comment makes me feel a little better that I don't grow a garden in this current life seaon. (smile). Thanks.


  • Jennifer Johnson

    Jennifer Johnson on June 5, 2013, 6:58 p.m.

    I'm so glad you wrote this.  Our food budget is almost as much as our mortgage.  With food intolerances and trying to eat organic, it is really hard.  I got a free e-book once that talked about how to eat on $250 a month!  Their whole premise was to eat whatever was in the sale flyer at the cheapest grocery store.  There are rarely couons for what we buy.  I don't know that I have it in me to do a food club, but it's good to know that option exists now.  


    • renee

      renee on June 5, 2013, 10:56 p.m.

      A food club doesn't need to be big undertaking. You just need a few other families to join and if you share the load it's not too much of a commitment. Community is part of the benefit. Also, technology exists to really help with the organization (which I talk about in the book, smile).


  • Neptune

    Neptune on June 6, 2013, 1:57 a.m.


    Did you manage to organize a food buying club in Gaspé?  You are a very ressourceful person! You never cease to amaze me.

    100$ per week for a family of 5 is impossible around here, even if you are the the cheapest junk food.  I didn't even think that was possible period.

    Thanks for this blogpost. Very inspiring. 



    • renee

      renee on June 6, 2013, 11:46 a.m.

      Neptune, Yes, I helped to get a food buying club going here (I live in the Baie des Chaleurs region, not the town of Gaspé itself). 

      When I arrived, Nov 2011, I started looking for one. Friends mentioned that other friends were wanting to  start one so I helped with that process. Happy to be a founding member of another club (the 4th I've been involved in). 



  • Laura

    Laura on June 6, 2013, 12:43 p.m.

    Renee, this has nothing to do with the topic at hand, but I just wanted to say that you continually inspire and encourage me. I have been reading and being blessed by your blog for quite a few years. We are moving soon to a much smaller house. I am excited for the adventure ahead, but know that there will be struggles along the way. I know this is what God has for our family at this time. I am reading back through your archives on your own story of moving. It is really helping me and and as you always do, making me think! Well, I'm off to purge some more stuff! Thanks, again, for sharing your life with us! I hope you have a wonderful day in your beautiful part of the world!


  • Kelly

    Kelly on June 6, 2013, 9:12 p.m.

    I really needed to read this Renee, thank you!  We recently switched our family over to gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, absolutely no processed foods.....we are experimenting with GFDF for 6 weeks and I don't know that we will cut them out forever but I do know that I don't want us to ever go back to the processed foods, sugar, and flour!  We are all eating great and I'm very happy with how I feel now, but the amount of time it's taking me to meal plan, shop, and cook is knocking me off my feet!  We're only on week 2 so I know there's a learning curve and I'll get more efficient.  I've also been very worried about the amount we're spending on groceries right now and your post is reassuring!  I think I feel like I'm doing something wrong when I spend so much money on food!  I appreciate your grounded perspective as always.  :)


    • renee

      renee on June 6, 2013, 10:29 p.m.

      Kelly, I don't spend as much time as I used to in the kitchen and on cooking related tasks (kids help nowadays and Damien helps with grocery shopping) but I can totally relate to the time spent during transition and in the early years of dietary change. You might like these other posts of mine on food prep & values:

      Time I spend in the kitchen Spending less time in the ktichen


  • Catherine Forest

    Catherine Forest on June 11, 2013, 2:53 a.m.

    Oh how I love my food buying club! I could not live without one anymore! Our love affair with food buying clubs started in the Yukon 9 years ago and now our local FBC has such amazing local veggies and sprouts and greens that this was the number one thing we missed the most during our trip! So glad you started one in Gaspé!


  • Nicola

    Nicola on June 11, 2013, 4:31 a.m.

    I bought the book. I am excited to read about buying clubs, something I know little about. We buy almost no processed foods, make many foods from scratch, have some food allergies/intolerances, and prefer organics when possible, but I think we are also very fortunate to live in one of the most abundant parts of the country for fresh, local, affordable food  year round, that falls within our parameters. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!


  • Irish Girl's Cottage

    Irish Girl's Cottage on June 19, 2013, 10:53 p.m.

    I try to do a little bit of both when it comes to food. I watch for sales and stock up when I can on things we use all the time. I try to by local and/or organic as much as possible. I am willing to pay more for things like bacon without additives because I know it is better for my family. (I can't give up bacon.) My store does have sales from time to time on organic products. I am starting to make my own mixes with recipes found online to save money, but I am using organic sugar, flour, etc in them. This saves time and means I am less likely to buy a convience item. I do have an organic garden, but it doesn't produce at the level I wish for feeding my family.


  • Valerie

    Valerie on July 7, 2013, 6:08 a.m.

    I think this is the first time I read a post on a blog about grocery that reflects our family situation...Feels great to know we are not alone!! I'll check our area for food buying clubs :) Thanks !!



    • renee

      renee on July 7, 2013, 11:32 a.m.

      Valerie, if you can't find a club maybe you can start one? I know a great little book all about that (smile).


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