You have your plan. You have your list. Now the next step is getting all those items you need without spending a fortune.
** This list also has local options for those that live in the area, but most of these can be found nation wide. **
If your pantry is pretty bare, or you have been living off of boxed or cellophane wrapped food, the first month, possibly two, will be slightly more expensive. Don't panic though, the little bit extra you spend now, will save you ten times as much down the road.
Below you will see a list of categories. Under each category, is the description of what I typically buy, and beneath that is where I purchase the items. Remember, I don't make more than one shopping trip a week - it isn't worth the gas money, time spent or possible impulse buys that come with the extra trips. I also am an Amazon Prime member, and order a lot of my specialty items that would normally have me driving from small shop to small shop, online. So, sometimes I pay a little more for something I know I can get cheaper somewhere else, but that usually only involves fruit and veggies because I have a well stocked pantry. You will too if you continue with this plan.
Bulk Spices and Yeast
This is where some extra money is placed upfront, but pays back in the end. I buy spices in bulk, so it's not very often I run out and I save a ton of money by not purchasing those tiny $3 containers of spice that last a month at most. Don't go out and buy a million spices at once, just pick up what you need for that month. Before you know it, you'll have an entire cabinet of accumulated spices.
Mountain Rose Herbs - online (organic options) - I absolutely love this company. They offer almost every spice imaginable, and at a very reasonable price. The only qualm I have is the cost of shipping can offset the savings if you don't buy enough in one purchase.
Joseph's - local - While these are not organic, they are bulk and of good quality. Hands down, this is the cheapest place to buy spices that I can find. I pay about $3 for each spice and have enough to fill a pint sized mason jar. That's a lot! Most spices have a shelf life of one year, and I almost never finish the entire jar. I've started filling jam sized mason jars instead and giving the extra to friends. You could be even more frugal and split a bag of spice with a friend, so you would both end up paying about $1.50.
Costco - membership needed - I typically make my own spice blends from the basics I keep on hand, but occasionally my husband likes to grab a bbq rub or grilling seasoning mix he knows he likes. Again, these are super cheap, about $4 for 20 plus ounces. This is also where I buy yeast. Making yeasted breads from scratch almost lose their cost effectiveness (though still a whole lot healthier than store bought) when you buy those little pre-measured packets. For the cost of six packets (enough for six loaves of bread), I can buy a bulk package of yeast that will last 2 years (that's how long it will stay active in the freezer) assuming I bake 4 loaves of bread each week. The savings comes out to about $96 dollars a year - or one week's worth of groceries at our house.
Grains and Flours
This is an area that I just started to consider buying in bulk for the long-term. What I mean by that is instead of just buying a large 5 pound bag, I could be buying the very large 25 pound (or more!) bags that come in food-grade resealable buckets. The larger bulk buckets are marketed more towards "prepers", but considering most unprocessed grains have a shelf of 10 plus years and the price of the larger amount can save you more than 50%, it makes sense. The food grade containers are a must, unless you can transfer the grains to air tight containers that will keep tiny buys and kritters out. The last thing you want to do is open up your bag of rice and find you have to trash the entire thing because it has been contaminated. Keep in mind also, this is only for unprocessed whole grains - never buy that much flour unless you have the room in your freezer to store it. Once a grain is ground into flour, it starts oxidizing immediately. The longer flour is exposed to oxygen, the less nutritious it is and it will, within a short time span, go rancid unless the bran and germ have been removed. I'm currently stashing a little bit of money aside each week to save up for a grain mill. I've thought about it for years and have finally decided that the expense is worth the option of storing more grains, and having fresh, nutrient rich flour on hand whenever I need it.
Costco - membership needed - I get most of my grains here, specifically oatmeal (10lbs - $6.50), Organic brown rice (12lbs - $12) and popcorn kernals.
Joesphs - I buy most of my specialty flours at Joesphs. Items from Bob's Red Mill tend to be priced lower here than anywhere else I have found locally or online.
Amazon (online) - This has been my best source for ancient wheat (heirloom), specifically Einkorn and Farro (Emmer). I don't use a lot of it because it is expensive and we limit the amount of wheat in our diets. This is also where I buy my King Arthur flour - both whole red wheat and whole white wheat.
Survival Acres (http://survivalacres.com/shop/) - If you have the space, inclination and extra money, this online site is the best I've found for bulk whole grains. You would be buying 25-50lbs at a time, but it will last you years.
Nuts, Seeds and Beans
I try to keep a variety of nuts and seeds around the house. They're used for baking, snacking and in meals. As for beans, those are always purchased dried. The cost savings between buying bulk dried beans versus canned is huge - it's also healthier.
Joesph's - I buy most of our whole raw nuts and seeds here. You will find them in the bulk section.
Costco (membership needed) - Here I will pick up whole organic quinoa, organic chia, ground flax, walnuts, pecans and almond butter.
Amazon - (online) Honeyville Almond Flour is actually cheaper purchased here provided you group it with more orders. I order organic cacao nibs, dried gogi berries and sunbutter as well.
**As far as bulk dried beans go, I pick them up where ever I happen to be. I have yet to come across an expensive bag of dried beans.**
Dairy, Dairy Alternatives and Eggs
I'm pretty picky about my dairy - I know, I'm strange. I won't buy dairy at all unless it has either been fermented or aged(yogurts/cheese), most of the casein has been removed (heavy cream, butter) or has been low-vat pasteurized (read more about that here). Even with low-vat pasteurization, I limit dairy milk to one gallon every other week or so and half of that gets turned into yogurt. I have also been called a butter snob more than once or twice in my life. I pretty much only buy Kerrygold butter, imported from Ireland and made from 100% grass fed cows. If I happen to be in a pinch and need butter but can't find my usual, I look first for imported butters from Europe (they have much stricter food standards than we do), and if I can't find those, then I grab organic. I'll go into the reasoning behind all of this in another post - I can sense eye glazing...
Joseph's - Kalona SuperNatural low-vat pasteurized organic whole milk (pricey but worth every penny) and a small cup of their yogurt if I don't have any leftover from my last batch.
Costco (membership) - Organic Eggs - if I'm not currently picking them up from the Woodstock Farmer's market, I buy them here (24 eggs for $6), Mountain High plain yogurt (4lbs is $4) we mix our own flavors quickly and easily by adding honey, maple syrup, jam, apple-butter, dried fruit, granola or puffed rice. Almond milk, and rice milk can be bought in bulk slightly cheaper. Most of our cheese comes from costco because it's so much cheaper and can easily be frozen and then pulled out to thaw quickly when needed. I usually buy a large block of Tillamonk Cheddar for $7 and that will give me roughly 12 cups of shredded cheese. This is where I buy my Kerrygold butter. It costs around $6.50 for 3 cups of butter. That may seem high, but it's the cheapest I have been able to source it, and with other stores charging closer to $4 for 1 cup, it's a good price. Nutritionally, it would be worth the $4 a cup, in my opinion. Again, I buy up a lot of butter when I find it (it is not available year round at Costco), and store it in my freezer.
I try to keep our meat sources local and pasture raised or grass-fed. I buy a lot of our beef and poultry at the farmer's market. If the items I'm looking for are not available there, or are priced beyond my means, I typically buy the rest at Costco. As a side note, if you're purchasing bison, lamb or game meat, these items are usually high quality everywhere. It's the conventional, mass-produced items (think beef, poultry & pork) that contain the highest amounts of antibiotics and are given unsatisfactory diets. You most definetly are what you eat in this category. If the meat you're eating was raised poorly, the nutrition you get from it is also poor.
Farmer's Market - I only buy beef from a local farmer - Michele Aavang at Willow Lea Stock Farm. Her animals are treated well, grass-fed for the majority of their lifespan and I have always been beyond happy with anything I've purchased from her. Our family recently made the decision to invest in half a cow with another family and I would do it again in heartbeat. If you have the freezer space and the money set aside - you can save a ton of money. We also pick up bratworst, lard and whole chickens here. Check www.localharvest.com to see if you have a farmer near by.
Costco - (membership)- If you don't have access to a local source of grass-fed beef, Costco offers organic ground beef. As much as I would love to buy whole chickens (and we only buy the whole chicken, never the packaged cuts), sometimes my budget can not support it. You can buy organic whole chickens at a pretty reasonable price. We buy canned wild Alaskan salmon and sardines packed in olive oil here as well.
Fruits and Veggies
The most economical thing to do here is grow your own, however, for a lot of us (including myself), that is not an option. You can grow your own herbs in small containers just about anywhere, and you should. One basil plant can cost as much as 3 seed packets - think of all that basil you could get! Try it, you'll be happy you did.
Farmer's Market - I try to buy whatever I can while it's in season at the market. I will buy up extras and either freeze or can as much as possible to have during the winter. Sometimes it pays to go to the market near the end of the day, produce is sometimes marked down dramatically or even given away - this doesn't happen all the time so don't count on it, but it has happened to me more than a few times and I've been super grateful.
Joseph's - I love the produce here, as well as the prices and the variety is huge.
Local Grocer - You're local grocery store will likely have fresher produce than any of the big box discount stores. The fresher your fruit and veggies, the more nutrition they maintain.
Costco (membership) - I stock up on giant bags of frozen organic fruits and vegetables here. I end up paying about $1 per pound on average, sometimes less. I also buy dried dates, figs and raisins here.
Coffee, teas, and other drinks
Aside from our nut/rice milks, we pretty much stick to water and sometimes 100% orange or grape juice. I'm the only one in the house that drinks coffee and tea, so we don't spend a whole lot here.
Costco (membership) - I can buy large 2.5 lb bags of organic or fair trade whole coffee beans (they offer ground too) for about $10 - that's almost a 50% savings from even the box box stores.
Mountain Rose Herbs - You buy organic, loose leaf teas here that are phenomenal. Again, just make sure to have more than one or two items on your buying list before you order from them or the cost of shipping will out-weigh the savings.
Amazon - If you're looking for something specific, check here before driving all over town.
Condiments and Sweeteners
As a rule, I try to keep the amount of sweeteners in our diets low, which in turn helps offset the expense. We try to use honey, maple syrup, blackstrap molasses, applesauce, bananas and dates to sweeten most of our recipes. I large bag of organic sugar will last us six or months unless I'm doing holiday baking.
Farm Bureau - Local honey - we pay $9 for three pounds.
Costco (membership) - Organic sugar, maple syrup, and dates.
Amazon - If you don't have a Costco membership and can't talk someone you know who does have one into picking stuff up for you, check here.
Oh. My. Goodness.
If you're still with me, kudos to you - you must really want to eat well on a budget. That was a long, and daunting list. Do not let it overwhelm you. I wanted to share where I find the best prices for the best food I can afford. Some of this might work for you and some of it won't and that's okay. I've been watching my dollars and food budget for over seven years and this is where I am - I still have room to learn and grow but I'm leaps and bounds ahead of where I started. Take your time and don't stress yourself out. Personally, I've turned saving grocery money into a game and every month I try to beat my last score (dollars not spent) while still eating very well.
If you know of an inexpensive resource, by all means, please share in the comments section below. I know I would love to hear about it and so would other readers.
Part 4 of this series - Freezing Food - Make your grocery money work for you will be available soon.