Project: Food Budget, Week 16

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Hi all!  I hope the past week has treated you well and you are ready for another peek into my sometimes awesome food budgeting skills!

Tip of the Week

Welp…I decided that since I was already doing this in my “intros,” I would make it a separate section of my posts.  I really, really like lists, dontcha know? 😉

This week I’m to talk about a commonly overlooked way to get the most product for your buck: the per quantity (or unit) price.

Let’s start off with an example, shall we?  Note: this will also give you a glimpse at the process I use to find deals.  One product you need is soy sauce.  You sit down with your coupons and the sales circulars for your favorite or most frequented stores (although some couponers will go to many different stores just for the sales, I generally don’t).  It isn’t on sale anywhere but you do have the following:

  • Brand X: $1.00/1 manufacturer’s coupon
  • Brand Y: $1.00/2 manufacturer’s coupon and two $0.55/1 store coupons (at a store where stacking is allowed)

Brand X comes in several size bottles (5, 10, and 20 oz) whereas Brand Y only comes in a 10 oz bottle.  Which one is the cheapest?  Which coupon will give you the best deal?  Well let’s take a look.

Brand X prices

  • 5 oz, $1.89 – $1.00 off = $0.89
  • 10 oz, $2.49 – $1.00 off = $1.49
  • 20oz, $3.79 – $1.00 off = $2.79

Brand Y price

  • 10 oz, $3.49 x 2 bottles – $1.00 off/2 – 2($0.55 off) = $4.88 = $2.44/bottle

Now we know how much each bottle is going to cost after our coupons.  As someone who is budgeting, you might see the low total cost of the 5oz bottle of Brand X and jump on it.  However, you’d need two 5 oz bottles to get the same amount of sauce as one 10oz bottle and so on.  This is why the unit price is so helpful.  The only way to know which product is actually the least expensive is to look at the per unit price.  In this case, we can look at $/oz (or per roll, lb, gallon, etc).

  • $0.89/5oz = $0.18/oz
  • $1.49/10oz = $0.15/oz
  • $2.79/20oz = $0.14/oz
  • $2.44/10oz = $0.24/oz

We now can see a couple of things.  Firstly, the 20oz bottle is actually offering the best deal even though you are paying more upfront. This is a fairly standard practice and the reason big box stores like Costco and BJs are so popular.  It is also opposite from the way many of us likely think.  That is, if it costs less overall it costs less.  As I’ve shown above, that just isn’t true!

Secondly, having one or more coupons for a product does not guarantee that you are getting the best price.  Knowing your prices is ridiculously important because it is so easy to get sucked into the “have-coupon-must-use” mentality also known as the “it’s-always-cheaper-with-a-coupon” idea.  Sometimes the price of something at Trader Joe’s is still cheaper despite the fact that it isn’t on sale and I don’t have a coupon for it!  To learn prices, you can use couponing match-up sites or just spend ridiculous amounts of some time getting to know the costs of your frequently purchased items at different stores.  If you have a Wegmans near you, you can look up store-specific prices on their website.

Thirdly, lets look at how your preferences play a role in which Brand you purchase.  Say Brand Y cost $2.79 for the 10 oz bottle.  Following the same calculations as above, it would cost $0.17/oz, still more than both the 10 and 20 oz bottles of brand X.  However, it is a brand whose product is superior and whose taste you prefer (and maybe even a company that has practices you support).  Is that important to you?  Is it worth potentially going over budget for?  Are you willing to leave another item off of your list to get this better product?

Or say you really don’t use soy sauce that much and the extra $1.00 for buying the 20 vs the 10 oz bottle of Brand X means you will go over budget or be forced to leave something off your list.  Is getting the 10oz a bad idea?

In the end, your budget and buying habits has to fit your lifestyle and your values.  This is not something many people will tell you.  When I started getting into couponing it was all, “Don’t be brand loyal” and “Buy the travel size bottles just because they are free.” Both of those things are 100% true if you always want to get the best deal, but they just don’t work for me.   So I found a way to budget and coupon successfully while still upholding my values when it comes to food (which I recognize not everyone even has).  Sometimes this means I have to do more work or spend a little more but I’m ok with that because I’m sticking to my guns.  You have to do the same thing for you!

One final note on the topic of unit price.  Do not assume that you will always get the best deal when you buy the larger package!  Always, always do your math.  Last week at WF I was going to purchase the 5 lb bag of Arrowhead Mills flour but when I calculated it out (thank the Universe for cell phones, right?!), I realized that I would be paying $0.89/lb versus the $0.75/lb I paid for the two pound bag!  Check yourself both before you go and once you are at the store!  Its the best advice I can give.

Weekly Menu

*Rather than planning specific meals for specific days, I cook in bulk once or twice a week and eat leftovers for both lunch and dinner.  I also eat gleefully devour a green smoothie every morning for breakfast.
*Test recipes for the third Happy Herbivore cookbook are denoted with a * and can include neither a name nor a detailed description.

This was another exciting week as I experimented with two new vegetables: Swiss chard and turnips.  The former came out amazing, despite my hesitation…

Let me show you how I really feel!

The latter, not so much (hence the lack of a picture).  The chard was on sale at WF when I stopped by this weekend and I knew Lindsay had a recipe for it so I figured…better now when I’m only paying $1.99/lb for organic.  Plus I’ve been beasting my way through Crazy Sexy Diet and making a concentrated effort to include more greens (as you’ll see below)!

Chipotle Roasted Corn Soup and Sauteed Spinach with Silken Tofu

Curry* over Quinoa...not the prettiest picture but mighty tasty!

Rainbow Greens (EHH) + Baked Tofu (HH) marinated in Thai Peanut Sunflower Sauce (HH)

Grilled Cheeze with Roasted Veggies (both EHH)

  • Raisin Zee Bars (modified from here)
  • Chili*
  • Stuffing*
  • Vegetable Pad Thai (HHC)
  • Salsa Verde Navy Beans (modified from here) with the rest of the chard

Spending Savings

*My budget is $40/wk for groceries, household, and H&BC items, with the latter two categories ideally only costing $10 combined.

Total: $46.78
Within budget? 😦

I readjusted my budget because it was too much of a pain to separate the costs.

Splurges this week included stocking up on granola at WF, my fave chocolate at Wegmans, and last-minute grabbing Pad Thai ingredients on my way home from yoga.

*A second goal is to save as much as if not more than I spend.  This excludes purchases at Trader Joe’s since coupons are of limited use there.

Eligible Spending: $28.40
Amt Saved:$36/45 (129%)!
Savings goal met? :)

Steals and Deals

Whole Foods

Organic Swiss Chard: $1.99/lb
Organic Scallions: $0.99/bunch
Method Dish Detergent: $3.99 – $1.00 Jan/Feb Whole Deal cpn – $1/1 Method Dish Detergent 01/08/2012 SS Insert (exp 03/31/2012)= $1.99
Celestial Seasonings Wellness Tea: $2.50 (sale price) – $1.00 Jan/Feb Whole Deal cpn – $1.00 cpn found here = $0.50
Nature’s Path Granola: (2)$2.99 (sale price) – $1.50/2 Jan/Feb Whole Deal cpn– (2)$1.00/1 cpns from Boston Veg Fest = $2.48 = $1.24 each
Udi’s Granola: $5.99 – Free Udi’s product cpn from a Christmas special they offered = FREE!
Say Yes to Cucumbers Facial Towlettes: $2.99 (sale price) – $3.00 cpn here = FREE!*

*Full disclosure: these rang in for $0.01 AND it took my coupon, seriously helping out with the budget.  I did let Customer Service know.


2x TopCare Multipurpose Contact Solution: $1.99 (sale price0- $1.00/$4.00 HBC cpn = $2.98 = $1.49/bottle
French’s Dijon Mustard: $2.99 – $0.75 cpn found here (try zip 27601 if  not available) = $1.49
Wessex Instant oats: $2.00 (sale price) – $2.00 Woodstock cpn found hereFREE!
Blue Diamond Nut Thins: $2.79 – $1.00 cpn found here = $1.79
Organic Thompson Raisins: $4.00  – $1.00 cpn from 7 Weeks of Savings booklet = $3.00 = $2.49/lb
Theo Peppermint Chocolate: $1.50 (sale price)

I also received a free half gallon of OJ for roomie. The Theo Chocolate was a total splurge purchase but since it was on sale and is my fave chocolate, I couldn’t leave it there!

Trader Joe’s

*These are everyday prices from the Shrewsbury, MA store.

Pesticide-Free Frozen Spinach (16oz): $1.29
Bob’s Red Mill Ground Flaxseed (16oz): $2.69 <–This is better than the Spectrum deal at WF which costs $2.49 for 14oz!
Bananas: $0.19/piece (as long as they are big, this is less than $0.49/lb)

Check out my fellow budget superstars:


Kait xo

8 thoughts on “Project: Food Budget, Week 16

  1. Hey! I just love reading your budget entries. Great job this week!

    I am one of those people who took a ridiculous amount of time to put together a price spreadsheet for my regularly purchased items.

    There is a PDF copy online if you want to check it, especially since we are relatively in the same area, it might help a little.

    anyway, I will remember to upload a revised copy tonight to make sure it’s up to date.

    PS I love that TJ’s offers pesticide free frozen food, as opposed to more expensive organic, which needs to be certified. Sure, there is a chance that it’s not up to “code”, but hopefully it’s okay!

    • Thanks Debbie! I appreciate the spreadsheet and am glad I’m not the only one.

      Re: Eh…I really don’t care about “organic” in the long-run although I prefer it if possible. Pesticide-free, IMO, is way better! Organic has become so big nowadays that its lost so much of its roots. Working on an organic farm this summer showed me how similar it is: pesticides are used (but they are from “organic” sources, like GM worms), the crops are sprayed (again, with “organic” materials such as a solution made with crushed up fished bones), etc.

      PS I totally get your stress about overspending. The thing I love about this project is that it isn’t just about food budgeting: its about learning fiscal responsibility in all areas. 🙂

      • Yes!!! so many local farms around here are “pesticide responsible” and I’d rather keep it that way and pay a little less.

        Oh and I forgot to say before that I loved your photo of you and the chard.

      • So half of my comments got shipped to the spam folder…sorry for the delay!

        There is nothing like getting to know your farmer and their practices to determine the true value of the food. I don’t even mind paying more for food if it is local and sustainably grown. I eat this way for my health AND for the environment. 🙂

  2. Love your tip for the week. Our grocery store has it on the label when it shows the price. SO HELPFUL!

    And I love that you’re saving so much and getting more bang for your buck with your shopping. It’s fun to watch!

    • Thanks. 🙂 Ours do too but once you use a coupon, obviously, the numbers get messed up and then the mental math is confusing! H

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