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How I Live in NYC and Spend Only $25/week on Groceries

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by Kate Brunotts

As much as I’d like to say that my frugal grocery budget of $25 a week was out of my love of being responsible and financially savvy… it’s not.

I live in New York City and stuff is expensive. Moving here and starting with a stream of minimum wage jobs has forced me to learn how to cut costs and stick to it. Luckily, my income has since increased, but I haven’t felt the need to expand my grocery budget. As a little disclaimer, I’m not a nutritionist by any means, a pretty small 135(ish) pound young lady, so what works well for me might not work for you.

 If nothing else, I hope this piece can help guide you in cutting small costs out of your everyday life. Here are my receipts and a breakdown of my budget, along with a couple of tips I keep in mind while shopping. 

The Receipts

Hey, the proof is in the pudding! As you can see, some weeks I’m slightly under, some I’m slightly over, but my monthly net usually harbors right around $90-100 on groceries. Here are 3 receipts from the past month.

My Love Affair with Trader Joe’s 

Let’s get one thing out of the way- I only shop at Trader Joe’s. Do you see that $2 crew member discount on my 1st receipt? Yeah, that’s right, my mom works as a loving crew member back home, and I just so happen to bring that up in conversation with my cashier from time to time.

But before you go ahead and dismiss my advice due to nepotism, there’s valid reasoning behind why I’m exclusively a TJ’s head. 

For one thing, prices are largely stabilized. I can expect 1 banana to cost 19 cents whether I shop at TJ’s in Manhattan or deep in Virginia. Over 80% of the products in Trader Joe’s are by their own brand, allowing the chain to reduce costs since there’s no middle man.

I can go on and on about the benefits of shopping here, but in the interest of time, TJ’s is in a unique position where they can keep low costs that their customers can depend on – something extremely difficult to find otherwise around the city. 

Corner bodegas and markets often have cheap produce depending on the season, but I’ve found it easiest to go to a grocery store where I can expect to spend more or less the same each week.

Cost Breakdown

In general, I mentally separate my groceries into three categories: Produce, Grains/Dairy, Fun Stuff/Extras. I try to spend the most on produce, following with grains/dairy, and 1 or 2 extras/fun food per week. 

Having a rough break down in my mind ahead of time usually helps me to best allocate my funding. When I was first developing my budget, I’d collect my receipts and analyze where most of my money was going to: What gets measured, gets managed. 

How To Save Money While Shopping

In my experience, there’s only so much you can plan when it comes to shopping: The real test comes down to the actual experience when you’re in the store and that $5 coffee cake is calling your name ever so sweetly.

Saying no is much easier said than done, so here are a couple of tips I abide by in order to make sticking to my budget a breeze. 

1.Use a Calculator or Round-Up

Before I got my mental shopping list down pat, a good old fashioned calculator held me accountable. Nowadays, I’m much too lazy, but I always make sure to round-up prices to the nearest dollar to 1) give me some wiggle room for miscalculations/tax costs and 2) save me from intense mental math. If I drop I .89 cent nectarine in my basket, in my mind it’s counting as a dollar. 

2.Pick a Shopping Day and Stick To It

Having a regular shopping day every week encourages you to eat out less (which is the enemy of saving money) and allows you to think in terms of stockpiling.

If I know I have extra grocery budget moola this week, I’ll pick up pasta, peanut butter, whatever non-perishable item that I know I’ll use in the future, but could be difficult to obtain on a regular basis. 

3.Cook Where You Can

Again, I can’t emphasize enough, eating out is a money vacuum. Treat that as a treat! Cooking ends up being healthier and more cost-effective most of the time. If you have a partner or some groovy friends, share meals. This can surprisingly cut down a considerable amount of cost and waste.

4.Think of Money In Terms of Hours Worked

Is that craft pumpkin spice beer really worth an hour of your time? In general, a good money-saving tip is to view your money as the number of hours spent earning it.  

When in doubt, don’t be afraid to give things back at the register. Trust me- giving that cashier one of your fun items and sticking to your budget is much more satisfying than going over and feeling guilty. 

Overall, sticking to a tight grocery budget takes discipline and practice but can ultimately save you loads of money if fully committed to. 

Make sure to be lenient and not overdo the whole process- being mindful of your purchasing habits is important, but saving money is never worth sacrificing your personal well-being.

I hope you find that sweet karma sutra spot of frugal financial bliss and belly fulfilling shopping list!

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