Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How to shop in bulk...

Yesterday I wrote all about how to organize and plan shopping weekly (see HERE) but for some of us, shopping monthly or every two weeks works better. When I say monthly, though, please know that really what I am talking about is shopping in very large quantities for stable things like frozen meats, frozen produce, and shelf stable foods. You will need to make a small shopping trip every two weeks at least for fresh produce and dairy. For those of you who have asked what you will do with all that food you are shopping for, just know that next Tuesday I will be writing about menu planning. Today's post will have lots of links, and the farmers do not give me a kickback. I just like them a lot and some local folks have asked for local contacts.

One of the most important things to know is just how much food your family needs. Each us has different needs based activity level and weight as well as special drains on our nutrition like extreme growth in adolescence for boys and periods of pregnancy and nursing. Keep track for at least a week if not two to see just how much you are using of the staples of butter, eggs, milk, cultured dairy, water kefir, grains, produce and meat. In the weekly planning post that I linked to above, I have some recommendations for a minimum amount of food and gave exact amounts of what my family consumes. That would be a good place to start.


We used to be a one car family and this meant that I stuck very strictly to a twice a month shopping trip. We had fewer and smaller kids so this was a reasonable amount of food to store. I would buy an assortment of both short and long storing fruits and vegetables and we would eat the short terms storage ones first. In my family of twelve, we go through about 40# of produce every two weeks. I buy some organic frozen berries, some organic frozen veggies like peas, and easily stored things like apples, potatoes, sweet potatoes, kale, chard, cabbage and carrots. These things easily last two weeks in the refrigerator, freezer or pantry without problems. Also for the record, I only buy frozen peas because they go badly so quickly and the only fresh peas we get are from the garden. I also buy some things which don't last as long such as bananas, fresh berries, pears, clementine oranges and the like. I buy a balance of 20# each long and short term storage foods and the things that last the shortest amount of time are the ones we eat first.

My produce budget goes down in the summer because of gardening so I use that extra cash to put some coconut oil by the gallon in the basement and stock up on meat. We have had great luck with our chiles, cucumbers, zucchinis, sweet peas and lettuces so I resort to these things from our garden. Tomatoes hate us, but my friend Hanna grows the most amazing ones so we do okay there. We also grow basil like there is no tomorrow which is fortunate because we will eat it like there is no tomorrow. We also have chives like you would not believe and this year we plan on adding leeks. We have sandy soil so we have to accommodate our garden plans to the soil we have and focus on really building up the soil in future years. I would love to join a CSA for the remaining of our produce but I can't afford it, so I don't beat myself up about it. For those who live close to me, I shop Sprouts, Vitamin Cottage, and Costco and trade with friends for produce. I can make a mean pesto and since basil thrives in my yard, I make a LOT of pesto.


We have short term and long term savings and I am not kidding when I say I have separate funds for big grocery expenses and home school materials. We have a regular monthly income that we plan for each month, but some erratic payments from my blogging and quarterly payments from my husband's job which are not defined but dependent on his performance and the stock market's as well. Three times a year I buy 75 pounds of grain, which is cutting back from my 100#. I have a Gamma Vault (mine is from Costco but like this HERE) for the Kamut, and five gallon buckets with Gamma Lids for rice, white beans, pintos, and pastry grain. Each time I order grain, I get another item with it whether more rice or beans. If you dedicate a small fund you can drop $25 a month into it and then in four months you will have $100 to spend on food. When I get a blogging check (they are usually small) they go right into that fund. Other than the large purchases of grains and legumes, I spend probably ten dollars twice on month on oats. If you are in the market for mills, grains, mixers or other kitchen small appliances, I love my grain lady and you can find her HERE.


I plan on a minimum of 1/3# of meat per day for an adult, teen or child over ten and 1/4# for smaller children, which means at my house that I need a minimum of 3.35# per day. I usually try to go for 4# which means I need less expensive meat in order to bring down my costs. I need each month a minimum of 97# of meat but I would like to have 120#. About half of my monthly meat costs come in the form of organic chickens from Costco which I buy by the case for $1.74/#. I buy about 55# of these a month which is about $100 per month. The remaining 50-75 pounds of meat I buy come from local farms where the pastured pork is $5 and I have recently started buying US Wellness Ground Beef in the less lean bulk 25# packages for $5.40/#. This makes my average expense for meat for 125# of meat to be $475 a month and for just 100# to be right around $350. I try to keep it at $400 by buying some sale meats at Sprouts when I can and I make sure that we have chicken and bone broth from it at least three if not four nights a week. I buy my meat all at once and I make sure that I am frequently refilling my freezer every time hubs gets paid. If you think about it, the hog that I just bought weighed 85# and that is less than my monthly meat needs. if I don't plan, we don't do well. The best pork I have ever had comes from a local farm in Bennett and you can find their site HERE.

I also cook meatless once a week, as a Catholic this means eating no meat in Fridays and we get our protein needs met by dairy, eggs, nuts, and the common beans and rice business. One day of no meat each week means that I have more meat for other days. I also am less worried about the times I serve less meat over all, in say a soup, because I rely heavily on bone broth. I am almost always have a Crockpot going full of bones and I cook them for two solid days for the thickest and richest broth. We eat meat at the main meal of the day and this way I can provide something hearty at lunch.

Dairy and Eggs:

Eggs are boon to the big family! After a very carefully controlled diet my seven year old son is no longer allergic to eggs and I am taking advantage of it. This means 4-6 dozen eggs a week in a variety of ways (see this post HERE for some ideas for egg dishes). I am going to have to refigure my eggs budget since our family friends are moving to Texas and I can't get dirt cheap pastured eggs from them anymore. Did you hear me sigh? I buy my most of my dairy and eggs now at Costco. I go twice a month and I bring back two half gallons of non UHP cream, eight dozen eggs and eight pounds of butter. When I go to Sprouts for produce weekly or bi-weekly, I also get 2-4 gallons of local milk for yogurt and cooking. Costco sells very good tasting organic butter and brown organic eggs with good color to the yolks and sturdy shells. Not perfect, but we aren't millionaires and somethings gotta give. If you are in the market for pastured poultry and soy free eggs, there is another Bennett family who have recently downsized the products they are selling but are phenomenal nonetheless, call Sherrie at 303-862-6775  and order some eggs and chicken.

Coconut Oil, Coconut Milk, Coconut Water, Honey and Raw Milk:

This is tough, because these are large expenses. I dip into my short term saving for these things. When Tropical Traditions has a coconut oil sale, I stock up. Then each month, I drop $15 or so into my short term fund to replenish it. Coconut milk I buy by the case when it goes on sale at Sprouts, and I will buy like four or five cases of organic full fat and the same with the coconut water though I buy less of that. Raw milk is not out of my regular grocery budget but that is because when we bought local organic, we also had two kids on horrifically expensive asthma medication and we just reallocated those dollars. You can read HERE about how we got them off drugs and on to coconut oil and honey. My honey costs are going up because the bee keeping friend of my mother gave me a ridiculous price on it while he was getting started on it, but now he is selling to a brewery and I get something like two gallons a year for $25. There is a local honey producer and I can buy it for $125 for a 5gl bucket and I might need to go that way (see HERE). My farmer gives me a deal on the raw milk because I buy five gallons a week and so I pay $160 a month. But, it costs a little more if you buy less. If you live in my area, I love my milk farmer, Kenny, you can find him HERE. He takes Paypal over the web, making payments easy and has lots of drop off points.

For all else:

I keep a running list in my phone of what need and I prioritize it. I have a budget of $25 a week and I buy what is on the list till that amount is spent. If I did not get the organic bay leaves because I needed more dried fruit, so be it.

This system is working quite well for me and I feel I have a pretty decent budget. A friend I know who is married with one toddler and a 9 month old spends about one third of what I do and another friend with five children under eight, including a seven month old, spends 40% what I do. So If I can feed my husband and myself, three teens and seven smaller children on a grand total of $1,300 a month (though my prices are going to rise), I figure I am doing pretty well.

So tell me, how does it compare to your budget?

Linking up to Real Food Wedneday!


  1. Normally for 8 of us (2 adults 6 kids under 10) we do $1500/month including dairy, eggs, as well as laundry detergent and other grocery type stuff... we were on a reduced budget the last couple months and were doing it all for $1000. Normally we don't use any grains at all (other than sprouted grain bread for my husband's breakfast) which makes our diet very meat heavy and food very expensive (we do 90% pastured-only meat). Also we weren't doing beans, or potatoes for that matter either. We added those things in when we needed to cut our main grocery budget to $800/month plus about $200 for eggs and milk. I think you have it down to a science! Maybe you can share some of your more frugal meals and how you fill your family for that much. Honestly we haven't had a freezer full in a while, but when we do purchase a cow share it does not come out of our regular budget, we pay separately for that... so if you average it out we are spending much more. As long as we can afford it, it's cheaper than doctor bills and it's important to us to eat this way, but you guys are on the same page and I'd love to hear more of your tips for feeding a big family.

  2. I like seeing your real-world figures. Wow. I'm amazed. I am working on my grocery budget, but I don't have it broken down as tightly as you do. For the past few months I have been trying to get my grocery budget into a rhythm, and I am finally there (nearly). I'm finding that I need to just STAY OUT OF THE STORE and cook what I have on hand. Transitioning from a weekly shopping trip to a bi-weekly system has done wonders, and now wait for my fridge to empty out before shopping again.

    I'm pleased to say that I have cut my weekly grocery spending from $100-150 to $75, and that now includes raw dairy. I now save $80-100 a month to make bulk purchases for coconut oil, grains, and meat quarterly. I used to spend $100 at the grocery store every week, plus ordering from various co-ops to the tune of $150+ each month. The first month I instituted my budget planning, my husband was so shocked at the surplus in the budget that he thought he had forgotten to pat an important bill!

  3. Shopping with a purpose and not just for the next has meal. I need more practice at it. My current issue has to do with the growing children. I don't have enough food. Better planning will help. Thanks for the insites.

    1. If you don't have a plan, you do spend more! Good point to remember!

  4. I am going to forward this to my mom, I know she will like it! She still has 6 at home and most are boys, they eat a ton!

  5. Replies
    1. Nope. Not a genius. But you are very kind!


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