In Rwanda, our dinners were usually some variation of the following ingredients: tomato paste, a starch (pasta, bread or chapatti), onion, garlic, green bell peppers and cheese. For breakfast it was cereal, bananas, honey, milk and cinnamon. For lunch we ate the rice, beans and potatoes served at school, spiked with Akabanga (a pili pili infused oil). Since we lived in the city center and despised haggling, we developed a well-researched shopping routine that we repeated every Saturday morning. First it was to the local Indian food mart for tomato paste, American-style peanut butter and the occasional jar of Nutella. Then over to Simba for pasta and cereal. Across the street was Nakumatt, where we would buy “miracle” bread, “miracle” strawberry jam and biscuits. Finally down to St. Paul’s where we would pick up some prix fixe produce, honey, eggs, chapatti and sit down to lunch on fried food and cold beer. On the way home, after some internet at Shokola, we would head over to another alimentation for the cheapest wheel of “gouda” cheese. Between us, we memorized the best prices for our must-haves within walking distance of our house in Kigali.
We were never as efficient with grocery budgeting in the States. I made an attempt at couponing but gave it up once I realized the yield was primarily highly processed junk food I would never otherwise purchase. Cereal straws are not exactly what I want to stock in our pantry, no matter how cheap. Of course, I know that I could use coupons for the few things I would buy anyway, but I found the cost benefit analysis was not in my favor. We finally settled on Whole Foods, which we both love for their service and simplicity. Their commitment to quality standards means we have to do a lot less sifting. Plus I never have to make that inevitable one extra trip for the item that no other store sells. And sticking to a short list of ingredients, versus products, meant we managed to leave relatively unscathed financially.
After Rwanda, there was initially a bit of culture shock grocery shopping in Houston. I had to re-orient myself to prices and wean myself from the learned assumption I was being ripped off. Eventually though, we returned to our rhythm of shopping at Whole Foods and ordering our weekly co-op share. As much as I fondly recollect our Saturdays in Kigali, no part of me wanted to repeat the five-store shuffle here. Something about the addition of traffic, both on the roads and in the stores, and taking out the end of day lunch and internet treat threw off the whole equation. But I was inspired by this blogger’s grocery budgeting to try out Costco the other afternoon with my mom.
A tentative shopper by nature, it was easy for me to keep from diving off the bulk foods deep end, and I emerged with this Costco cornucopia. Grand total – $67.99.
I knew I had saved some money, but I was curious about the specifics, so I took a pen and pad to my weekly grocery trip to make some notes. Aside from the Wholly Guacamole, which I couldn’t price because it’s tag was MIA, I found that I spent just under $40 less, ounce for ounce. Though it should be noted that a good chunk of the bounty should last at least six months, if not longer. Most of the savings came from the name brand stuff (surprise, surprise), so I felt both good that I’d saved enough to cover a few more bottles of wine and good that I hadn’t been wasting too much extra money with our fairly basic grocery list.
This blog had some really amazing tips for more serious grocery budgeting.
And I love how my friend summarized her reorientation to American grocery shopping.