I hate going to the grocery store. Every week it takes hours of time getting to the store, perusing through the aisles, reading ingredient lists trying to piece together weekly meals. I started an experiment to see if I could free up time by eliminating grocery trips by using a variety of home delivery services. What I found was that not only could I avoid the stores entirely, but I that I can do it for way cheaper ($4/meal) while eating much healthier and almost entirely organic. I also developed a sharp understanding of exactly what I was eating, which gives me full control over my diet and the ability to further optimize it with a few mouse clicks. At the point of writing this, I’m down to weekly food costs of $90.11, monthly costs of $360.44 and average meal costs of exactly $4. With a little creativity you can replicate this system for yourself or your family, freeing up lots of time to redirect towards anything more fun than the aisles of Safeway or Whole Foods.
Edit: I scored some exclusive discount codes for readers of the blog for Carmen Ranch and GroceryGetter that you'll find below.
Here’s a generic copy of the spreadsheet I use for this system. Open it and ‘save as’ in your own drive. Every category in red requires your input. All the formulas are already in place for you. The top half is for identifying your items and costs, the bottom half is optional and for fine-tuning your diet. For now, we’re just going to focus on the top half.
What Gets Measured, Gets Managed
If you want to eat healthier, gain or lose weight, the surest way to do this is by measuring what you’re putting into your body. Having this information in front of you is vital. It allows you a new level of diet control. When in your life have you known what percentage of calories come from protein/fat/carbs? Or the relative cost of each item per month? This knowledge is essential and empowering- without it we cannot optimize our diet and spending patterns.
Using the Spreadsheet
Step 1: Make a list of the staples of your diets under “food items per month”. This includes things you eat regularly or things you’d like to eat regularly. This isn’t about living like a monk- it’s about trimming the fat to create an ideal system for yourself. Dream a little and have fun but try to keep it simple. Simplicity allows for easier management and forces us to choose the items that we really want. Shoot for 15-20 items per person that you would love to eat each month. For now, lump all fruits are vegetables into one item.
Tools and Services
Step 2: Compare what’s available against your ideal list. As a general outline, we should use amazon subscriptions for non-perishables, local ranches for meat and dairy, and organic delivery services for fruits and veggies. As you find items that you like, fill out the price and number categories so you can get a feel for your food budget and relative costs. This will help you better judge what's not worth it’s price tag and where you can splurge. My favorite tool is the % monthly cost, which really helps put item costs into perspective.
Meat and Dairy
Unless you’re vegan or vegetarian, this is a good place to start. I use Community Supported Agriculture [CSA]. These are farms and ranches that sell directly to consumers. CSA has the potential to really revolutionize the food industry and it's a great place to spend your money. This is some of the freshest, most local food you can get. I get beef and pork through Carmen Ranch, but there's many options depending on your location. It's convenient, delicious, humanely raised (all grass fed/pastured) and you can actually develop a relationship with the people that produce your food. Avoiding the middlemen of retail grocers saves a ton of money...it would literally cost me twice as much to get this quality of meat at Whole Foods. There’s virtually no downside.
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If you’re in Oregon check out http://www.localharvest.org/csa/. If you’re outside Oregon http://www.farmigo.com is a good place to start. If these fail, a Google search should turn up an army of local ranches and farms with similar services. Find a service that fits your needs and throw it in the spreadsheet. Add nutritional information on the bottom half to start getting a better picture of your diet.
Fruits and Veggies
Alright vegans, your time has come. Organic delivery services are popping up all over the country. I even found one that services the remote Palmdale, CA for my mom. If you’re in Portland, I highly recommend Grocery Getter. They deliver weekly or bi-weekly boxes of high quality local, organic produce. You can create a list of do-not ship items and make special requests. The fruits and veggies vary each week which keeps your cooking engaged and adds a nice variety of great fruits and veggies that you don’t typically eat into your diet.
A lot of CSA’s also provide produce to go along with eat deliveries, so you may be about to streamline even more. This is the one place where you might pay slightly more than a grocer. But you have to factor in the value of your time- how much is your time worth? If you can avoid stores altogether, that provides a huge value. If you want, it frees you to spend more time pursuing opportunities to make money.
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Non-Perishables & Snacks
Use Amazon Subscriptions. I use this for almond butter, grass fed whey protein, Tanka buffalo, smoked salmon, coconut oil, and other snack foods. The best part is that you get 15% off every item when you subscribe to 5 or more things. Coupled with free prime shipping and you’re getting prices better than legacy grocers. This is a huge time and money saver, and it’s delivered directly to your door on a predictable day. Consider also automating all of your household items. If you know how long it takes you to go through a bottle of toothpaste, you can arrange your one to automatically be on your doorstep as you run out. Goodbye shopping lists, hello freed up brain space.
Another option is Nature Box. For about $15/month you can get 5 bags of hand picked healthy snacks at your doorstep. I’m not a huge fan of Nature Box because the portions are small and it seems like a lot of sugar dressed up as “healthy” food. I tried it for a month and cancelled it, but it may work for some people.
You can also get snacks from a lot of CSA’s or organic delivery services.
Meet Me in Thailand?
Step 3: Pull the trigger and put everything on a travel credit card. Since everything is automated, you can rely on consistent costs. Automate your payments on a travel credit card that gives x2 miles, and automate credit card payments for the exact amounts out of your bank accounts. This option is also extremely helpful for financial planning because you can automate credit card payment dates easier than you can charges for these food services. For example, if you get paid bi-weekly, you can schedule your payments for food to evenly come out of each paycheck even if you get most of your food in one giant delivery at the beginning of the month.
Does it Work?
If this system works for you, I’d love to hear about it. If you have any upgrades or tools to add to the list I also want to hear about them. Happy hunting.
Use online delivery services to save you buckets of cash, get mad travel miles, free up time and brain power wasted on shopping to do cooler stuff, and put healthy food on your doorstep on a predictable day each month.