How I Eat Well & Spend Less in Texas

Growing up in Southern California, I never gave much thought to the cost of groceries. The cost of living was obviously high, but I had no comparison. We shopped liberally at Trader Joes, enjoying plenty of fresh produce and seafood. When our family moved to Texas in 2006, I had an epiphany.

I will never forget wandering into our huge Kroger for the first time and being absolutely in awe of the selection and prices. Under $2.00 for a loaf of bread? Milk for about the same? Grocery shopping suddenly got a whole lot more interesting. I quickly realized that produce was actually more expensive and less available, but the lower cost of living on basically everything else made up for that.

Texans definitely have an advantage when it comes to eating well for less. The challenge we face is making wise choices. Here in the DFW Metroplex, we have an overabundance of shopping venues. Everything’s bigger, right?

Within a few miles of our home, I can choose to shop at a multitude of stores to feed my family. Kroger, Albertson’s, Tom Thumb, Aldi, Super Target, Central Market, Sprouts and Costco, Sam’s Club and Walmart Supercenter are all competing for my business. The deals are plentiful and coupon use is generally welcomed.

Knowing all this, it may surprise you to learn that my family was overspending big time on groceries just a few years ago and our debt was creeping up. Once we finally sat down to examine our finances I realized we were spending more money on groceries than ever before.

How does one go from a modest Southern California grocery budget to a Texas-sized disaster?

It all came down to a lifestyle shift. Without my beloved beach and year-round outdoor weather conditions, shopping had become my new past-time. If I was bored and it was too hot to go outside, the air-conditioned aisles of Super Target always welcomed me, complete with a cold drink from Starbucks. Shopping for groceries among cute clothes and home decor are a dangerous combination without some serious impulse control!

Thankfully, I developed that control and gave up my shopping hobby. I learned to use shop intentionally and use coupons, and before long, we climbed our way out of credit card debt. If you want to change your shopping habits read my Top 10 Basic Grocery Shopping Rules for tips.

My shopping habits look a bit different today. I still use coupons, but my main goal is to feed my family well. We also eat mostly gluten-free, which can present a challenge. This does mean I shop at multiple stores, but the key here is choosing wisely. Too many choices and deals can derail the best of intentions.

Here is how I save money on food, in Texas:

1. Shop at more than one store

With the vast selection of grocery venues I see each day, choosing where to shop is not always easy. I typically hit the amAYzing new Kroger near our house (pictured below), Sprouts for fresh produce and Walmart for basics when I am short on time. Finding every hot deal at every store is just not worth my time or sanity.

By shopping at just two or three stores, I know their layouts well, I am familiar with their coupon policies and I am not tempted to explore for the sake of browsing. This keeps my impulses in check and my budget happy.

2. Manager’s specials

Finding a hot deal on a manager’s special is always a treat. These unexpected items are usually expiring soon, but if you take care to freeze or preserve them they can supplement your meals quite nicely. I often find organics marked down since they are not as popular, but they end up being cheaper than their non-organic counterparts.

3. Limit convenience foods

Most shoppers LOVE their boxed and frozen fare. I am a bit of an anomaly. There is no soda or Velveeta in my cart! I purposely shop the perimeter of the store for meats, dairy and produce with a few conveniences (bread, cereal) thrown in. This forces me to cook from scratch and menu plan whether I feel like it or not. You can even find coupons for healthier options.

4. Buy in bulk

I used to be staunchly opposed to warehouse stores and buying in bulk, since a coupon combined with a great sale is often cheaper. But then we became a family of six, and Costco won my heart. I stock up on beans, rice, olive oil, salt and other essentials for the pantry. Costco also has a pretty fantastic selection of organics which I appreciate. Azure Standard now rounds out my bulk purchases, most recently including a 25 pound bag of organic carrots. Carrot cake, anyone?

5. Shop local

This is an option I have only begun to explore recently on our journey towards better health. With the abundance of stores in my suburban area, it is easy for local farmers to go unnoticed. But it turns out that finding fresh local produce, eggs, meat, and even dairy is quite achievable! This is Texas, after all, land of many wide open fields and roaming cattle. You just have to know where to look: LocalHarvest.org

We now regularly enjoy farm fresh eggs and dairy in our diet, direct from the farmers. While we do pay a premium for these items, I do save in other areas to make room in our budget. I believe it is important to support local small businesses when possible.

Perhaps someday we will see a Trader Joes here in Texas. Until then, the strategies above are helping my family eat well. Beyond food, playing the drugstore game helps us save on toiletries and hygiene essentials. Be sure to check out my weekly $5 Challenges if you are new to drugstore shopping.

Are you a Texan? How do you save at the grocery store?

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About Alyssa Francis

A thirty-something wife and mother of four! Two daughters by birth, one son by marriage, and a sweet baby boy born in April of 2009. Oldest sister of four girls raised by a single mom. California native. Grew up in Hawaii. Somehow ended up in North Texas. Once a single mom. Former agnostic. A survivor of abuse and addiction. Forgiven by a great big God. Married to my best friend.

Comments

  1. I pined away for Trader Joe’s the entire time I lived in Kansas. Once we got back to So Cal, I found out that it got expensive while I was gone! We rarely go there now except for vacation foods or specialty items I might not find elsewhere. You’re not missing much — and you’re doing great where you are!

  2. I shop at Aldi once a week for the majority of our groceries. This not only saves us a lot of money, but a ton of time since the store is so small. It also cuts way down on impulse purchases.

    We also go to Sprouts for a lot of our produce, and then Walmart for some of the name brand or specialty foods we purchase, like Brummel & Brown, V8 juice, and decaffeinated tea.
    Joy @ Five J’s´s last blog post ..Free Everyday Math Game Apps by McGraw Hill 4-13-4-16-11

  3. Alyssa, as a fellow DFW resident I appreciate this post!
    My usual stops are:

    Sprouts for produce and bulk bins for beans, flour etc when on sale.

    Costco for dairy, frozen fruit, coffee and more- this is my first year to have a membership- which might have been the best wedding present we received! We are also glad to have it for discounted gas prices.

    I go to Super Target once a month for staple items- pasta, canned tomatoes, lunchmeat…

    We sometimes visit Market Street for Managers Specials on meat and seafood which we cook that night or use our Foodsaver to freeze for later. I usually don’t buy anything other than chicken if I can’t get it marked 1/2 off in the bargain bin!

  4. $25 of carrots! Now that’s awesome. Your turnaround story will be so inspiring to those wanting to switch from processed to real food!!! :) Katie

  5. We live just north of Austin and around here food is pricey. I should say GOOD food is pricey. I hit up Natural Grocers for unhomogenized local milk and bulk nuts and grains as well as their great monthly specials. HEB and Costco for most other staples. There are a bunch of local farmer’s markets but you really have to be pickey b/c their prices tend to even out with each vendor to where there isn’t one that’s more or less, they’re all just $4 for a dozen eggs (for example). It is a great place to get local organic soap and grass fed beef (from the farmer that’s really just up the road from us!). We spend about $800/mo for our family of 4 and a quarter of that is on milk, butter, eggs, cheese, tea and coffee.

  6. Go shopping only once a month for staples (anything but fresh fruit/veggies, milk and eggs). Only shop from a list. Make anything you can from scratch if possible – ex: bread, bfast foods, etc. Shop at salvage grocery stores for “splurge items” (ex: mac-n-cheese or chicken nuggets).
    Rachel´s last blog post ..Fizzing Sidewalk Paint

  7. I just moved to WF Tx almost 6 months ago. We have found cost of living cheaper and some groceries cheaper, but in general because the Albertson’s, and 3 United stores and 3 Walmarts are the ONLY grocery stores in this town, they have no competition and the prices are higher and they don’t double or triple coupons, EVER. Trader Joes, unless you were buying organic meats, was cheaper by far on most things. I could get a whole grocery cart full of stuff (use coupons on their few name brand organic items, yes they do take coupons) and get out of the store with almost 2 weeks of healthy food for about 75 to 100 dollars. Here I can get a week to a week and a half of food, that is not as healthy for 100 bucks if I am careful go to several stores and use coupons and sales. It is ridiculous. Plus with Safeway in CA and their coupons and cellfire coupons, and such we would get so much for so little. And Safeway doesn’t double either. So I am not impressed that much with what we have here. Now if we had a Krogers that might change in my opinion. We are getting an Aldi’s that should help a little.

  8. Oh and I miss our Super Target. Our town had just got one. It was so nice. Our Target is SO SO SO small. One of the smallest I have ever seen. And being that Wichita Falls is a bigger town in this area, you would think they would have more options.

  9. These are great tips, we do most of this too- especially staples at Costco, I get a lot of our produce there too, they have better quality than the other super markets do around here.
    Cara´s last blog post ..Making Healthy Changes 101

  10. Alyssa Francis says:

    @Cara, Thanks for your comment, Cara! I was so pleasantly surprised by the selection at Costco when we joined. I think it is well worth the membership fee!

  11. @FishMama, I agree. I would like to buy everything Trader Joe’s carries (well, almost! but the cheeses, they call to me!!) but hardly ever go there because I would end up spending $30+ on “extra” stuff… things that just didn’t keep us full very long. Sadly, that means no boxes of “twigs” (their high-fiber cereal). heehee :) I just have to stick with oatmeal! :)

  12. When did Azure Standard start delivering to Texas??? I am a born and raised Texan (DFW area) but we moved out of Texas 4 years ago (due to military). I do miss a lot of things Texas has to offer. After living in NC and now FL I miss it even more! I remembering drooling over Azure standard 6 years ago when I was in Texas. I had no idea they delivered there now. Makes me want to move back ‘home’ even more! Good tips and ideas. I second the buying in bulk. We buy most of our stuff in bulk. It saves me lots of money. Coupons are pretty much worthless to us now since we are a gluten free household. I do use some coupons but it only saves me maybe $10 a month. Texas does have the lowest cost of living that we have seen though.

  13. Alyssa Francis says:

    @Rachel, Great tips, Rachel! I have never been to a salvage store. Good to know!

  14. Thanks so much for this post! I moved to Houston from rural NH about a year ago. Major culture shock! I was completely overwhelmed by the number of stores available…and they were so close! Less than a five minute drive…as opposed to 25 min :)
    I mostly shop Kroger, occasionally HEB if they have a really good sale on something I need. I love Aldi’s and hope they continue to expand south to Houston.
    My biggest savings has been using Amazon for diapers and playing the drugstore game…virtually eliminating trips to Wal-Mart and walking out with $50 of stuff I “didn’t know I needed.”

    Thanks for all the great tips!

  15. I’m in garland and I have to say that living here makes it much easier to shop and eat inexpensively than when we lived in small town Louisiana with only a local grocery store and a walmart (and my husbands family has to drive half an hour to wal-mart!) There are so many options here and so close together that I can plan a trip out and hit several places in route and get the best deals out there.

    Kroger is my favorite store for coupon deals, but I also shop at Tom Thumb regularly and Albertson’s occasionally when they have good deals (I find them over priced in general besides that so I stick to a strict list when I’m there. I make a trip to Aldi each week for milk and bread and whatever produce they have on sale that week. Before that store opened up, fresh produce was pretty much absent from my shopping because it cost so much, but their prices are incredible!

    I also keep an eye out for produce and especially meat sales at the Hispanic grocery stores. About once a month I will go to El Rancho or El Rio Grande to get some crazy meat prices (like $1/1 boneless skinless chicken breasts or ground beef) and I will stock up. then I do freezer cooking with it, so that saves even more time and money.

    I transfer our prescriptions around whenever I can get a gift card, and then I can use that to pay for meat at times. I also shop at CVS, and that alone has saved me so much because I’ve like altogether eliminated having to pay for toiletries.

    My husband is always amazed at how much better off we are doing without my income!
    Amanda´s last blog post ..Survey Site- MindField

  16. I’m also in the metroplex, and still somewhat new to the local food concept. I would love to hear what sources you use for local food! I’ve had a hard time finding any that are truly local…I don’t want to drive more than an hour away. Also, I’m loving Azure Standard as well, I was so excited when I found out they came Texas!

  17. Peyton Lauderdale says:

    What a great post! I’m a new fan of your blog…I’m really curious about your experience (and any of the other posters here!) with Azure Standard. Is it like a regular co-op with a monthly commitment/how often do you order? Where do y’all pick up your items? I live in west Fort Worth. Thanks!

  18. Alyssa It’s like you were writing about my shopping habits when you wrote this. I’m not from Texas but I know exactly what you mean. I like what you said about being forced to cook from scratch. I just did a post about making my own baby food and I was thinking while I wrote it that cooking any food from scratch is generally so much healthier and cheaper. I hope your readers take your tips to heart.

  19. Here´s another idea–collaborative consumption. Get together with a few other frugal families and buy in bulk together directly from distributors! It really can be done. It works really well for things like basic toiletries or dry goods.

    As for anything that can be bought locally, make deals directly with local businesses to buy in bulk. I think supporting local businesses is really important to be able to get throught the economic crises we are facing. Besides that, it saves gas, money and time to buy together and split.

    In my neighborhood, we´ve been using this system with great success for a while now. We even go to local farms to get produce in bulk for all of us at one shot. Really, once you start thinking about it, the possibilities are almost endless. (Since we´re talking about Texas, I
    can´t resist mentioning a few enterprising folks who split a cow–google for more info :) ) We use a free online tool called SplitStuff (http://splitstuff.com) to organize ourselves. It´s a lot easier than making tons of phone calls.

    Hope that helps!

    Annette
    Annette Campbell´s last blog post ..Local Cooperation Made Easy

  20. Alyssa Francis says:

    @Peyton Lauderdale, Great questions! Azure is not really a traditional co-op. There is a $50 minimum order as long as you have a drop point manager. There is no requirement to place an order every month or a membership fee. My pick up is near my home in a rather empty parking lot. If you contact Azure, they can put you in touch with your closest drop manager. I pick up and order once a month. So far it has been a great experience! :)

  21. Amanda Jones says:

    Hmmm….I’m thinking you must live pretty close to me. We have an awesome new Kroger that just opened right by me too. Right behind McD’s? I too struggle with a shopping habit as it’s such an easy way to get out of the house sometimes, but $20 here, $20 there adds up so quickly!

  22. I am so glad Life As Mom featured your blog :) We live in Iowa and will be moving to Austin very soon! I appreciate all the great grocery info you shared. I am GF as well, so am really looking forward to following your blog :)

  23. @Tammy L,

    Ha, ha. We call them “sticks”.

    I love Trader Joe’s but you are definitely right about the need to be careful. My kids drink rice milk and their prices are $2-3 less per gallon so it’s definitely worth it for me. What I do to manage spending is to go only once every few weeks (or more) and buy as much as 20 half gallons of rice milk at a time. They have other things I like to buy there but rice milk is the only thing I will buy ONLY at TJs.

    What I do like about them is their prices on fancy health food items (non-HFCS ketchup and BBQ sauce, whole wheat tortillas, etc.) are much better than Whole Foods or health food stores. We only have two small kids right now so I can still splurge on those things to an extent.

    Not to mention the $3 wine which is perfect for mulling or sangria. :)

  24. @Alyssa Francis, I bet you would like it – they have a lot of the “organic” and gluten-free convenience foods at a seriously discounted price. Salvage grocery stores are where we get our “quick” meals and they are usually healthier for us as we are able to afford “organic” (ex: Naked Juice, I can’t afford it at the regular grocery store – here, it’s a dollar a bottle).
    Rachel´s last blog post ..10 Ways to Make Flowers with Preschoolers

  25. What a great, encouraging post! Just found your blog and am loving it. Here in Amarillo we don’t have as many grocery stores, but we have all the drug stores and that is where I get some awesome deals and stock up. Walgreens, Target, and CVS have allowed me to quickly build a nice little stockpile of both household items and groceries. Now I need to learn to practice menu planning and shopping the grocery ads. Great to meet another Texas mom!

  26. Like you I was in complete grocery shock when I moved from Southern California to Texas. I couldn’t believe how cheap meat was! THat also added up to way overspending on groceries. Unfortunately I live in San Antonio and we only have HEB and Walmart. I had far more store choices in California.
    Lisa´s last blog post ..Old Navy 50 off

  27. I usually frequent the Asian and Indian markets. Their grains and beans tend to be a little cheaper and I cook a lot of those kinds of foods. Many times I can find better and cheaper produce from them, also. You just have to know your prices. I usually hit about 4 stores in the same general vicinity to get all of my things. I also use Azure Standard for bulk items. The Asian and Indian stores sell in bulk, also.

  28. Hi, Alyssa! We must pick up from the same site LOL! Actually my hubby does the picking up as he works in Dallas and we live up in Justin. What are ‘salvage stores’ and where do I find them?

  29. Alyssa Francis says:

    @Lori, What a small world! Albertson’s parking lot?
    I have not tried a salvage store, but my friend Rachel, a fellow DFW blogger, swears by them.
    http://quirkymomma.com is her blog

  30. Oh, ours is a parking lot in Dallas..LOL! I do Dallas instead of Keller because 1) my husband can pick it up; and 2) the Keller delivery is much earlier than the DFW one and traffic would be awful!
    Thanks for the link to Rachel’s blog. I will check out the Ft. Worth store sometime.
    Blessings! Lori

  31. Not a Texan but I can tell you that I do a lot of the same things! I have two main stores that I shop at, I know them well, which means I generally know what their average prices are for things I buy every shopping trip.

    The biggest thing I ever did though that saved a ton of money was I only go shopping once every 2 weeks (it’s easy to keep that in line when you live way out in the sticks like I do) which forced me to mealplan. Having a forced mealplan is very effective. I don’t do much couponing other than looking for coupons specifically on things I already buy, but I’ll admit I also hate shopping so I try to make as few trips as possible. Buying in bulk is also a huge huge moneysaver also. I’m lucky in that my local Winco store has an outstanding bulk section, they even have gluten-free brown rice pasta for $1.40lb, etc. We are also gluten-free, so finding deals like that are a huge lifesaver.

    And yet one more thing to consider – if your neighborhood allows it, is backyard chickens. I have 6 hens and their eggs are not only way healthier than storebought but I probably pay about $.75/dozen in feed costs. That doesn’t include the difference of what food they find foraging, either.
    Bethany´s last blog post ..Foodsaver Reviews – The Foodsaver Vacuum Sealer V2840

  32. Good ideas in all discussion that talk about eat well food and less money.

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  1. [...] in this expensive state, and isn’t too shy to share her budget numbers!Alyssa shows you how to save money on groceries in Texas, including a couple of great resources for buying locally or buying in bulk.I love Tammy’s [...]

  2. [...] Check out Alyssa’s tips for shopping intentionally. [...]

  3. [...] Alyssa from Kingdom First Mom :: Spending Less in Texas. [...]

  4. [...] the OK/TX border, so I can choose to shop in either state fairly easily. And since Alyssa showed us how she shops in Texas, I’ll mention the stores available in my little corner of the [...]

  5. […] Our Texas contingency, Alyssa, showed us how to save money on groceries in Texas, including a couple of great resources for buying locally or buying in […]

  6. […] How I Eat Well and Spend Less in Texas […]

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