The Tightwad Grocery Challenge

We all buy things at the grocery store that doesn’t necessarily add nutrition to your meals.  It could be snack foods like chips, cookies or crackers.  It could also be pricey beverages that add calories to your eating budget (calories consumed – calories burned = weight change).  There are two things that you should know about my personality. First – I am a very competitive person.  I love putting myself in positions where I can improve on a previous achievement (which is why I clean on a timer) and also I like to compete with my internet friends.  Second – being frugal is a hobby of mine.  I love saving money and reducing what we spend.  My family loves it too since it allows us to do more with the ‘extra’ money in the budget.

This challenge was inspired by a book I’ve been reading called “The Tightwad Gazette” by Amy Dacyczyn.  She describes categorizing our groceries so we can see what we actually need to eat to survive vs. what we eat for other reasons.  I never thought about groceries like this.  I always considered my morning cup of coffee as necessary and normal, but it’s really not.  I’m not saying that I’m going to give up coffee, but there are other things that we could trim to save.

This is a two part challenge that first gives you more information about your life and spending and then allows you to make changes in light of this new information.  You may tell me, “Well I don’t spend money on unnecessary groceries.” We will be taking at a new approach to looking at our habits.

This minimalist inspired challenge will encourage you to simplify your nutrition. By uncluttering your fridge and pantry you will be able to let go or eat (we don’t want to be wasteful right?) everything that adds to the mess and leave only the foods that nourish your body or add joy to you life (like coffee).

Part 1: Information Gathering

Step 1 – For the first month of this challenge save your grocery store receipts.  No this doesn’t need to be a full month which means you can start today!

Step 2 – Next you are going to break down your receipt into the following categories:

I use 3 different colored highlighters, you can also label each item with 1/2/3.

Ingredients – Raw foods/foods that fulfill my nutrition needs – This would be all of the simple ingredients that are its own product.  Think raw meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts, flour, sugar, oil, milk, etc.

I could make this – Food/Beverages I could make from scratch – Processed foods are a big reason that our generation is predicted to have a shorter lifespan than the previous generation.  This is category where you can save lots of money!

Guilty Pleasures – Food/Beverages that are not necessary for sustenance – Most beverages will fit in here.  Soda, coffee, tea, juice,  beer, wine etc.  Also snack foods like cookies, crackers, chips, etc.

Step 3: Once all of your food has a category total each of these up.

Part 2: Changing our habits and saving some money!

So we are at the beginning of a new month!  It’s a clean slate and an opportunity to make some small changes to our habits.

Step 1: Let’s first look at everything in ‘Guilty Pleasures.  For this month allow your family to pick one or two items off from this category to remove from grocery store list.  The goal is to cut down on the foods and drinks that do not nourish your body.

Step 2: Take 1 item per week in ‘I could make this‘ and learn how to cook it.  Some great ways to start is to make a pizza or a chicken pot pie.  Maybe you are a fan of rotisserie chickens, you can roast one in the oven!  By the end of the month you will have replaced 4 different convenience foods with home made alternatives.

Step 3: Go grocery shopping!  Always check your pantry and freezer before going to the grocery store. Create a list and stick to it. Don’t go down the cookie or soda aisle unless it’s to pick up one of your approved items.

We are going to look at 2 different numbers for this challenge.  First we are going to look at how much we actually spent on groceries and how that changed.  Next we are going to look at how much we spent in each of the categories.  Ideally your ‘I could make this‘ and ‘Guilty Pleasures foods will decrease and your ‘Ingredients‘ foods will increase.

Here is my breakdown for last month.


The foods that are on my ‘I could make this‘ list:

  • Pizza
  • Baby Food
  • Pita Chips
  • Italian Salad Dressing

For this month I am giving up the following ‘Guilty Pleasures foods:

  • Pringles Chips
  • Fruit Juice


7 thoughts on “The Tightwad Grocery Challenge”

  1. My Tightwad Gazette is packed because I’m moving, so I can’t re-read it right now, which is what I wanted to do when I read your post. That’s ok–something good for later. I love that book, too.

    Another favorite of mine is Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living. I’ve been reading that book for over 30 years, but especially when I was a young wife starting out. It’s kind of a how-to for many life skills, and I’ve learned to do quite a few of them over my 33 years of marriage. I love planning meals the way she advised. First, look at what you have on hand, and make a menu using it first. Can I grow it? Home-preserve it? How much _____(i.e. beef, broccoli, etc.) do I need for a year? Once I have it/grow it/preserve it/buy it….how long can I make it last before I have to get more?

  2. Thanks for sharing! I’m definitely reevaluating today’s grocery list based on this post. It got me thinking that I could make salad dressing as needed instead of buying a bottle that mostly sits in the fridge 🙂 .

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