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$42, right there.

Take the Shopping Diary Challenge & Win a Whole Foods Gift Card!

mccarren park farmers market
$42, right there.

Apparently I shop a lot. Like, a lot-a lot. Possibly an excessive amount.

I don’t mean for clothing or shoes or accessories. I mean for food. I learned this via an exercise I performed last week, an exercise I’m going to challenge you to do yourself at the end of this post (and you might win a prize!).

I kept a diary of all my trips to the supermarket, bodega, and the McCarren Park farmers’ market.

The diary was requested by Farmigo, a company that connects farmers with neighborhoods, sorta like an online CSA, but one that lets you order exactly what you want. Starting in the fall, Harry’s school is partnering with them—everyone in our community will have access to high-quality local produce, meats, dairy, even baked goods, which Farmigo will deliver to the school weekly. Given that we’re a Title I school, this is a pretty big deal. As a member of the PTA’s Wellness Committee I volunteered to be a guinea pig for Farmigo, to show them what it’s like to shop for food in Williamsburg.

In a word, it’s expensive. All together I spent nearly $400 on food last week! That was out of the ordinary—NYC schools were closed on Thursday, so Harry and I went with some friends to the Legoland Discovery Center in Westchester, which has a brand spankin’ new Whole Foods in the same complex. The siren call of wide, pristine aisles, gorgeous organic produce, and no crowds lured me in, and I dropped $163 in minutes. (And yes, I did have a list. Whole Foods offers so many things I just don’t see in my local stores, I accumulated a larger-than-usual cart of impulse buys. They’re building a Whole Foods in Williamsburg right this minute, which does not bode well for my wallet.)

Even without that excursion, I spent $250 in one week. I hit a grocery store, produce stand, bodega, or farmers’ market six out of seven days. Even though I keep a magnetized shopping list on my fridge, we go through milk and produce so quickly that I’m off-list more often than not. This family eats a lot of fresh fruit, and for that I don’t enter a store with specifics in mind. Instead, I’ve developed an internalized algorithm based on quality/cost/seasonality/locality. I use my list for a “big shop” every two weeks—last week happened to be one. The rest of the time it’s twenty bucks for berries here, ten for bread and milk there, and most weekends around $50 at the farmers’ market. Closer to $100 in the late summer, when I can get a week’s worth of fruit and vegetables in one go.

All that’s without buying 100% organic. When shopping for produce, I rely on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen lists. Generally speaking, I only buy what’s in season—no South American nectarines when there’s snow on the ground. For meat, I buy beef at the farmers’ market (generally very little since it’s so costly) and chicken at the supermarket—but only brands like Bell & Evans, whose practices I trust. I look for sales whenever possible. Milk and yogurt are all-organic; butter and cheese not necessarily. We don’t use tremendous amounts of either, so I save those pennies. Eggs are always Certified Humane, organic only when the price is right.

When I look at my shopping methods written out, I’m tempted to have myself committed. I make things so complicated! But maybe I don’t—maybe this is just the way we shop in this era of processed, industrialized, Big-Ag food products, if we want to avoid them.

So here’s a challenge for you: Do what I did. For one week, scribble down all your food expenditures—where you shopped, what you bought, what you spent, why you bought that $7 quart of strawberries. It doesn’t need to be super-detailed since you’re only doing it to learn about yourself, but the more you include the more you’ll discover. Next Thursday, I’ll put up a follow-up post. Leave a comment there about what you’ve learned. One lucky commenter will receive a $25 Whole Foods gift card, but everyone will win a little bit of knowledge.

(This is not a sponsored post, btw. I’m spending my own money, because I think it’ll be fun and also I’m a Nosy Parker.)

Who’s in? Sign up below—or if you already know plenty about how you shop & how much you spend, I’d love to hear about it.


This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. You don’t even WANT to know what I spend on food – oh, wait, you definitely do! The coming week will be an interesting for us, spending-wise, so I’m in.

  2. Ellen

    Of COURSE you do this on the week that I have to change my son’s diet drastically, toss and replace half my kitchen inventory, when I spent $40 on only five items at Whole Foods last night! (and darn it, but they were having a 20% off all bulk items and I had just stocked up LAST week. :P)

    I recall a joke that went around the internet a few times about what it’s like to have kids. It said to go to the supermarket and arrange to have your paycheck sent directly there. Not far off…*sigh*

    1. Debbie Koenig

      Bummer, Ellen! But you might want to do the challenge anyway, when things settle down. It’s pretty eye-opening, and I’d love to hear what you learn (even if you won’t win a Whole Foods gift card 😉 ).

      Ugh on your son’s new diet restrictions. Good luck!

  3. Amber

    As much s I complain about the Whole Foods being 40 miles away. I know it’s good for my wallet. We have a laundry list of food intolerances and allergies. I keep a very close eye on my groceries, because we are on a very tight budget. I have managed to *mostly* only buy what I came in for, even when I shop at Whole Foods. It’s been a long journey, from a 2 paycheck couple, where I’d just pop into the store and buy whatever (and a lot would go bad), to a single income family of 4. Making a menu and list every week and trying very, very hard to only buy what we are going to eat, and stocking up on staples when there is a sale. It doesn’t always work, but I try. 😉

  4. Beth Pyatak

    Gah, I totally would do this, but it’s the wrong week for me. We’re eating out of the pantry since we’re leaving town in a week from now!

    1. Debbie Koenig

      Bon voyage, Beth! Try the challenge when you come back, just to see what you learn. It’s a worthwhile exercise!

  5. Holly Wert

    I’m in, should be interesting…

  6. Deborah

    I’m always up for this kind of exercise, but since we use the food coop, perhaps my numbers will be skewed? The prices there are a lot lower for many items.

    1. Debbie Koenig

      Deborah, I’d love to see how the coop compares to the regular world!

      1. Deborah

        Okie doke. Start date is today? Is there a preferred format, do you want breakdowns by category, or just total? Do we count how much we spend on ice cream or baked treats we buy and consume outside? Meals out? Or just groceries?

        1. Debbie Koenig

          This is highly unscientific! Whatever info you’d like to record. If you buy the boys an ice cream cone every day I’d probably note it, but if it’s once a week maybe not. I’m hoping it’ll help you see patterns, etc, the way it helped me, and I’m also curious to see how things are for other people.

  7. Liz

    I’m in too – I think this will be an interesting, and probably shocking exercise! And not to worry about sending that Wholefoods gift card to a UK commenter, in about a month we’re heading over to the US to see the family! (Just sayin’!)

  8. Tanya

    Oooof. Probably worth doing.

  9. Beth Thorman

    I’m in, it should be interesting. Every Friday or Saturday I go through cookbooks and my freezer and make up dinner menus for the week. Then I shop. I try to keep to my list, but …. Every other week we get a veggie box from a CSA (with 6 pasture organic eggs), but I still end up buying more fruit and a few veggies. Two of us just can’t go through a box a week, so I supplement.

  10. maxie

    I have a question for Debbie and/or anyone who wishes to comment. Our Whole Foods produce section has a minimal selection of organic items to begin with and, although everything *looks* beautiful, it’s pretty much tasteless.My question: is our WF a aberration? because I see people all over the internet who love shopping there and rave about the produce. So, please tell me your experience. Thanks.

    (My husband thinks I’m just too particular. Maybe I am.)

    1. Debbie Koenig

      Hi Maxie! I think it must be an abberation–I’ve never seen a WF without a substantial organic produce section, and with excellent quality. It’s part of their corporate culture. Maybe ask the manager why there’s not much to choose from?

  11. maxie

    Debbie, thanks for the super fast reply. I probably should ask/voice my concerns, but since I buy so little from stores(we subscribe to a CSA-type), I always feel weird requesting anything. Thanks again.

  12. Emely

    Oh,I´m in 🙂

  13. rachel

    It’s just my husband and I right now. When we’re pregnant and have kids, we intend to buy more organic foods. I want to start my own garden, too!

  14. Alice

    Hi Debbie,

    I do this all the time. I try and buy as local as I can. Milk, butter, yogurt, chicken, and eggs. I just posted something today about making organic berries last longer on my blog.I’m in the middle of the blogathon for 2013. I’m lucky enough to have a friend with 44 chickens for my fresh eggs!


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