Author Topic: Insanely Low Grocery Bill  (Read 3093 times)

McNaMoney

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Insanely Low Grocery Bill
« on: January 22, 2018, 03:39:49 PM »
I know this topic has come up a few times before, but everything was from years ago and things have changed a bit since then, especially where I live. 

My spouse and I have recently cut our monthly grocery bill down to $30 per month (and honestly, could go lower than that if we skipped over some fancy-pants spices and staples).  How do we do this you may ask?  Some call it dumpster diving, but frankly, we have never actually dived into a dumpster.  Instead, we find ourselves opening up compost bins -- these are green bins lined with a compostable plastic-like liner that are filled to the brim with amazing fresh produce -- selecting the items toward the top that are to our liking and biking away with our backpacks and saddlebags stuffed to the brim with our bounty.  The majority of these items have very minor bruises or are slightly misshapen.  However, there are some that have no visible issues at all and we are forced to conclude that they just simply had too many to fit on their shelves or received a newer shipment. 

Most of what we find consists of:
  • Bread: Completely perfect day-old bread in any form you can think of.  We will find entire bins just full of bagels of any variety you can think of.
  • Potatoes: Any type you can think of and TONS of them. Our freezer is currently overflowing with them!
  • Bananas Galore: most are ripe and perfect to be eaten immediately, others are best suited for banana bread or freezing, and some have even been green enough to keep for weeks after.
  • Pretty much any other form of produce you can think of.  We mostly see grapefruit, tomatoes and oranges, though we have scored with pomegranates, strawberries, grapes, bags of lettuce and kale with no visible issues (clearly no one gave them the memo that you can't compost the plastic containers these were in), melons, and more!  We have even come across entire containers of hummus
    (again, you can't compost plastic, people!)

What we have in our area might not be the same as yours.  Our state (Vermont) has recently changed their laws so that by 2020 all grocery stores must compost/donate all food "waste".  Most stores have already gotten started and these perfectly clean compost bins that have never touched an ounce of actual trash are typically just sitting behind the grocery stores, begging to be opened and purged of their delicious contents.  Oddly enough our local "community-friendly" co-op and health food store have their compost & dumpsters guarded behind a fence and lock and key, but chains like Hannafords & Price Chopper have been great sources of free food for us. 

Honestly I'm a total germaphobe, but I don't find this to be disgusting at all.  After working in the food industry back in high school, I find these bins to be much more sanitary than most of the processed food that you probably purchase.  Plus the compost bins seem to be completely dedicated to certain departments in the store.  There will be some with just bread, some with just vegetables, some with just fruit and that one dreaded bin with the salad bar remains (avoid this one).

Even if your local grocery store doesn't compost, they typically follow this same system with bags in the dumpster -- super thick, durable bags will be filled entirely with baked goods or potatoes or bananas.  If you open the bag and see something gross, avoid it or throw it back in.  You'll be astonished with what you find: Entire bags of apples thrown out because one has a bruise, entire bags of potatoes thrown out because one has an "eye" on it or one has gone slightly soft.

Aside from all the free food, I've noticed a couple other perks of this hobby.  First off, it satisfies a certain need to accomplish something.  I may have had a terrible day at work and left with my to do list longer than when I went in, but I can gather all the food I need to feed my family in just a few minutes.  There's something enjoyable about the hunt of it. Maybe it's our hunter-gatherer origins, but it's super thrilling! 

Additionally, I feel like I'm doing something good for the planet.  I often come across plastic-covered items that shouldn't be composted and might be overlooked by the composting business.  Also, I feel like I'm reducing the food waste in our area.  Coming from a poor upbringing, seeing this sort of waste is extremely jarring.  My first time going, seeing all the perfect food was extremely upsetting.  I couldn't and still can't understand how someone can live with themselves throwing away perfectly good food while their neighbor is having to skip their supper to feed their children.  It's something that you hear about on the news and think that it must be happening somewhere else, but not in your backyard.  Unfortunately, even with the donations these grocery stores make to the food bank, they still throw away tons of perfect food.

What if you're still grossed out by the idea of getting your food from "trash"?  I haven't done this myself, but you could try telling your local grocery store that you've got chickens and you'd love to take some of the food off their hands that they're going to throw away to feed them.  Usually if you tell them the food is for you, they won't offer it up to you in fear that you'll sue them if you happen to become ill from anything.

Overall, if you choose to do this, just use your common sense.  If something looks bad or smells bad, don't put it in your mouth.  When you go home fill the sink up with soapy water and wash off all the produce you get.  I've never been sick from food from the dumpster and have yet to hear of anyone getting sick from food from the dumpster.  But I've been sick and know plenty of others who have been sick from restaurant food.

Here are a few resources, make sure you know about the legality in your area, though, typically (at least in the US), as long as it isn't behind a lock you're in no danger of getting in trouble.  Additionally, if you see a huge amount of one item make sure to do a quick Google search to make sure it's not been recalled due to some contaminate.
https://freegan.info/what-is-a-freegan/freegan-practices/urban-foraging/diving-and-the-law/
https://www.recalls.gov/food.html

Let me know if you have any questions -- I'm happy to answer them.  Also let me know if you think I'm a looney and want to know more of my reasoning for why I think this is perfectly healthy.  I also have a ton of recipes that we typically make with these free ingredients that are also frugal if you were grocery shopping, so let me know if you'd like to see any of those (I'll admit I'm a "chuck it in a pot" kind of cook so you'll see no exact measurements in my recipes).
« Last Edit: January 22, 2018, 03:59:37 PM by McNaMoney »

Re: Insanely Low Grocery Bill
« Reply #1 on: January 22, 2018, 03:51:39 PM »
Intriguing.

Brother Esau

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Re: Insanely Low Grocery Bill
« Reply #2 on: January 22, 2018, 04:44:35 PM »
Brilliant!

eliza

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Re: Insanely Low Grocery Bill
« Reply #3 on: January 22, 2018, 05:26:44 PM »
I'm not sure that I have it in me to do this ---- but I'm very impressed by those who do. 

CopperTex

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Re: Insanely Low Grocery Bill
« Reply #4 on: January 22, 2018, 05:36:36 PM »
This is interesting, but how do you fill in the gaps? I'm making the assumption you don't live off of bread, potatoes, and produce.

McNaMoney

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Re: Insanely Low Grocery Bill
« Reply #5 on: January 22, 2018, 06:04:45 PM »
This is interesting, but how do you fill in the gaps? I'm making the assumption you don't live off of bread, potatoes, and produce.

We mostly live off the items we get for free.  Additionally I buy oats, dried beans/lentils, and flour in bulk once in a while (mostly buy these from Costco).  And buy cheap condiments, sugar, and spices from the dollar store or Big Lots (less than $1 each).  Also buy oil in bulk once in a blue moon -- my wife uses this, but I don't (I cook my food in water or in a non-stick pan).  This is where the $30 per month comes from.  We recently switched to a plant-based diet for health reasons, so this is actually all we eat.  Our meals typically consist of:

Breakfast:
Oatmeal with Fruit
Bagel with Fruit
Hashbrowns
Pancakes with Fruit
Fruit Smoothies

Lunch/Dinner:
Vegetarian Chili
Potato Soup/Stew
Vegetable Soup/Stew
Potato Bowl: Baked or Mashed Potatoes topped with Vegetables, Chili, Stew, Soup, etc.
Baked French Fries
Salad
Pizza with Veggies (no cheese)
Stir Fry Vegetables
Vegetarian Dumplings
Veggie Burgers
Vegetarian Meatloaf (essentially a giant veggie burger with ketchup on top)
Vegetarian Curry with Homemade Pita
Vegetable Wrap/Sandwich (occasionally make homemade seitan with flour for this)

Desserts:
Apple Crumble
Banana Ice-cream (Frozen Bananas & cocoa powder -- nothing else, just blend & enjoy)
Brownies
Muffins with Fruit in them
Homemade "Nutella" (this is essentially cocoa powder, sugar and a bit of water) on Bread

Mezzie

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Re: Insanely Low Grocery Bill
« Reply #6 on: January 22, 2018, 06:30:59 PM »
As long as you aren't competing with the homeless for that food, I see no problem. We have a huge homeless population here, so I'd feel like I was stealing from the needy if I did this.

McNaMoney

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Re: Insanely Low Grocery Bill
« Reply #7 on: January 22, 2018, 06:49:17 PM »
As long as you aren't competing with the homeless for that food, I see no problem. We have a huge homeless population here, so I'd feel like I was stealing from the needy if I did this.

There's so much edible food I end up leaving at least 90% of it.  You would really be surprised of the quantity.  The food I'm taking is the food left over that the food shelf didn't take and is just going into the compost, so I'm not "competing" with anyone.  There's tons to go around.  There are food sources available in the majority of cities in the US specifically for the homeless -- Salvation Army, food shelf, soup kitchens, and various local and state-run food assistance organizations.  Most of these places end up throwing away a lot of food too because of strict regulations.  If something is past the "sell by" date they typically can't use it, even though food is meant to stay good weeks beyond the "sell by" date.  If I had any inclination that I was taking food from those who needed it more, I wouldn't be doing this.  I would encourage you to actually give it a shot and see just how much food is there.  I would also encourage you to watch some of the films/documentaries/youtube videos on this.  There are tons of people doing this, there's an insane amount of good food and no one is stealing from the homeless.

If homelessness is a concern of yours, there are also groups like Food Not Bombs, that dumpster dive to create meals for those in need.
« Last Edit: January 22, 2018, 06:57:17 PM by McNaMoney »

anonymouscow

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Re: Insanely Low Grocery Bill
« Reply #8 on: January 23, 2018, 11:48:51 AM »
Good for you! I don't think my area has composting bins. I've been told the grocery stores and  restaurants deliberately make food un-salvageable to discourage dumpster diving. I would have taken potatoes from a community compost bin, but someone had dumped hamster bedding on top of them.

meghan88

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Re: Insanely Low Grocery Bill
« Reply #9 on: January 24, 2018, 08:27:16 AM »
You might want to opt to wash under plain running water instead of using soap:

http://npic.orst.edu/capro/fruitwash.html
https://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Cooking-And-Food/Vegetables-and-Fruit/Everyday-Tips-for-Washing-Vegetables-and-Fruit.aspx

The best way to wash vegetables and fruit is under running water. You do not need special products, soaps or vinegar. These can leave an aftertaste and donít kill bacteria or mould.

https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/4336e/

jc4

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Re: Insanely Low Grocery Bill
« Reply #10 on: January 24, 2018, 11:02:30 AM »
You might want to opt to wash under plain running water instead of using soap:

http://npic.orst.edu/capro/fruitwash.html
https://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Cooking-And-Food/Vegetables-and-Fruit/Everyday-Tips-for-Washing-Vegetables-and-Fruit.aspx

The best way to wash vegetables and fruit is under running water. You do not need special products, soaps or vinegar. These can leave an aftertaste and donít kill bacteria or mould.

https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/4336e/

Only on MMM:
     Speaker one: I get my food for free from the trash and just wash it with soap and water.
     Speaker two: Soap! Why are you wasting soap. You don't really need it.

I love that the using soap part is critiqued, instead of the whole dumpster thing.

limeandpepper

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Re: Insanely Low Grocery Bill
« Reply #11 on: January 24, 2018, 11:22:56 AM »
Thanks for this interesting read, a grocery bill of $30/month for two is fantastic! I always like to hear of this sort of thing, I think it's great to save money on food and reduce waste at the same time. I don't think we have these special bins in Australia unfortunately, or at least not that I know of, they sound like a great idea. Do you interact with other freegans / Are you part of any freegan community?

fuzzy math

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Re: Insanely Low Grocery Bill
« Reply #12 on: January 24, 2018, 11:59:25 AM »
I just joined my local Food Not Bombs group, and have been taking home most of my family's produce/bread needs for the week also.
One of the group owners drives around to all the local health food stores, we cook the food, host a free meal (That some homeless show up for), the extra prepared food is donated to the shelters and we take home whatever isn't cooked that the shelters won't accept that won't last until the next week. I took home probably 30 lbs of food this week. I need to up my game re: learning to freeze veggies (what needs to be blanched or not)

meghan88

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Re: Insanely Low Grocery Bill
« Reply #13 on: January 25, 2018, 09:32:34 AM »
You might want to opt to wash under plain running water instead of using soap:

http://npic.orst.edu/capro/fruitwash.html
https://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Cooking-And-Food/Vegetables-and-Fruit/Everyday-Tips-for-Washing-Vegetables-and-Fruit.aspx

The best way to wash vegetables and fruit is under running water. You do not need special products, soaps or vinegar. These can leave an aftertaste and donít kill bacteria or mould.

https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/4336e/

Only on MMM:
     Speaker one: I get my food for free from the trash and just wash it with soap and water.
     Speaker two: Soap! Why are you wasting soap. You don't really need it.

I love that the using soap part is critiqued, instead of the whole dumpster thing.

Haha yeah ... but it's really a health thing.  Dish soap residue is not at all healthy.  Fruits and veg (as opposed to dishes) have pores that can trap it.

soccerluvof4

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Re: Insanely Low Grocery Bill
« Reply #14 on: January 25, 2018, 10:26:24 AM »
We don't have bins and I haven't found a dumpster that is not locked which I kinda finda odd because we dont have homeless people in our area and there are tons of stores. Maybe its an ordinance or something. I haven't looked in about a year but I was more curious to see what was in them. I have tried talking to our butcher and everyday they grab carts loads of meat they ship to the pantry's so I don't want any part of taking from them. In either case maybe when its just me and the DW but with kids I wouldn't feel comfortable unless it was something that just was totally packaged and just seemed ? idk what I am trying to say.  But awesome for you !!! . Also being in a small community I could just see getting busted and having a write up or photo in local paper. If I were younger be a no brainer!

McNaMoney

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Re: Insanely Low Grocery Bill
« Reply #15 on: January 25, 2018, 03:00:02 PM »
Good for you! I don't think my area has composting bins. I've been told the grocery stores and  restaurants deliberately make food un-salvageable to discourage dumpster diving. I would have taken potatoes from a community compost bin, but someone had dumped hamster bedding on top of them.

There are some places that do thisÖ Itís really terrible, but very rare and noticeable. You can tell if theyíve covered everything in a dumpster with bleach.  Iíve never come across this, but Iíve heard about it before.  I think youíll be surprised to find very few people actually do this and most people donít care if you take something theyíve thrown out.

You might want to opt to wash under plain running water instead of using soap:

http://npic.orst.edu/capro/fruitwash.html
https://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Cooking-And-Food/Vegetables-and-Fruit/Everyday-Tips-for-Washing-Vegetables-and-Fruit.aspx

The best way to wash vegetables and fruit is under running water. You do not need special products, soaps or vinegar. These can leave an aftertaste and donít kill bacteria or mould.

https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/4336e/

Only on MMM:
     Speaker one: I get my food for free from the trash and just wash it with soap and water.
     Speaker two: Soap! Why are you wasting soap. You don't really need it.

I love that the using soap part is critiqued, instead of the whole dumpster thing.

Hahaha!  Only on MMM.  I actually only started doing that recently after watching a youtube video where another dumpster diver did this.  Guess I should have stuck with my instincts ó back to water only!

Thanks for this interesting read, a grocery bill of $30/month for two is fantastic! I always like to hear of this sort of thing, I think it's great to save money on food and reduce waste at the same time. I don't think we have these special bins in Australia unfortunately, or at least not that I know of, they sound like a great idea. Do you interact with other freegans / Are you part of any freegan community?

Itís totally a thing in Australia!  I just happened to be watching this documentary on Australian Freegans: https://youtu.be/0dNQ8eZgZoQ

DW and I are lone wolves in this, mostly just because we donít know any other dumpster divers.  Itís not something you usually bring up at a dinner party ó especially if youíre the one hosting. 

I just joined my local Food Not Bombs group, and have been taking home most of my family's produce/bread needs for the week also.
One of the group owners drives around to all the local health food stores, we cook the food, host a free meal (That some homeless show up for), the extra prepared food is donated to the shelters and we take home whatever isn't cooked that the shelters won't accept that won't last until the next week. I took home probably 30 lbs of food this week. I need to up my game re: learning to freeze veggies (what needs to be blanched or not)

I should look into joining our local Food Not Bombs group.  I read about them before, but just never bothered to join in.

We don't have bins and I haven't found a dumpster that is not locked which I kinda finda odd because we dont have homeless people in our area and there are tons of stores. Maybe its an ordinance or something. I haven't looked in about a year but I was more curious to see what was in them. I have tried talking to our butcher and everyday they grab carts loads of meat they ship to the pantry's so I don't want any part of taking from them. In either case maybe when its just me and the DW but with kids I wouldn't feel comfortable unless it was something that just was totally packaged and just seemed ? idk what I am trying to say.  But awesome for you !!! . Also being in a small community I could just see getting busted and having a write up or photo in local paper. If I were younger be a no brainer!

I live in a super small community and I have no worries about ďgetting caughtĒ.  There are actually local newspapers that have interviewed the local freegans and commended them on their activist ways.  I always figured if someone I knew saw me I could just say I was getting boxes or tell them the truth.  Once I opened up that compost bin filled with perfect food they may even become a convert.  I go in broad daylight in the afternoon and no one seems to notice or care.  Plus most of the bins are behind the store, so there isnít much traffic through that area.

I went diving yesterday, so I wanted to give you all a peek at my haul.  We still left tons of food too (we can only freeze and preserve so much food).
We got at least 20 peppers, 10 cucumbers, broccoli, apples, peaches, squash, honeydew, TONS of fresh herbs, turnips, asparagus, green onions, grapes and more.  I didn't take pictures until I had already started separating and cleaning so all of these items combined is what we got, that bin was full to the top when we got it in the car.  Most of it was organic and most of it had no visible issues, the few visible issues were just small bruises.






clarkfan1979

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Re: Insanely Low Grocery Bill
« Reply #16 on: February 12, 2018, 12:24:38 AM »
The Grocery Budget has been my biggest problem. Thanks for the inspiration.

limeandpepper

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Re: Insanely Low Grocery Bill
« Reply #17 on: February 12, 2018, 12:42:02 AM »
Itís totally a thing in Australia!  I just happened to be watching this documentary on Australian Freegans: https://youtu.be/0dNQ8eZgZoQ

DW and I are lone wolves in this, mostly just because we donít know any other dumpster divers.  Itís not something you usually bring up at a dinner party ó especially if youíre the one hosting. 

Oh yeah I knew freeganism was a thing here, I meant the special compost bins you mentioned weren't familiar to me. Thanks for the video link! I occasionally interact with a local freegan community so that's why I asked if you were part of any, as there might be a Facebook group in your area or something and you can swap stuff and share ideas. Or you might have bumped into others while you were doing your thing!

Serendip

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Re: Insanely Low Grocery Bill
« Reply #18 on: February 12, 2018, 09:22:55 AM »
I love this--there is generally SO much waste.
Unfortunately the bins in my area are locked but in the past I met grocers who would give me amazing deals for ripe produce ($2/box of bananas), not so much currently but I applaud the effort.

There is another film called "Just Eat It" about a few people in Vancouver doing similar..
if you live in canada you can free stream it here..
https://www.knowledge.ca/program/just-eat-it