red hook + grocery splurge

August 8, 2011 |  Category:   life nyc outings

When Fairway opened up in Red Hook Brooklyn in 2006, we, like most Brooklyners, cheered on and declared that grocery shopping would be changed forever. Well, we did start shopping at Fairway like most of our neighbors, but after a month or two of driving 15 minutes over to the waterfront and parking in the spacious parking lot like suburbanites, Mark and I decided to stop. It had nothing to do with the quality or selection of the food. Quite the opposite really – Fairway did live up to its reputation, but we found ourselves falling prey to the Target syndrome. You know, you can’t leave the store without spending under a hundred bucks?

We were still in super frugal mode in 2006 and $100+ trips to the grocery store weren’t going to cut it, especially if the groceries weren’t going to last a week. The problem with Fairway is that there are so many good looking things to tempt you as you walk through the store, you just end up throwing all kinds of stuff that you wouldn’t normally buy in your cart. It’s like vacation spending.

Even though we’re no longer on a super strict budget like those early years when we became parents, our grocery budget and shopping habits haven’t changed at all. We still keep food purchases to about $450 a month for our family of four. This doesn’t include things like toothpaste, toilet paper, bottles of ketchup, shampoo, etc. which we buy in bulk a few times a year at Costco (yes, that does mean we have ridiculously large bottles of ketchup in our fridge), but it does include all food, including trips to the farmer’s markets (edit for clarification: this doesn’t include the occasional takeout or restaurants. When we were on a strict budget, this would happen maybe once a month). The good thing is that food is never wasted or thrown away. We only buy what we need, usually from a list. The bad part is that we rarely ever have fun stuff to just snack on around the house when we’re feeling snacky. If you were to just drop in on us one day for a surprise visit, We’d have nothing to offer you (sadly, my friends can attest to that. So if you want to drop by, give us some notice to shop, ok?). The only big change in our spending habits from those days is that we may eat out or get take out a little more frequently, but Mark still cooks pretty much 90% of the time.

I was thinking about those extreme budgeting days when we shopped at Fairway this morning. It was one of those Sunday mornings when the weather forecast derailed our original plans to go to the beach and we were trying to think of things to do (it didn’t at all rain, by the way). Exploring a neighborhood we haven’t gone to in awhile seemed perfect. I was also thinking that we needed to revisit those budgets that we stuck to 5-6 years ago. Remember that post about all the news bringing me down? Well the news didn’t get any better last week, did it? I am really trying not to freak out about the economy. For ourselves, our friends, my parents. But I don’t want to live in a bubble either and ignore what’s going on.

Oh, and did we manage to avoid the Target Syndrome at this Sunday’s trip to Fairway, our first in years? Almost. $94.

ps. that black building there in the last 2 photos? It’s across the street from the Fairway parking lot. The girls and I must have stared at it for a good 15 minutes. We even played “I spy”. Mesmerizing.

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  • kim - fortyovertwenty August 8, 2011 at 8:59 am

    Sadly, we cannot seem to spend under $150 every time we go! Here is a link to the nautical house/men’s social club…

  • Susan August 8, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Ah, the dreaded “Target syndrome”…so true. Happens to us all!

  • Sebbie August 8, 2011 at 10:09 am

    I am amazed you are so disciplined with your food budget. Even though my husband and I want to/talk about paring ours down, we always seem to spend $150-200 a week for groceries and supplies. Do you have any tips? Is it all meal planning?

  • Mary August 8, 2011 at 10:14 am

    Target syndrome is the Achilles heel of our budgeting! Trader Joe’s syndrome would be, too, if it were closer to our house. Since the far drive can’t be justified all the time, we are able to minimize our visits to once every couple months. I can’t walk out of that place without spending at least $150 and most of the food ends up being snacky.

  • julie August 8, 2011 at 10:38 am

    i, too, would like to know how you keep to such a disciplined grocery budget! how do you manage grocery buying w/ shopping at farmers’ markets and eating/taking out?

  • Jane August 8, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Ugh, for us it’s Costco, we can never walk out of that place without spending a fortune on stuff we can’t find storage for in our tiny apartment!

  • tracy August 8, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    glad to hear that it’s not only my household that doesn’t have fun snacks to offer to ‘surprise’ guests :b

  • Su August 8, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    450 a month with two kids in NYC? How do you do it? Do you pack snacks/lunches for the kids every day? Please share tips — your shopping list, meal plans, especially the lunches and snacks for the kids.

  • R @ Learning As I Chop August 8, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    I know this syndrome but for me it’s also about conveneince. Why get in the car, drive, look for a spot when I return etc when I can go to Key Food nearby and buy most of what I need? I do love Fairway though.

  • Seema August 8, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    As always it’s your pictures that I’m feasting my eyes on. What a building you’ve captured, amazing! I have to say, $450 with two kids in tow is very prudent. Food inflation is crazy at the moment, and it’s so easy to lose control on the budget. Well done!

  • Nadi August 8, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    We keep our grocery budget in about the same range, but those take-outs and dining outs amount to quite a sum. I wonder what is the split between those in your family.

  • Jenna August 8, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    For those wondering about our budget, I didn’t really want to get into specifics on the post because I basically got burned last year from a similar post in comments. I don’t really want to open myself up to that again, however, Mark just shops very frugally and only buys what he needs for meals and the girls’ lunches. He pretty much cooks everything from scratch, so no prepared food, very little frozen food, no extraneous snacks (we do buy the girls snacks for lunch, mostly at Target or Costco). We eat meat only 2x a week, fish maybe once. If he can he buys whole fish or meats and prepares the cuts himself. We don’t drink anything but water usually, so we don’t buy juice, soda, alcohol except for a bottle of wine or a 6pack of beer once a month. Veggies and fish is cheap in chinatown when we can get there.
    @Nadi, we only take out 2 x a month these days, maybe eat out the same. Some months we don’t do either take out or restaurants at all, so it’s not that big a budget eater for us. We’re careful that way.

  • Ana August 8, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    wow, a bottle of wine once a month!!! I would die:)

  • jen August 8, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    wow, i’m trying to keep a budget of $600 for four but we always go over every month. i know it’s the alcohol. it blows our budget every month!

  • Funaek August 8, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    I am also in awe of your budget and restraint! I have horrible Trader Joe’s syndrome and I like my diet coke and alcohol :P. I also constantly struggle with getting the right amount of food for one person without going over and risking food going bad. And every now and then I go crazy with ice cream and/or cheese binges where I feel the need to try lots of new and delicious treats. (P.S. That black building is crazy awesome in its weird and random things. But I also love that photo of the building with the black shutters.)

  • Soo August 8, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    Wow, that is quite impressive. I hope to control my fairways shopping habit someday. Thanks for sharing the info, and letting us know it is possible to eat healthy economically.

  • Laura August 9, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Your restraint in grocery shopping is great! I wish I could buy/cook like Mark does. Question: when you buy for instance shampoo in bulk at costco, does your whole family use the same shampoo? if so, what shampoo do you buy? Also, how are you at spending on beauty products, like face wash, mositurizer etc? Do you buy those at costco too? I always feel like I spend so much on those and am always looking at ways to save. Thanks!

  • Lauren August 10, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Ha, I can almost relate – I was psyched when we move to Brooklyn and Fairway was a short drive away! With a parking lot! Except I tend to have the opposite problem; among all the selections I clam up, leaving with half of what I really needed and one expensive bag of obscure candy or chocolate. I do love the rice/corn popper machine thingy, I could watch that all day and really wish they would let me man the machine for a bit.

  • Jenna August 10, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    @Laura, I don’t buy the girls’ shampoo from costco, but they use so little that 1 bottle lasts a year. I buy whatever is on sale with a coupon. It’s been pantene usually. I hardly spend anything on beauty products. Rarely buy makeup, again for moisturizer or face wash, buy at drug store or sometimes my mom will give me a Korean brand (good cosmetics over there!). I used to work in the beauty industry and got a lot of samples. I guess after awhile I got turned off my the costs which is really for just packaging and marketing. It helps that I am low maintenance about these things, though! It started when I was first pregnant with mia and needed to be frugal about this stuff. I guess I never went back.