Budget Challenge: Grocery Shopping on Kaua’i

Brett and I have a standing challenge whenever we go food shopping: buy what we need but try to stay under budget if possible so there’s something leftover to put into the travel savings. Between Walmart, Costco, Safeway or Big Save Market, and the weekly farmers’ market we have a wide selection of places to shop, but staying within our budget can be difficult because prices here can be high, sometimes a good deal higher, than they are in most places on the mainland. We’re very good at knowing the difference between a need and a want though, and telling ourselves “no” whenever we have to. We shop for groceries three times a month, weekly if you count our Wednesday trips to the farmers’ market, and we try very hard to not have to go to any store in-between shopping trip if at all possible. We no longer do “big shops” or stock ups because we don’t have the storage space like we did in the past nor do we like spending such vast sums.

Last week was a good week for us, shopping wise. We had budgeted $160 for the week, but spent only $128.80, and put $31.20 into our travel savings ($11.20 into the change/$1 bill jar and an additional $20 bill for good measure). Here’s how we did it:

We ALWAYS shop with a list, and by the time we make it to the store it usually looks like the one above. The circled items are the items that made the final cut; others were deemed either not necessary or not necessary now and were added to this week’s list. Two of the circled items on the Costco side did not get purchased: sparkling water and a beach towel ($9.99 at Costco). Costco had no affordable choices for sparkling water, and although we had the funds for a beach towel we decided it could wait. It will eventually need to be purchased and will go on a list in the future.

We spent exactly $41 at Walmart, and got everything on our list except for soba noodles and Yoshida (teriyaki) sauce, neither of which they had. We couldn’t find suitable substitutes there for either so decided to look for those items at Safeway, which was going to be our last stop of the day.

Our Costco list ended up being quite short, but we didn’t need much. We spent $50.10 there and now have enough dental floss for months to come (it was on sale this month). It’s sort of strange to leave Costco with so few things these days – when we lived here before any trip to Costco meant a cart filled to overflowing.

We sometimes stop at Safeway because it’s pretty much right next door to Costco and on our way home. Along with the head of lettuce and the big locally-grown tomato for our hamburgers we also found the brand of soba we like and some teriyaki sauce that worked for us. The soba cost more than it usually does at Walmart, but the teriyaki sauce was on sale and cost less so it evened out. Still, we spent $17.70 total for these four items, which is a lot and a good indicator of why we don’t regularly shop at Safeway here. Milk was also on our list but they didn’t have what we were looking for (a quart of 1%), and we decided we didn’t need it this week after all.

We budget $20 every week for the farmers’ market, and this past week spent every bit of it on a big bunch of bananas, two huge papayas, a large dragonfruit, three cucumbers, green beans, green onions, and a head of cabbage. 

We will go shopping again tomorrow, but with a smaller allotment than last week, and then go once again next week. Both shopping trips will pose additional challenges as we need to make sure we shop smartly to get ourselves through a three week stretch before our next piece of income rolls in again. That’s a long time to go without shopping, but we have plenty of protein on hand (meat, chicken, and fish) for the two of us, a good supply of other pantry staples, and along with the produce from the farmers’ market every week we should make it – fingers are crossed!

(If you have any questions about individual prices here for items we bought, let me know in the comments and I’ll look them up.)


14 thoughts on “Budget Challenge: Grocery Shopping on Kaua’i

  1. I’m impressed! You are great shoppers! Groceries have gotten very expensive on the mainland; I’m not sure that they’re that much less ( and the package sizes keep shrinking!).


    1. We were sort of shocked when we came back at how much prices had increased here. We still hunt for bargains though, but have to be very careful these days to stay within our budget. We are beyond grateful for the farmers’ market and the savings there (as well as the beautiful fresh, local produce!).


  2. It’s great that you agree on how to manage the shopping and the sacrifices you are making for future travel. FWIW, grocery prices in the Midwest seem a lot higher lately too. I bought some Kind bars for my travels. The ones I like used to be $4.58/box on sale. I haven’t bought them in a long time, but they were $7.99/box!! I couldn’t believe it.

    I do envy your produce, although I am finding the produce in England to be very good. And no one does peas better. ;0)


    1. Well, I am the one who makes the final call on whether we buy something or not. Brett has gotten better too at letting me know in advance if he needs something, rather than dropping it on me the day before or at the store. For example, he needs razor blades – we’ll get them next week, but I had to take a few things off the list to fit them into the budget.

      Costco has stayed fairly consistent here with their pricing. Safeway has gone crazy but has good sales. And the farmers’ market pricing has stayed low as well. I agree about the produce in England – Aldi always had a great selection, but our village store had reasonably priced loca produce – we bought there whenever possible.


  3. It’s strangely fascinating to read others’ shopping lists! You’ve probably said before, but do they have Aldi there? That saves a bunch on basics though there are things I prefer to get elsewhere. As far as paying for Sam’s Club or Costco, I don’t think it would be worth it for just me.


    1. I love looking in others’ shopping carts – it’s fascinating to me what others buy.

      There is no Aldi here and never will be. Same for Trader Joe’s. They work on tight delivery schedules and the cost of getting products over here would be prohibitive. Costco is a pretty much a necessity here – we have an executive membership and between gas and groceries usually get enough of a rebate to cover our membership costs.


  4. Ouch! I’ll never, ever get over the elevated cost of food in Hawaii. Our food-only budget each week equates to 100USD, and that includes everything on our list and then some. How much is the fizzy water? Here it ranges anywhere from 0.13-0.33 € per liter; or 15-39¢ for a 50 oz. bottle.

    Also, are you able to order online at the major supermarkets for home delivery or in-store pick up? We live too far out in the woods for delivery, but I love using the pick-up option as the market is on the way home from my husband’s workplace. The service costs nothing at all, and makes it so easy for people who are short on time. I’ve seen a woman walk out of there with what looked like 2 weeks of groceries; imagine standing behind her if she had gone through the cashier line!


    1. Food is outrageous here, isn’t it? We started off in 2014 with a huge food budget and could have easily have spent it all if we weren’t careful. We learned lots of tricks though for how to shop with a budget, and what to buy where, and we’ve gotten ourselves down to about $125 per week, which I think is good for here.

      The sparkling water currently runs a little over $1 per container, too high for us. Last month we were able to get it on sale for less than 25 cents per can.

      Not sure if there is any pick-up service on the island or not. Maybe at Safeway? If the pandemic got really bad here, Costco would probably have it as well. But otherwise, nothing. It’s Kaua’i.


  5. I always find your fresh fruit so interesting. I have never had dragonfruit and the bananas look like a variety I have never seen. Not real sure about the papaya. I am growing fresh mustard, collards, and turnip greens in miracle grow bags of dirt in my front yard ( no HOA…lol.) It is the only sunny spot and highest spot on my property. My back yard went under water during Sally. I typically eat sweet potatoes, cooked dried red beans with cajun spices, greens, and rice or cornbread a lot in the fall/winter. So, I always find your fruit (and flowers) fascinating. Also, I have never seen those type of noodles. Do they taste different than regular noodles? I have never noticed that brand of teriyaki sauce but I admit I usually just buy Great Value soy sauce. My taste buds are not very refined except when it comes to tomatoes,vidalia onions, and okra. I am very picky about those vegetables.


    1. Cindy, I lived here for nearly two years before I got brave enough to try dragon fruit, and then was mad I waited so long because it was so good! We love to freeze pieces of it – it makes a very cool treat when it’s hot. We saw dragonfruit in the market last year in Portland – $6 per small fruit – nope. Here we can get them for $2-$4 at the farmers’ market.

      Soba noodles are made with buckwheat flour and the ones we like are made with green tea. Soba can be eaten hot or cold, but here we eat it cold along with a dipping sauce, thinly sliced green onions, and a little wasabi.

      Your diet sounds yummy – I could live on that! We can get good okra at the farmers’ market, sweet onions come from Maui, but the tomatoes here leave a lot to be desired. The one I bought at Safeway was expensive, but very good and tasted like a tomato.


  6. I don’t know what they do to those peanuts from Costco, but my husband is addicted to them and can’t keep his hand out of the can! Costco just recently opened a new warehouse that’s only 100 miles from us (yes, that is the closest store to us, previously I’d go to the one that was about 300 miles from us when I was in that town for a medical appointment or we’d go when we went home, 500 miles from us and do major stock ups on non perishables and bring coolers). We bought a can of peanuts on Sunday of Labor Day weekend and we threw the empty can into recycling this past Sunday. Two weeks!


    1. They are good, aren’t they? We buy them mainly because they are so affordable. Brett usually has a small amount when we get home from our walk, before dinner (and with our cocktail if we’re having one that day), and always gives me 10 of them as a “treat” – it’s just enough. When YaYu was with us we went through them pretty quickly – she liked them too. We’re picking up another canister next week to get us through our three week no-food-shopping stretch.

      Glad to hear that you now have a closer Costco, although 100 miles is still pretty far away, in my book anyway (but w-a-y better than 300 or 500 miles).


    1. Dragonfruit is firm, like melon and can be eaten alone or cut into pieces and used in a fruit salad. It’s only slightly sweet, but juicy and refreshing. Besides eating it plain (the outer pink covering peels off easily), we love to cut one into wedges and freeze it (on parchment paper as it will stick to the pan otherwise). A frozen slice is a very refreshing snack on a hot day, better than any popsicle!


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