Ever since I moved to NY I’ve had problems with grocery shopping. This is my first apartment and consequently there are a lot of “adult things” I’ve been figuring out on the way, mainly budgets. Besides the lovely monthly bills and travel (Yay, $112 monthly unlimited subway rides!), groceries is where I spend my most money. I know this because I keep track of my money, you can see how on my post on how I use Mint.com.
Grocery shopping has caused me to struggle with more than just the budget. I am the oldest of four and lived with both my parents, and we’re all pretty athletic so that means I grew up in a house hold of 6 mouths with big appetites. I’m used to buying in bulk and cooking in bulk. I always liked cooking big meals. I love left overs. It makes your week easier and you can eat your favorite meal over and over again! How great is that?
Unfortunately this table for one now has two big problems with buying food:
- I can’t use the food fast enough so too much goes bad too quickly.
- I can’t carry all the food I would normally buy on my 10 minute walk home from the store, I’m simple not super woman.
Those are my sad grocery shopping problems which I’m calling; Budget, Bulk and Bad. If I’m having these problems, I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who are encountering the same problems. Here are three tips for each Budget, Bulk and Bad grocery problem that I’ve learned along they way.
When I first started creating my own budget I thought I should be conservative everywhere. I soon realized I was not going to be able to stay within this budget and it was okay to make adjustments. Food is something we need. It is a necessity, not an extra. I found that it was better to be honest about how much I spent monthly, rather than to force myself stay below an arbitrary number.
Create a Working System
I started off by keeping all my receipts. I made a system to see how much I spent each much. This became a lot easier once I started using Mint.com, because it automatically did that for me. Now I can quickly see how much money I am spending and how much I have left to spend for the rest of the month.
Like I said above, I had to go back to make adjustments. When I saw that I needed to account for more money on groceries I took money from other budget areas. For example, I took money from budgets for going out and clothes shopping then put that amount in my grocery budget.
Be Smart With Your Money
Just because you’re being realistic and you have a system doesn’t mean you should just throw all your money away without even thinking! Pay attention to labels and look for the deals. Be that guy who uses coupons from the Sunday newspaper, because lets face it, the people on Extreme Couponing are pretty amazing. There are numerous websites and apps to help you find, download and organize all your coupon needs. Take advantage of it.
When looking at sale tags you will want to pay extra attention to the unit price. Sometimes it will pay to buy more, but be reasonable on your size choice and be aware of shelf life. I also often find traps set for the eager deal shopper. For example, I’ve seen a sale at 2 for $5 for a brand name item, but the store brand is $1.20/item. If you didn’t catch that math it means the brand name item is $1.50/item so the store brand is cheaper at $1.20. Basically sale items can be a tricky trap, so be smart!
Don’t But In Bulk
Just don’t do it. There’s only one of you… or maybe two if you split the groceries with your roommate. You don’t need to buy the biggest pack, you can go a size or two down. Obviously nonperishable items can be a bit of an exception, but buyer be ware, buy too much and you could be spending more than you need to. For veggies I tend to buy frozen vegetables now because something always changes and I can’t use the fresh ones in time. For fruits and meats I just started by buying half the amount I did before. It’s kind of something you need to feel out on your own.
Make a Grocery List
A great way to avoid buying too much is to make a grocery list. Simple, yet so helpful. The key to a grocery list and stick to it, don’t buy anything that is not on your list. I have a printed grocery list where I can check off items I have run out of. (You can download it at the bottom of this post.) If you want to be super intense you could use your receipts to keep track of how much of what items you use and how often. But starting with a general grocery list will be a great start.
Always Have a Bag
If you have a car, I envy you, but this tip could still help you. Sometimes the numerous plastic bags it takes to carry all your food makes it more complicated, and quite uncomfortable. I’ve started keeping an extra bag that folds up in my purse. This is the bag I have, I got it from work. Having this fold up bag allows me to go grocery shopping whenever I want and I don’t have to go home first. I can just hop off the subway and stop at the grocery store on my walk home. Any eco-friendly bag simplifies your shopping experience, the baggers at the cashier don’t mind at all, and its better for the environment.
Buy Less More Often
We talked about not buying in bulk to help with your carrying load, but this will also save from food going bad. If you buy less more often, say weekly or biweekly, you will be more conscious about what you are buying. Stick to that grocery list mentioned above. Think about what you will need in that period of time and how much you can actually eat. Think about your schedule, can you really finish all that food or make a new meal every night before the food goes bad? Instead, try buying one item that can be used in multiple meals. Do you love tomatoes? I know I do! I buy a couple of tomatoes for the week and use them in breakfast sandwiches, salads for lunch and pastas for dinner.
Plan For Meals
Take your grocery list and shopping experience to the next level by planning your meals for the week(s). This will help you in so many areas. You can coordinate meals that use similar items so you will spend less and waste less. You can be smart with your money by choosing to make meals based on what’s on sale that week. I’ve seen the most improvement in how much I’m spending and how much I’m wasting just by planning meals ahead of time.
Cook One Big Meal a Week
Like I said, I love cooking big meals. I think it’s great to cook one big meal on a Sunday night to have left overs to bring to work for the week. It’s also great when I have no time to cook when I get home after a late work night. This week I made an improvement on my routine. Normally I cook a big meal then leave it in one big container, so each day I would take out what I need for lunch or dinner. The problem here is when I’m home for dinner I tend to take seconds, so the meals wouldn’t last as long as I wanted. Now instead of using one large container I split up the portions into individual tupperware. This new system has been great, I’m eating a healthy portion and saving enough meals for the week.
Working with Budget, Bulk and Bad was easier than I thought. I really don’t have any problems with grocery shopping anymore. I’ve grown to like shopping one a week. In the last month my lowest grocery bill was $16 and the highest $35. Here’s an example of my staple weekly grocery list items:
- Eggs – $1.00
- Bread – $1.00
- Rice – 2/$5
- Pasta – 3/$3
- Chicken – $8.00
That’s only $18 right there. Keep in mind that I’m rounding here and I don’t buy all of these items every week. Especially rice and pasta, those have a long shelf life. I know it sounds bland, but that’s just my staples. Depending on what I’m planning for the week and what I already have I may only need a few more things to make a scrumptious meal. Like last night, I made Shepherd’s Pie for the first time! I bought groceries for it this past weekend, take a look at what the recipe called for and what I needed to buy…
- 1.5 lbs of ground beef – bought it for $4
- 1 onion chopped – already had 4 onions
- 1-2 cups of vegetables – already had frozen corn
- 3 big potatoes – bought them for $1 each
- 1 stick of butter – already had a tub of butter
- 1/2 cup of beef broth – already had a can left over from an old recipe and I saved the other half of the can in a jar for later
- 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce – already had it from a jambalaya recipe
- Salt, pepper, other seasonings of choice – already had salt and pepper, and I used cinnamon to mix in the potatoes
From all that I only need to buy 2 things. I ended up getting 5 servings out of the meal. All that for under $10! Planning can really help.
What do you do to help with your grocery shopping? Do you have a favorite recipe to share?
Download my grocery list here: AsktheYoPro_GroceryList
For more recipes follow my recipe board on Pinterest.