Thursday, December 29, 2005

Saving on Groceries: Defeat Your Receipt And Still Eat Your Meat

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

One place I’m looking to save money in the coming year is on groceries. You might be thinking, “Dude, you only spend $300 a month on groceries as it is! How are you going to save more?”

You’d be quite right to question my ability to save us any more on our monthly food bill, but I’ve found a few tips that will definitely help us extend that $300 to make our meals more delicious and filling. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the standard grocery tips like buying in bulk (or not!), not shopping while hungry, and looking to top and bottom shelves for deals, but here are a few I hadn’t considered before and that I plan to implement immediately.

  • Plan out the week’s meals in advance as much as humanly possible. This one’s going to be tough, but for the most part we know exactly when we’ll be at home and what meals we’ll need to eat while there. At present, our list-making regimen is terrible and consists solely of adding to a list on the fridge whenever we see that we need something. Instead, we’re going to try to plan meals for Sunday through Saturday on the previous Saturday and do the shopping on Sunday morning. If at all possible, we’ll try to incorporate whatever existing food is in the house into these meals, and when we need something in particular for a recipe or meal, we’ll add it to the list. We’ll study flyers for the nearest grocery stores to ensure we’re getting good prices while leaving room for alternatives in case there are some better deals in store.

    I’m hoping that by planning grocery trips better, we’ll avoid one of our biggest grocery problems: buying stuff, forgetting it’s in the cupboard, and never using it. While getting ready for our move a few months ago, we found some things in the cupboard made by companies that I don’t think are around anymore! No more of that! I want to know what’s in our kitchen from now on!
  • Chart grocery prices. Is 47 cents for a can of fruit cocktail a good deal? How about a pork loin for $2.99 a pound? Or a bag of apples for four bucks? Since Tegan and I have been doing the shopping together for a long time, I’m usually pretty good at distinguishing between real grocery bargains and fake ones that make you think you’re saving money when you’re really not. Still, even I sometimes forget what the normal going price is for a ham butt (79 cents a pound? Ten dollars a butt?). To help with this, I’m going to monitor grocery prices very closely for a little while and keep track of them by date and store. Maybe I’ll be able to spot a pattern in how often pasta goes on sale at Giant or when Safeway does its crazy soup deals. At the very least, I’ll have data for future grocery trips so that I’ll see if the price I’m paying for kiwi fruit is good compared to its regular and typical sale prices.
  • Making ends meat. Hahaha, what a witty pun. Looking at just about any grocery receipt of ours will reveal that we spend anywhere from 30-40% of our entire grocery budget on meats–poultry, beef, fish, and even Mr. Oink-Oink. Plenty of people get by without eating meat (or anything else that was, is, or might possibly evolve into something living), and while we’re not about to jump on that bandwagon, we definitely both agree that cutting back on the roast beast is something we can handle. At least once or twice a week, we’ll try to have a meatless dinner–spaghetti without meatballs, a nice big salad, or maybe a hefty stir-fry–and another day or two we’ll have a reduced-meat dinner consisting of dishes where meat is more of a secondary ingredient than the main dish. I expect this measure to have the biggest impact on our grocery spending, assuming we stick to it and don’t become meat zombies. NEED BRAAAAAAINS OR MAAAAYBE THIIIIGHS AND WIIIIIINGS.
  • Break out the cookbooks. This one won’t save us any money really, but it should help us make better use of the food we do buy. While Tegan and I could both stand to take a few cooking lessons, we can do just about anything a simple recipe tells us to as long as it has lots of pictures and uses small words (i.e. chop, not julienne or emulsify). We need to be careful about this, because whenever we do try out a new recipe, it usually calls for a lot of ingredients and a trip to the grocery store for a bunch of items sold by the gallon when we only need a teaspoon. I’ll try to locate a cheap but tasty cookbook of just three- and four-ingredient recipes.
  • Cook less often. If I can make a lasagna that lasts us two meals, then by golly I’m going to make one! Big recipes that serve six or eight will save just the two of us time and cooking fuel while also allowing us to make use of large quantities of ingredients bought on sale or in bulk. One dinner a week strictly made of leftovers would be ideal for us.
  • Don’t forget the non-food groceries! Another bad habit of ours: automatically assuming that Walmart or Target is the best place to buy toilet paper, detergent, and aluminum foil. Nine times out of ten they are, but grocery store sales prices on these items can sometimes meet or beat those of the super-stores. This will be simple enough to integrate into our normal shopping trips.

So what do you think? Do you have any other unique grocery or cooking hints to share? Or is food one of those things that you just can’t help but splurge on because you work hard to save money in all other facets of your budget?

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