This weekend, I — like many of you — will be heading to that mecca of munchies, that forum of food, that headquarters of hunger-quenching, the grocery store. (Did you like that one? I did, too. Hehe.) And while I love to head to my local Giant Grocery to stock my kitchen, pantry and fridge, I don’t love a recent trend: the steady, upward crawl of grocery prices.
Have you noticed this, too? Due to circumstances like the recent Midwestern drought, increased costs of shipping and/or production, and that pesky little inflation thing, food costs are continuing to rise in the U.S. (Granted, they’re still often lower than costs elsewhere in the world — Europe, I’m looking at you — but for us American consumers, it’s still noticeable.) Less rain = fewer harvested veggies = animal feed becomes more expensive = meat & dairy, inevitably, become more expensive. All this adds up to a bigger and bigger impact on your wallet every time you step through that produce section or frozen foods aisle.
So what’s a budding, budget-conscious chef to do, besides coupon-clipping like crazy? (For tips on all things coupons, check out this link. Or this one. Or this one. Lots of wise, lovely folks with better tips for coupon hunting and usage than I could give you.) Behold, friends: my top 3 tips for keeping grocery costs low.
1. Menu plan
2. Shop once a week (no, seriously)
3. Make a list, and stick to it. (With a little room for error.)
Now, lovely readers, I know what you’re probably thinking: “But GKG — It’s not like I have 2.5 kids, a picket fence, and a German Shepherd. Do I seriously need to do this? My only roommate is my collection of books / albums / vintage food advertisements.” Or, you may also be thinking: “GKG, C’mon now. I’m busy living my awesome / busy / sweet-young-20-something life, and a grocery list puts constraints on my freedom. Pshaw.” Or, most likely, something along the lines of: “Woman. I’m busy. Can’t I just grab and go after work? I don’t have an hour to spend at the store on a Saturday afternoon. Oif.”
However, these tips will a) Save you time, b) Save you money, and c) Encourage healthy eating. If you plan your (healthful) meals in advance — even if you’re just making one big batch of something tasty — write out your ingredients, and only buy what you need (with a few indulgences, especially if something you love or use frequently is on sale), I guarantee that you can shop for two people for around $75 per week. If you live alone, this could easily be done for under $50 per week. If Teacher-lady can, so can you.
1. Menu plan
- Each week, take 10 minutes to map out what you’ll make for dinner on paper (or your smartphone, my little techies). For sanity’s sake, allow for a night out or dinner with friends. This menu plan is a chance to try new recipes, plan big batches of goodies, and work in those veggies and lean proteins. (If you plan it, you will eat it. Trust me. It’ll be all you can find in the house.)
- If you live with roommates, you can alternate who cooks on which days. The History Teacher and I often switch up food duties, depending on schedules. (The other person, having been given the gift of a delicious meal with no labor required, dutifully washes the dishes. It’s a good system that works for us.)
- If you live alone, think about cooking a few big batches, or just buying ingredients that would be versatile in a number of meals. A large pkg. of chicken breasts or chicken thighs, for example, could be adapted to batches of chicken parm, chicken tikka masala (rock that jarred sauce hard), and/or a chickeny stir-fry.
- Try to plan meals that could use some of the same items. For example, if you’re buying a large package of chicken thighs, plan to use them in two or three meals.
2. Shop once a week: This seems difficult, but is actually pretty doable when you take the time to perform step 1. I’d advise avoiding the following times: Saturday afternoons, Sunday afternoons, or weeknights between 5:30 and 7:30. These are prime “ZOMG I have nothing in the house, so I’ll just shop with the rest of my entire local community” times of convenience, so if you plan around them, you should be fine. I like early Saturday mornings, myself. (Then again, I wake up at 7am on a Saturday. What can I say? Teacher-lady sleeps for no one.)
3. Make a list, and stick to it. (With a sliiiiight margin for error.)
- Once I know what meals I’ve planned, I list the major ingredients that aren’t already in my pantry or fridge. Things that usually make this part of the list are particular veggies, cheeses, ground turkey (for meatballs, meatloaf, burgers, etc.), and other items that I wouldn’t usually keep in stock. Add ’em to the list.
- Then, I scan through my staples — salad veggies, fruit, cereals, milk, bread, eggs, crackers — and see where I’m also running low. Add ’em to the list.
- Finally, when I get to the store, I stick to the list when I pick up items. I know, it’s tough. So many tasty things! Just don’t shop when you’re hungry, and use the list as your guide. Be disciplined — your wallet will thank you!
- I do, however, give myself a $5 wiggle room buffer. If there’s something random I’ve been looking to try — silken tofu for a stir-fry; some new seasonal veggie that looks fetching in the misty glow of the produce section lighting — I go for it. Or, if I want to indulge a little (cough cough, plastic container of Giant-brand Brownie Bites, I’m looking at you), and it’s within that $5 range, I do it. Why? “All things in moderation, including moderation” — some wise person. If you never indulge, you’ll just feel deprived and lash out later with a giant tub of tater tots at the local bar. Boo
um, I mean YAY?to that.
The next time you head to the fridge and see, well, nothing of substance (note: Diet Coke is totally something of substance. GKG don’t judge), keep these tips in mind. How do you folks budget your groceries? What do you do to save money? Are you coupon-clipping wizards? Do you have the storage space to buy in bulk? Share your tips here!