Monday, March 21, 2011

Grocery Shopping Tips

After a bit of a hiatus brought about by moving my entire household and a bout of stomach flu, I’m back! We’re finally settled in to the new place, and life is just about back to normal.
Awhile ago, I posted about how I’m attempting to keep my grocery budget to $600 per month. Admittedly, that has been quite a struggle for me in the past. However, it has started to get easier. This week after not really shopping last week and surviving on what we had at home and some takeout dinners, I psyched myself up to do the meal planning and grocery shopping. It was fairly effortless to keep my grocery bill under $150. Here are some of my tips for how to save on the grocery budget:

1) Focus your menu around vegetables. I primarily started doing this for health reasons but I’ve found that it also helps the pocketbook. Vegetables are relatively inexpensive per pound either fresh or frozen compared to meat or processed foods.

2) Pick your primary fresh vegetable and fruit store. Review the circular before you start menu planning. Highlight the deals on produce. My fresh produce store is Henry’s Market. They hands down have the cheapest prices on produce. They also have good deals on bulk staples like rice and beans. For instance, this week broccoli, potatoes, and grapes were on sale at Henry’s.

3) Plan your menu based on recipes or meal ideas that utilize the sale produce. Since broccoli was on sale, we’re having broccoli and cheese bake potatoes and broccoli cheese soup this week. This can take a little time if you want to find some new recipes but its well worth the time investment when you have a no-hassle cheap and tasty meal. Your meals need to be varied but quick and easy enough that you aren’t tempted to forgo attempting the braised asparagus and tilapia rolls for takeout. But don’t be afraid to serve the same vegetable more than once a week especially if you’ve incorporated it into a dish instead of serving it as a side.

4) Fill in your menu plan with other basic staple dishes. We have a few standby dishes that we eat with regularity. Spaghetti, chicken stir fry, and burritos often fill in on my menu plan. These are all really inexpensive and the costs of these meals are fairly stable since for the most part I can stock up when the ingredients go on sale.

5) Shop at more than one store. Henry’s is a good place to shop for fresh, cheap produce, but you could quickly eat up all those savings if you only shopped there. For toiletries and other staples like milk, bread and eggs, I hit up Costco or Target.

6) If you have kids, buy some relatively healthy snacks. We live in a busy, fast culture. It’s not uncommon to be jaunting out of the house in the morning not to return until lunchtime. A few snacks in a bag and some juice boxes can be a lifesaver when you’re out. You avoid impulse snack buying or worse buying something to placate whining kids. In an ideal world, kids would only eat fresh, unprocessed organic foods, but in the imperfect world we live in a couple of granola bars make a good runner up.

7) Keep a tally in your head on with a calculator in the store. I keep a rough estimate going in my head of what I’m spending as I shop. I round everything to the nearest 50 cents. I find that I’m quite capable of keeping track of everything when I’m alone. When I’m with the husband and kids, things get a little dicey as I’m distracted. Keeping a tally is a good strategy to avoid overspending. You’re not going to overspend at one store if you know that you still need to buy necessities at the next store. I may eventually resort to a calculator, but I’ll wait until I’m no longer working and can shop when there are fewer people out to notice. I may be a nerd, but I do try to keep it under wraps.

Everyone has to find a system that works for them. Some people love coupons and can save a great deal of money with them. I haven’t been able to get the couponing thing down yet. I believe the key to saving money on groceries or anything is developing a mindfulness of how you spend money and then intentionally spending that money.

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