I know we’ve all seen the standard advice for grocery shopping–make a list, shop for a week’s worth of groceries at a time, try the store brands, etc–but I’ve developed a few more strategies over the years that are a little off the well-worn path.
1. A few communities are now talking about making grocers change the kinds of bags they use, or putting restrictions or mandatory recycling in place. Truthfully, there is no kind of grocery bag that doesn’t come without some kind of environmental hazard involved, and there’s no easy answer to the problem of paper-manufacturing pollution or plastic bags fouling up the ecosystem. About all we can do is take steps to reduce the sheer number of bags we consume in the course of a year.
So, for a month or two, every time you go to the grocery store, make a note of how many bags it takes to contain your cart full of groceries. Some stockers will cram the bags full and some will put only one or two items in each bag. Keeping track over several weeks will give you at least a general average of bags-per-trip. Buy about that many reusable grocery bags. They are not very expensive, most grocery stores sell them now, and if you buy one bag per week you can keep the economic impact on your budget to a minimum.
Then start using your bags. Toss them in the trunk of the car after you’ve taken the groceries out of them so they’ll be ready for the next trip. Some stores will even give you credit for bringing your own bags. Trader Joe’s puts your name in a drawing for $25 worth of stuff. And so forth. The stores are beginning to try to make it worth our while. If we make it worth their while, too, it might just end up saving everyone money.
2. You know, there’s no cosmic law that says you have to serve something completely different for dinner every night. I’m not saying eat the same thing every day, because that would provoke outright rebellion. But why not make extra of your dinner entree and put the extra away to eat another night? Not everyone has a big freezer, so sometimes the “another night” will have to be in the same week–but if you serve the meal with different side dishes, or combine the ingredients from the previous meal into another recipe, you can definitely save some money. Just as an example, I used to make pot roast, stew, and soup out of the same big pot roast in days gone by. When we had only about $20 to spend on groceries each week, things like that made the budget stretch a long way.
Try planning to make two dinners out of each one you’ve got on your list. It’s not as hard or as boring as you think.
3. Every other week, take a good look in your cupboards and see what you’ve got on hand. Plan one night’s dinner around what you’ve already got. That way you only have to buy a few ingredients, at most, for that one night. And there’s less chance of something languishing in the back of the cupboard till way, way past its expiration date.
4. There’s also no cosmic law that says you can’t have pancakes for dinner. Try it. If you make your own, you can make them healthy, but the pre-packaged mixes aren’t terribly bad and they’re definitely convenient.
5. This one’s for people who like to keep track of details. Make yourself a spreadsheet, and every time you go shopping, take the receipt and enter each item and its price into the spreadsheet. Average them up from time to time. You’ll then be able to see at a glance how much things cost and where the big budget busters are. Some weeks when the grocery budget isn’t exactly unlimited, you can plan your week’s meals around the ingredients that cost less.
6. Get a small clipboard. Take any kind of 8 1/2 x 11 paper that has one blank side, cut or tear it into quarters, and clip those on your clipboard to use for writing shopping lists. Hang the clipboard from a hook somewhere in your kitchen so you can write down stuff you need to buy. Or, if you get those icky “personalized” note pads from some organization or other who thinks you’ll send them money in exchange for tacky paper, clip those to some convenient surface in the kitchen and use them to write down things-to-buy. That way you can transfer those items to your shopping list on shopping day. When you go to the store, it’s a lot easier to cross things off your list if it’s on a clipboard than if you’re trying to wrap it around the handle of the shopping cart. Plus you can write notes to yourself about other items you may have to pick up elsewhere.
7. Finally, here are some cookbook suggestions–tried and true!