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Efficient and Frugal Food Shopping

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Grocery shopping

This is an area in which I hope to make vast improvements in 2006: my eating, cooking and food shopping habits. At the end of the year, I’ll evaluate how much money I’ve spent on food this year. I already have a good idea of the amount based on my latest income statement (dining plus groceries) and it doesn’t make me happy.

Luckilly, this article from Money Magazine appeared right on time. The article instructs the reader to shave $150 a week off the grocery bill. Here are some obervations from the article and my thoughts:

Today’s meal planning goes more like this: It’s 4 p.m. and you haven’t thought about what’s for dinner. You dream up something easy — baked ziti! — and run out for ingredients, forgetting that in the back of your Sub-Zero is a block of the same cheese you just bought, right next to last week’s leftover ziti.

No Sub-Zero for me and no time to cook ziti, but the description is similar to my lifestyle. I go grocery shopping about once a month. Sometimes I’ll buy a few pieces of fruit, but mostly it’s meat, pasta, and microwaveable meals. I trick myself into feeling good about the shopping experience buy using my loyalty card and saving about $10 off each receipt.

Here’s the advice the article offers:

Be picky. Evaluate the price differences between the “regular” version of the food item and the “prepared” version. I buy raw chicken breasts but I also buy processed chicken nuggets. I should stick with the breasts, it’s much more economical. Unfortunately, I’ll have to cook the chicken rather than just using the microwave or the oven to warm the nuggets to eating temperature.

Use what you have. I have dried pasta in the house, but for some reason, I keep buying frozen pasta. I think it’s a habit or nervous tick as I walk through the frozen aisle in the supermarket.

Make lists. I make shopping lists, but I don’t think them through thoroughly. I should plan out my dinners each day and list the ingredients needed. The method I use now involves a list of my regular items but I find I “improvise” once I’m pushing the cart around.

Shop online. The only time I purchased groceries online for delivery was when I was sick for several days and was not feeling up to leaving the house. I’m not a fan of delivery fees and there’s a grocery store nearby, so I usually have no problem getting myself to the store.

Make a game of it. This is the first I’ve heard this advice. Apparently The Grocery Game finds the lowest prices and provides manufacturer’s coupons to use in your local grocery store. You have to pay $10 to participate in this “game” for eight weeks, but the website offers a $1 trial subscription and other ways to earn free participation time.

Cutting my food expenses back will improve my financial situation greatly. My attempt in May to begin bringing in my lunch to work every day to save money was a short-lived experiment, so I need to motivate myself to do this properly.

This was also blogged about today by Blueprint for Financial Prosperity!

Updated February 7, 2012 and originally published December 21, 2005. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 9 comments }

avatar jim

My “bring lunch in” strategy was also short-lived. I started it whenever I knew I’d need to save money to buy a house but then it died whenever I moved in with my friend for a month and lived out of a suitcase and boxes. Ever since I’ve been eating out… maybe it’s going to be a new years resolution or something. :)

avatar Jane Dough

Planning meals is my weakness as well. I try to have a few meals in mind when I shop at the grocery store, but I could do much better with this. When work gets really busy or when I have to travel this goes right out the window – the last thing I want to deal with is cooking. However, now is the perfect time of year for me to focus on this. I will have to see if I can challenge myself to create a list tonight since I need to visit the grocery store tomorrow.

avatar Josh

My strategy for saving money is simple. I work in a store in a shopping center with a discount food market. Every Monday, i go there and decide a meal i can eat for lunch for 5 days in a row.
Example: This week I bought a bag of frozen meatballs for $6, a jar of sauce for $1, 6 steak rolls for $2.50, and cheese for $2.
Lunch for the week= less than $13.
Compare that with a lunch at McDonalds everyday.

avatar Terri W.

When I was first starting out on cutting out convenience foods and eating out for our family, this cookbook was a godsend — “The Weeknight Survival Cookbook.” The idea is that you can take an hour or two to cook a fair amount of stuff on a weekend day, and then it lays out 10 minute preparation menus based on those leftovers for the rest of the week. It wasn’t always the most cost-effective plan, but it was certainly less expensive and a pretty painless transition away from eating out and convenience foods.

avatar Luke Landes ♦127,535 (Platinum)

John,

It would be hard to beat $13 for lunch for a week. I suppose I could work every night in a restaurant and have dinner for free, but that would cut into my blogging time… my classwork time… my Amy time… my side-projects-for-extra-income time… etc.

Terri,

Thanks for the book suggestion. I have The Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichl, but it’s a bit bulky and time-consuming for my tastes and schedule.

avatar Zorro's Steno

My favorite cooking technique is the broiler. Throw in some hamburgers, chicken, fish. Wait 10 minutes and then flip. Wait another 5-6 minutes (or till cooked) and eat. So quick and easy. Then you make double and take the rest to lunch the next day.

My second is, sloppy joes, with or without bread and either beef or turkey, or even chicken. 1 pan, 1 plate, 1 fork, and 1 tupperware for the next day.

avatar Dus10

There are a lot of ways to save money on groceries. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of patience and discipline to do any of them, let alone all of them. Planning your meals really needs to be the first step. From there you can make a list. Then, check coupons for items on your list. Finally, as you are in the store, check the cost per unit and get the best deal possible (including in store discounts and coupons). However, avoid buying too much of something that is likely to be wasted.

avatar Gem

One website I use to help with the weekly meal planning is http://www.menus4moms.com . Although the name is mom-centric, the site is useful for anyone wanting to get their meals a little more organized. Meals are scaled for families of 4-5, but you could freeze the leftovers in 1-serving size portions and have lunches for work WAY yummier than the boxed ones. She provides dinner menus for the week, recipes, and grocery lists which include pricing and pantry staples you might or might not already have. Best of all, in my opinion, the recipes are very ‘normal’. Nothing too gourmet or fancy, just basic cooking.

avatar SourAaron

Ahh – one of my favorite topics. I should write about it more. Keys to a lower bill:

1.) No, or very little prepared food. Once you make cooking a hobby you enjoy, you will find most of your shopping consists of the part of the store on the edges (the meat and produce department), with a small amount in the middle picking up rice, lentils, or other specialty items.

2.) Make cooking an activity that you do with your SO – combining SO time with cooking time.

3.) Use the downtime while you are cooking (as in, between the time you start boiling water and the time you insert whatever you are boiling) – to do your dishes… make it a game to have all but the dishes that you eat from done by the time the meal is served.

4.) Plan the entire menu for the week before you shop. Sorry. I know it is a pain in the ass, but believe me, it will save you tons of money. For added fun, predict how much each item will cost on the grocery list you generate from the meal plan, and have fun beating the estimates.

5.) If you have an ethnic market around you area, check it out! Sometimes, places like that will have produce or meat for about 1/2 of what you get in a major chain.

6.) Don’t shop at Whole Paycheck… I mean Whole Foods. Ever.

7.) Try getting your dry goods at Walmart, and getting your fresh food at an ethnic grocer. Using that kind of split store strategy, I get an extra 10% savings.

8.) Brands are for suckers most of the time.

9.) Leftovers are for lunch. Keep your portion size down at dinner and you will have adequate leftovers of whatever you are eating. Think of the cash you save…

10.) Take the money you save and use it towards something you really value, to give yourself motivation to be that disciplined.

I feed a family of 4 on about $50 per week, sometimes less, and that includes a healthy diet of fresh vegtables, meat, and good homemade food, using the above rules. No coupon clipping at all (could probably get it down to $45 or so if I did).

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