Per a request from a friend, I’m posting an updated article I wrote back in August 2010 for Suite101.com. After they closed up shop, this article came back to me…there is some solid advice here for grocery shopping on a budget. Not necessarily just for writers, but totally appropriate for anyone living on a budget.
If payday is a week away and there is only a few dollars in the bank, how can those few dollars be stretched to make ends meet? A lot of preparation and a little know-how will ensure that there are tasty and satisfying meals on the dinner table. Hey, I’m Darlene. My mom was a chef. I grew up with one foot in the kitchen…my first job was in a restaurant as a salad girl. Since then, I’ve done everything from barista to sous chef. I’d like to share a few insider tips with you.
Preparation for Budget Shopping
Get ready to plan the shopping. I hate planning, but with this topic, it must be done. If you’re like me, get a type-A friend to help you. This step will take as much, if not more time than the shopping trip. But spending an hour at home figuring out what you have and what you want will ensure that purchases are what is needed. First, take a look at what is already in the pantry. Then, collect the grocery fliers, coupons, and a pad of paper and a pen. Drink a cup of tea and let’s go.
Take into account the items you have on hand. There may be a bottle of olives that could be made into a tapenade, or a can of cream of mushroom soup from the last sale. For example, if you find a tin of salmon, it could easily be made into delicious salmon cakes by adding an egg and bread crumbs. Use what you have and plan your shopping list around what’s in the cupboard. By using what is on hand, the budget can be stretched further. Mom taught us not to waste – to use everything, even if it’s just a half-jar of sundried tomatoes or jam. Another tip: a simple, yet filling appetizer can be made with toast, a clove of garlic, a tomato, salt and olive oil. Bruschetta anyone?
Stick to staples. Buy only what you need at the time it will be eaten. A bag of split peas can only be beneficial if you eat them. Go online and search for “cheap eats,” or “frugal recipes.” Some of the coolest recipes I’ve found are in old copies of pioneer cookbooks my mom collects. Don’t be afraid to search for strange things – like pioneer foods. They were totally aware of essentials, and some of the recipes are the foundation of what we eat today.
Sample shopping list:
1 bag carrots, 1 bunch green onions, 1 celery stalk, 1 head lettuce, 1 sweet onion, 1 clove garlic, 2 tomatoes, 1 bag potatoes, 1 dozen eggs, 1 package ground meat or frozen chicken, 1 loaf bread, 1 bag of rice or 1 bag egg noodles, 1 can green beans, cheese, milk.
Shop in Season, Shop Locally
It sounds so simple…and we hear it everywhere. But shopping seasonally at your local farmer’s market or grocery store will help you save money on shipping and handling. I live in Washington where I can count on my local farmers to have seasonal apples and other products. Warning: you have to shop around – availability and prices fluctuate. If you have a local bread store that has an outlet, go there. I know our local Franz’s outlet has vegan bread at cheap prices for lactose-intolerant people. Also by purchasing straight from the growers and makers, the middle man is cut out. A head of lettuce may be $1 for two at a farmer’s market, but $1 at a grocery store. I also stock up on corn when it’s at the farmer’s market – they often have huge deals.
Rewrite Your List
The first draft is for dreaming and the second draft is for eating. Edit the items on the grocery list. Compare the list with the coupons and the fliers and make the necessary adjustments. Rewriting the list will ensure you consider the angles. Remember to take taxes into account when totaling. I always leave myself a little wiggle room in case I find a good deal.
Budget Shopping Time
Time to shop. Take the list to the grocery store and stick to the perimeter whenever possible. That is where the freshest food is. Going into the aisles only when necessary will help avoid temptation.
A great tip is to bring your own reusable grocery bags. Fred Meyer issues a 5-cent savings for each of the reusable shopping bags you bring. It saves money and does a good deed for the Earth.
Shopping while on a budget can be difficult, but with a few tips and a bit of preparation anyone can make meals that will satisfy and stay within budget.