Recently, Kacie over at Sense to Save posted an online challenge asking bloggers to recap their grocery shopping methods. I really liked the idea, and figured it might be good for blog transparency purposes. (A.k.a. Do I walk the walk?) Also, I’m secretly hoping someone out there has a better system, and is willing to share.
So first, here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how I USED to buy food:
1) Become hungry. This part was simple. It usually involved moving, speaking, or watching an Olive Garden ad. (Curse you, unlimited breadsticks. CURSE YOU.)
2) Go to nearest bodega/supermarket/insanely expensive coffee shop. I live within a one-block radius of three delis, a supermarket, and a KFC. In the old days, I’d cruise over to any one of these and pick up whatever tickled my fancy (which was everything).
3) Buy whatever I want to eat. Price was no object.
4) Shovel food into gaping maw. Fat/calorie/preservative content was no object.
5) Lament lack of funds and ever-expanding tuchus. This part generally involved a lot of self-loathing and vows to never eat again. Needless to say, the pledges didn’t stick, and I was back at Step 1 pretty dang fast. Why, hello there, vicious, self-perpetuating circle of poor eating habits! My name is Kris.
My old method lacked forethought, concern for my health, and any discernable spending strategy. These days, it’s different. I cook. I plan meals a week in advance. I study nutrition labels like I’m being tested later. And while the following process may seem a tad time-consuming, I promise it’s not. Half of it happens in my head before pen is ever set to paper. I:
1) Take stock. What food do I need more of? What am I okay with for another month? Why the crap do I have 128 ounces of chicken breast? This step ensures I know what’s already on hand, so I don’t go buying a ninth pound of poultry.
2) Plan ahead. Which holidays are coming up? Birthdays? What foods should I be on the lookout for? If it’s close to Thanksgiving, butter, onions, or sparkling cider are good bets. For the Super Bowl, chips and beer are the order of the day. Prepping for celebrations this way has saved me a ton of dough.
3) Gauge moods. What are The Boyfriend and I craving? What have we OD’d on lately? (A.k.a. Is it possible to consume too much spaghetti?) By checking our appetites before I set out, I avoid guessing and extraneous purchases while shopping.
4) Consider the blog. What can I make for Monday and Friday? Do I have a backup in case something goes terribly, terribly wrong? (See: Teriyaki Sweet Potatoes.)
5) Make a preliminary list. Based on the previous five steps, what are the foods I absolutely have to buy, whether or not they’re on sale? Here’s a recent prelim list, from the week I made Curried Sweet Potato Stew:
- Veggies (peppers, mushrooms, etc.)
- Snack dip
- At least four sweet potatoes
- Brown lentils
7) Record good deals in a price book. JD at Get Rich Slowly has the definitive post on these guys. (Go! Look now! Then come back.) They’re KEY to scoring deals and keeping track of cost cycles over the course of a year.
8) Research recipes. Is pork going on mega-sale? Will broccoli never hit $0.88/lb again? If there’s a solid discount item (or items), I’ll plan a recipe around it and note whatever else I need.
9) Make a master list. Ultimately, what do I want to buy? Based on all the previous steps, I create a final shopping document complete with brand names and prices. (That’s making it way more complex than it sounds. Really, it’s a piece of notebook paper.) When I hit the aisles, I don’t deviate from my plan.
10) Eat. What will tide me over while I shop? This strategy is all over personal finance blogs, and for good reason. It keeps my impulse M&M purchases WAY, way down.
11) Grab my canvas tote. It’s pretty! And environmentally sound! (But mostly pretty.)
12) Find my keys. I lose them a lot.
13) Shop. I hoof it, so my final haul depends entirely on A) my upper body strength at the time, and B) what can be crammed into my fridge. With four people sharing it, space is at an extreme premium.
And that’s it. All told, I blow about two hours and $45 each week (including walking time) on planning and shopping for a pair of people. Compared to Crystal and Keren, it looks like amateur night at the Apollo. But it’s much better than before, and I’m still working on it. Specifically, I’m trying to better these areas:
1) Coupons. The online databases are useless for my zip code and most coupons are for convenience products, which I tend to eschew anyway. (Also, I’m lazy. Oh, so very lazy.) Nonetheless, I know they CAN be a boon, and resolve to start a collection.
2) CVS/Target/Walgreens deals. While CVS and Walgreens are pretty far away and the Brooklyn Target is legendarily insane, it’s worth braving all three for the discounts.
3) Eating less meat. The Boyfriend and I thrive on poultry. (If God’s a chicken, we’re kinda screwed.) It’s comparatively thrifty and can be cooked 14,000,000 different ways. Yet, legumes, veggies and starches are cheaper. If I can ease Chicken Provencal out of our diets, it could make a big dent in the budget.
So, all you readers out there – how do you shop? What improvements have you made in your system? What’s your best grocery tip? Our operators are waiting for your call. (Translation: comments are open.)
(Photos courtesy of Flickr members Tortuga One, and Neato Coolville)