Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Waste Not Wednesday: Smart Grocery Shopping (sans coupons)

Yup, that's right.
I want to talk about smart grocery shopping without using coupons.
The truth is there are some of us (*raises hand*) that just aren't designed for coupon-ing.  My brain doesn't really work that way (maybe it's the part about keeping track of all those little pieces of paper?  I'm not sure exactly...), and honestly, you need to allot extra time for it (instead of, oh say, blogging, for instance).  I thought maybe -- just maybe -- there are other people out there who, like me, have found some success shopping smartly without the use of coupons.

I'll share my tips below for saving time, money, and energy while grocery shopping.  After you read (by now surely you've learned the routine), be sure to share your own tips and tricks.  If you ARE an avid coupon-er, please share with us how you got started and the best ways to do it.

Rachel's Tips for Smart Grocery Shopping Sans Coupons

1) Choose a Store and Stick to It!

Choose one grocery store to do all your main shopping, and get to know it like the back of your hand.  I like to plan out my grocery lists so that I can go in and follow the list aisle-by-aisle.  This saves me time in two ways:  on the planning side, it helps me organize my needs better (which means the list gets finished faster), and on the shopping side, all I have to do is follow the list (instead of wondering which aisle the ^insert random rarely-needed item here^ is down).

Another bonus for choosing one grocery store is you can save the receipts and know what everything costs.  In other words, your budgeting will be more precise in the future, which brings me to...

2) Set a Budget and Stick to It

Decide on an exact amount that you can spend each month on groceries and don't go over it.  If you find yourself running out of food towards the end of the week, you start to get creative.  If you add up the grocery list (this is where those old receipts come in handy) and you're over budget, start to think about what exactly you can skip for the week.  Sometimes it makes me go back to the cupboard and think of how I can use those cans of tuna instead of buying extra chicken for the week, and sometimes it makes me really question if I need those granola bars for the week.

Some grocery stores have budget-helpers online.  You can create your entire grocery list before going in, and see exactly how much it is without the "trouble" of adding it up yourself.  I'm an old-school, pen-and-paper kind of gal, but I used one of these online resources when buying food in intentional community, and it saved us a lot of time and energy.

3) Buy Second-Best

Okay, so we all know that fresh is best, right?  But sometimes those of us on a tight budget (read: single ministry income) can't afford the luxury of getting fresh produce all the time.  But I really love eating healthy and so I found a way around it.  We buy what we think we need to buy fresh (for us that's lettuce, onions, carrots, apples, bananas (sometimes), etc.), but then the rest we buy frozen.  Usually all of our dinner veggies are frozen (broccoli, asparagus, stir fry, etc.).  We also indulge in frozen fruit (frozen mangoes and berries are a delicious treat.  I also freeze bananas when I see they are starting to turn bad so we don't have to throw them out.). 

4) Eat Less/Enjoy Leftovers!

In other words, practice mindful eating.  Put portions onto a plate (maybe even a smallish plate), eat with other people at a dinner table, and wait at least 20 minutes before taking a second helping.  You may be surprised at how many leftovers are available in the coming weeks.

I like to make a big crockpot meal one week, freeze the leftovers, and then put said leftovers into the meal plan a few weeks later.

Another aspect to mindful eating is to snack thoughtfully.  Before grabbing that extra granola bar or apple, really consider if you're actually hungry, or just mindlessly snacking.

5) Meal Plan

If you haven't started already, be a meal planner.  We plan our meals for two weeks in advance, including leftover nights (yes, we even "meal plan" our breakfasts and lunches).  This helps us buy only what we need and nothing more.  By the time two weeks is over, we definitely need to shop, because we're usually scrounging around for food (but this also helps us dip into our random food stuff we have way back in the cupboard).

Meal planning two weeks in advance is also a bonus when someone unexpectedly invites you over for a meal, because then you have an extra meal that you can use for the following two weeks.

6) Stay Flexible

If you notice something is on sale at the grocery store, jump on it.  It helps to have a few go-to, simple recipes lodged away in your brain.  Or if you are venturing slightly over-budget for the week, try to see if you can switch a recipe up (Does it really need the lemon?  Do you really need to buy that extra spice?  What can you actually do without?).

What are your tips for smart grocery shopping?

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