Valuing time and carefully evaluating how we invest it is one cultural trait that is unmistakably American. With fast and frozen foods taking over the world - or at least the average American stomach - it would appear that cooking rarely ranks on the "this is worth my time" priority list. Yes, there's extra effort that goes into cooking, but it doesn't have to be overwhelming.
Last week I talked about how to ease the burdens of "extra shopping" and "extra planning" that go into eating well on a regular basis. This time around, I'd like to throw out some ways to make the "extra expense" portion look a little less intimidating.
Give yourself a food budget.
Keep track of your average grocery expenditures for a few months, then create a budget that you'll do your darndest not to exceed each month. You can also make a budget by taking one trip to the grocery store, then multiply the total on your receipt by 4.3.
Be a sale whore.
You don't have to go all "Extreme Couponing" on the sales clerks, but gravitate towards sales. For instance, as much as I love fresh berries, I don't by strawberries unless they're well under $3 per pound. You may not always get exactly what you want exactly when you want it, but you'll be saving yourself money.
Experiment with store brands.
Sometimes, they're just as delicious as name brands. Sometimes, they're just plain nasty. Find store brand items you like and you could end up saving quite a bit.
Do clip coupons.
Again, no need to get all extreme and OCD on the poor grocery store employees, but looking through the P&G and RedPlum inserts in the Sunday paper is just a smart way to save money. Also, look online for coupons discounting items you frequently use - did you know that Target has an entire coupons section on their website? Many manufacturers also offer exclusive online coupons.
Eat before you shop, and bring a list.
Both of these things will help limit impulse buys (e.g. not
buying on the "oooh, I'm starving and that looks delicious!" principle) and
therefore keep your grocery bill down. Bringing a list will also make sure you're
not wasting money on gasoline when you have to run back to the store twice more
because you keep forgetting things. If paper lists aren't your style, apps like OurGroceries are a great organizational option for your iPhone or Android.
Use one of the little carts.
Quite simply, you'll have less space to feel compelled to fill.
Shop at big box stores like Sam's Club or Costco.
These can be great places to score a deal on anything you might be shopping for, but the key is to have a pretty clear idea of what you'd typically be paying in the grocery store so you can compare prices and pick the better one. For instance, I was slightly disappointed on the Costco cereal aisle, because a two-bag box of Special K was $7, whereas I could regularly get it on sale for $2.59 at the grocery store.