“Laughter is brightest in the place where the food is.” – Irish proverb
How to Shop Within a Budget
The average household does not have a lot of extra income kicking around. For most, that means budgets – bills, groceries, transportation, personal use items, gas etc … Living pay check to pay check is the new normal for many urban dwellers, so learning to stretch our resources is a necessary skill to learn.
But this state of affairs does not need to be all doom and gloom. Learning a few tricks to grocery shopping can save you loads of money. Eating a well-balanced diet is essential for maintaining good health, so buying good food is a necessity.
Being organized in the kitchen is a great place to start. If possible, it is easier on your grocery budget to do one big shop once per week. This requires planning. Decide what day will be your grocery day and stick to it. Choose a day that fits best with your schedule and give yourself plenty of time to clean out the fridge and sort your food properly when you get home.
Start by taking a look in the pantry, freezer, fridge and cupboards to see what you can use in your meal planning for the week. Then think about some of the meals (or all of them) that you would like to make. Better yet – write them down!
Make a grocery list of items that you need for your meals for that week only. Need help? Try this easy grocery list app for your smart phone: Buy Me a Pie! is free and provides tips and help to organize your grocery list.
Be sure to include all beverages and snacks as well. Sometimes, this skill and assessment of what you actually need and use takes a few weeks to figure out. But most people understand their family’s eating patterns well. This may be a big transition to some who buy groceries more than once per week.
Set a budget for the week and be prepared to improvise if a food item is not available or too costly.
At the Supermarket
Always start in the fresh produce section at your favourite place to buy fruits and vegetables. Learn to stop and look at the colourful array of nature’s best before you. Most foodies feel a rush of adrenaline in this section. Your mind will explode with great ideas for meals.
Be prepared to buy more veggies and fruit than other items since these foods add greater value to your health than packaged or dry goods.
Purchase produce that’s in season whenever possible. These foods are often lower in price and fresher.
Since you’re only shopping for food for the week ahead, it is best to select fresh meat (not frozen or canned) that does not have an early expiry date. Keep in mind however, that uncooked meat should not stay in the fridge for more then 5 days. So plan to either freeze some of it, or prepare non-meat dishes in the latter part of the week.
Look for larger quantities of meat that you can separate into more than one meal. This is often more economical. Check out local butchers whenever possible since often prices are better (you’re not paying for packaging) and the meat may be fresher.
Freshly baked bread is usually less expensive then packaged (sliced) breads and often free of preservatives. Look for breads that freeze well as it keeps fresher longer when thawed. Hint: you may wish to slice your bread before freezing it then thaw what you will need for each meal.
Store brands, or generic labels, are usually comparable in ingredients to name brands. Be careful that the store brand is not more expensive than the name brand however.
Don’t skimp on beverages, eggs or treats. That’s right – you did read ‘treats’. Think about it.. if your family has snack items and treats available at home, they are less likely to go to the local pizza shop when they want a treat!
Finally, start collecting coupons. You will be amazed at how much you can save when you start cashing them in. Browse the flyers (and the internet) before you head out to buy groceries and keep your coupons next to your cash. Stay organized.
You might also consider buying groceries at more than one supermarket. Often times, local markets or Asian food stores have better prices (and fresher quality) than chain grocers. I can share with you personally that we have cut our grocery bill by at least 20% since shopping at the local Asian food store for our fresh produce. Don’t be afraid to try something new – your taste buds will be pleasantly surprised.
Getting Your Groceries Home and Put Away
Be prepared with extra freezer bags so you can separate larger quantities of meats into meal-appropriate sizes.
Place your vegetables in the crisper neatly and visibly so you can see them. If you buy fresh herbs, take them out of the packages and into a tall cup partly filled with water before placing them in the fridge. This method helps keep your herbs fresh longer.
Organize food items for each larger meal when possible. Large freezer bags come in handy to separate items you will need for your meals. For busy professionals, cooking a meal after a long day at work should be kept as simple as possible.
Prepare salads, sauces and stews ahead of time (how about on grocery day?) in large quantities for side dishes and additions to the meals you’re planning for the week. You will be amazed how much time and effort this saves.
Want more food for thought? Check out advice from a celebrity chef. Share your grocery shopping secrets with us here at Foodies Galore.
Love your food – love your health.