You know the drill. You walk into the grocery store with a long list and a finite budget. The last thing you want to do is spend two weeks’ worth of grocery money on one week of food. But prices these days make it ever more challenging to stay within a budget. What’s a smart shopper to do?
1. Make a list and check it twice
Lists are tremendous money savers. Begin by thinking in terms of meals. Before I head to the store, I scribble out ideas for two weeks of dinners. Half the meals are family favorites: cheesy chicken enchiladas, creamy potato soup, and pasta carbonera are regulars. I then thumb through cookbooks and fill the rest of the two weeks with new and interesting-sounding recipes.
Once I’ve decided what we’ll be eating for the next couple weeks, next I write down the ingredients that I lack for those recipes. I skim recipes, check the pantry, dig through the freezer, and check my cupboards, making sure that everything I’ll need is either in my kitchen or on my grocery list. Once I have all the dinner ingredients written down, I add the items we typically use for breakfast and lunch, as well as goodies to make baking possible.
2. Go to the store less often
When you run out of something, write it on your grocery list. But don’t race to the store the instant your list gets an item or two on it. Every trip to the store is a temptation to impulse-buy. So I challenge myself to go just a day or two longer between shopping trips. We live 20 minutes from the store. The other day when I didn’t want to run to the store just for hamburger buns, I made my own fresh homemade rolls.
3. Expand the list of things you can make yourself
Did you know that you can easily make your own granola? Homemade white sauce takes 5 minutes to make and costs a fraction of a can of cream soup. Homemade salad dressing is equally fast and will save you a cool $2. Not bad for a 5 minute time investment. Even better if it saves you a trip to the store where you would potentially spend much more on impulse buys. Learning to make just one item per week will consistently give you more money in your pocket. Remember, it’s not only this week’s new recipe that will save you money. Gradually learning to make a variety of things for yourself will make your savings snowball.
4. Stock up when prices hit rock bottom
And I mean REALLY stock up. Last October I bought enough ground beef on sale to last til February, which effectively extended that October sale for months, for me anyway. Around Christmas time I put lots of $1.50/lb butter in the freezer, enough to make baking more affordable all winter for us.
5. Don’t be afraid to try new recipes
To earn a repeat appearance in my kitchen, a recipe needs to be tasty, easy to cook, and have ingredients that are affordable and easy to find. Don’t overlook ethnic food. I’ve found Chinese, Mexican and Ethiopian food to be both affordable and delicious. This West African Peanut Chicken is a good example. And here’s another bonus: ethnic grocery stores often have great prices on things like spices, sesame oil, coconut milk, and specialty pasta.
6. Remember WHY you want to save money
I developed my money-saving strategies so that I could stay home with my kids. You may be dreaming of finding enough extra cash to pay off a car or take a cruise or have another baby. Keeping your goals clearly in mind will make it easier to do the little daily things that will move you towards that goal!