Cheap Thrills: How to Grocery Shop like a Pro
June 7, 2011 § 2 Comments
It’s week three of our food-themed Cheap Thrill Tuesdays, and today we’re talking grocery shopping. Exciting stuff, no?
I’m not claiming to be the best grocery shopper out there, by any means. My friend Aaron, for example, is clever enough to get most of his food for free. My friend Jeremy used to be a full-on dumpster diver, using the perfectly good produce and boxed goods stores often throw away. Here in Portland, we are surrounded by folks who grow all their own food, or shop exclusively at the farmer’s market, or coupon their way into $6 food-spending weeks. I’m not any of those people.
However, Favorite and I are firm believers in doing as much as you can do, when you can do it. When it comes to food, for us that means buying local, fresh, and organic as often as we can to the extent that we can afford, buying only what we actually plan to use, and trying to avoid overly processed anythings and high fructose corn syrup. Usually, we do pretty well – not incredibly well, or inspirationally well, but pretty well. Well enough that I’m proud of the food we eat and the amount we spend on it.
Which brings me to today’s Cheap Thrill dare: I’m going to list for you my 5 favorite grocery shopping tips, and next time you go to the store, I dare you to implement all of them. If you aren’t already doing these things, you’ll save money. If you are, I’d love to hear what else you do to save and shop responsibly… I’ll take all the advice I can get. Here you go:
GoC’s Favorite Frugal w/ a Conscience Grocery Shopping Tips
(world’s most cumbersome title)
1. Make a list. Marry the list. STICK TO THE LIST. This does involve a little bit of planning, but is by far the best way to avoid getting sucked in by marketing ploys and cheap chips and oooo doesn’t that licorice look delicious! The only time I deviate from this rule is if it conflicts with rule #3. Rule #3 trumps this rule. But that’s your only excuse. This means you.
2. Start your shopping in the bulk section. Anything that’s on your list that can be purchased here, especially spices or nuts, can usually be found for a significantly lower price if you buy it in bulkland. Added bonus: you can get the amount you need. Need half a cup of pecans for a salad? You can get just half a cup, and avoid having a half empty jar of pecans sitting around for the rest of your life. And you only pay for half a cup. Brilliant. Don’t be scared. You won’t turn into a hippie just because your spices are in plastic baggies instead of jars. You will become one if you start bringing reusable plastic baggies to refill. And I’ll hug you.
3. Check your brand loyalty at the door. You’ll note I didn’t say “Check your conscience at the door.” I believe that, whenever possible, the natural, organic, ethically sourced, healthier choice is the better one. But if you’re buying mascara, and L’Oreal has a $2 off coupon (which they do, now, at Fred Meyer) and Revlon is full price, it’s time to try a new mascara. Same goes for things in a can, or bags of chips, or bread, or beer, or juice… branch out, try something new, get the one that’s on sale! And if you find something on your list that you love, that isn’t perishable or can be frozen, and it’s half off or something wild, stock up for crying out loud. No harm in having an extra jar of pickles if you know you go through two jars a month. Way to go on that, by the way. That’s a lot of pickles.
4. Pick your produce strategically. This is total common sense, but I never really did it until very recently. If you’re buying bananas (I am always buying bananas) and you’re planning to eat one tomorrow and one next Monday, it doesn’t make sense to grab a bunch of green bananas. Your banana tomorrow is going to suck. Find a bunch of ripe ones and a bunch of green ones and take three of each! No one has yelled at me for breaking bananas apart thus far. If you do get in trouble, blame me. You can give them this blog address. I’ll take the fall for you. Apply this principle to avocados, tomatoes, apples, etc. (The only downside of this rule is it results in a serious decline in banana bread baking. Which is sorta tragic.)
5. Eat seasonally, and buy real food. If you have a local farmer’s market, this is an especially good rule, as fruits and veggies that are in season are often cheaper at the farmer’s market than they are at the grocery store. Not even kidding. Supply and demand, my friends. Get in on produce while the getting is good – it’s more affordable, loads kinder to the planet (no shipping in strawberries from some tropical locale in January), and it usually tastes a whole lot better. And while you’re keeping an eye on what’s in season, you’ll be more likely to buy whole foods – foods that look like they did when God made them, foods that come from a source you can identify, foods that would make Jamie Oliver proud. You’re saving money and eating well. Way to go, you!
There you have it. They aren’t life-altering, rocket-sciencey, mind-warping tips, but they are darn good things to keep in mind as you shop, and ones that are all to easy to forget about.
What are your favorite frugal/responsible/ethical shopping tips?