Grocery Shopping for the Cheap and Lazy

By Andrea Karim on 6 August 2008 (Updated 9 May 2010) 56 comments
Photo: Groceries

With all due respect to my fellow Wise Bread bloggers, I hate grocery shopping. I also hate making lists. I loathe budgets and I despise meal planning. Working out a menu for the week makes me want to stab a chopstick through my eye. In short, most tips for saving money on groceries either don't apply to me, or I don't want them to apply to me.

Nothing is more depressing than sauteeing up a bunch of veggies and chicken and then packing 3/4 of it into Tupperware for the next few days' lunches. I'm sure some people handle this with aplomb, but I don't. Since I don't have a partner or children, I'm just not inclined to make meals a very central part of my day. I've got other stuff to do — work, hobbies, exercising, travel...it's rare that I want to take time to plan meals. I'm busy, I'm single, and I'm incredibly lazy.

The result of my lack of enthusiasm for cooking alone is that I tend to eat out frequently. Why it would be any less depressing to eat directly from the Chinese take-out containers than from my own plates is anyone's guess. But the vast majority of my misspent money used to go to take-away food. I'd estimate that I could easily drop $250 a week on meals. I probably still spend more on meals than some other people, but I like to think that I save a bundle compared to what I would spend if I were still ordering in pizza every couple of nights.

Anyway, if you are like me, and you don't like cooking all by your lonesome, but recognize that dining out is hurting your budget, here are some grocery shopping tips for saving time and money (and eating well!) that don't involve list-making.

1. Shop for dinner every day, if that's what it takes

If the idea of going in a big grocery shop once a week makes you want to crawl under the table and hide, you're not alone. Sometime planning for a week's worth of meals is enough to make one's head explode. Some people like to decide what they are going to eat a few minutes before they eat it. In fact, going out and buying a bunch of food all at once is a uniquely North American experience (albeit one that is catching on elsewhere). When I lived abroad, I bought my groceries every day. A trip to a tiny market with a dirt floor would yield a couple of farm fresh eggs, fresh milk, some potatoes, and a bunch of garlic tops. I got so used to shopping that way, buying a few things every day and eating them within 24 hours, that I have trouble dealing with the American method of shopping in big batches.

Allow yourself to shop like a European, if need be. On your way home from work, stop by the store and purchase enough food for the next meal or two. Wear a beret if that helps. But make sure to buy simple, basic ingredients — nothing ridiculously fancy or processed — because even the French agree that simplicity is better. Also, keep stocked up on the basics: salt and pepper as well as some oils, vinegar, mustard, and maybe milk and eggs, if you eat them enough. That way, you can rotate the fresh ingredients in as you like and still have some basic foods to back it all up.

2. Redefine "meal"

The idea that a meal consists of a medium-sized hunk of meat, a bland starch, and some kind of green veggie is a very Anglo-American concept, and it really isn't the gospel of nutrition. The truth is that you don't have to eat meat at every meal. You don't even HAVE to eat veggies every day.

There are people who scoff that pasta is "college food," but I disagree. Pasta is how people all over the world survive on a day-to-day basis. Oh, sure, a lot of rice gets eaten in the warmer regions, but bread and pasta make up the bulk of calories throughout much of northern China, Mongolia, and the rest of Central Asia. I see absolutely no shame in eating pasta several nights in a row. Yeah, I like to change it up a bit (marinara one night, spinach and pesto the next), but pasta is a time-honored food item that's easy to dress up to suit your tastebuds.

On a similar note, there's nothing wrong with eating a sandwhich for dinner; peanut butter and jelly is nutritious, delicious, and cheap. Pancakes and eggs make an amazing dinner. There is absolutely no need to define your meal around what Tyson has taught us is the "ideal supper." It's not that I never have a more traditional American meal — it's just that I don't center my dining around the concept of it. THAT would involve planning, and I'm just too tired at the end of the day to create a perfectly plated meal.

My favorite dinner is usually a hunk of sesame baguette, a few slices of fresh cheese, a handful of herbs from my garden, and a glass of red wine. The dinner is simple to prepare, since all I have to do is slice the cheese and wash the herbs. The bread is good the next morning when made into French toast with cinnamon, and also good at lunch, when I make it into a baguette with some lunch meat or almond butter and honey. None of those meals totals more than $5 and all of them are simple.

The best meals often revolve around one really good fresh ingredient (such as fresh carrots doused with lemon juice, crushed fresh mint, and sea salt) that are enjoyed with minimal adornment. The beauty of seasonal eating that is you get to really enjoy fresh flavors and make them the center of attention, rather than, say, steak or chicken breast. Also, when you are young and single and have no one to impress...THAT is the time to bake an apricot tart and eat it every night with ice cream for few days. The time for perfectly-roasted chicken and kid-friendly meals is later. Enjoy singlehood and the freedom that comes with it while you can.

People frequently complain that buying food at the farmer's market is expensive. This is true — if you go to the market with a traditional meal in mind, you're going to leave having spent at least $60 on a couple of grass-fed steaks, a head of kolrabi, and some squash flowers. The thing is, you don't have to buy "the perfect balanced meal" at the farmer's market — sometimes fresh beets roasted with olive oil on top of a salad of fresh greens is the best dinner you can ever have. Nevermind that it lacks protein. You can make it up later.

3. Don't buy large quantities if you aren't going to use them

I've tried, on a number of occasions, to get into the Costco Mindset. I'll renew my memberhip, and stock up on all kinds of stuff that I believe will feed me for a month. And after cooking for one or two days, I get extremely tired of it all, and start going out for Italian or ordering in pizza. Then, two years later, I'll have to haul out that bag of frozen jumbo scallops, or giant rib roast, and throw it all away due to extreme freezer burn.

The fact of the matter is, I hate Costco, and I avoid it with all my might. I despise having the checker at the door read over my list and highlight my receipt. I hate struggling with large boxes of olives and granola bars. I can't stand lugging it all inside and trying to find space in my townhouse for 40+ rolls of toilet paper and 20 cans of tuna. So, finally, after years of trying to force myself to like it, I've decided that I'm just not going to go to Costco anymore.

Down the street from my house is a small grocery store that is well-known for its wine collection. They have normal produce, average everyday items, and some local goodies, like freshly baked bread from a Seattle bakery and cheese from Beecher's. They also have the occasional wild deal on something fabulous, like a carton of fresh, shelled crab meat for $4. Yes, things are a bit more expensive than at Safeway, but the bonus is that I get to walk rather than drive, I know the employees, and I'm not exhausted by the sheer size of the place. Like many people, I get overwhelmed by choice. I really enjoy shopping somewhere with only, say, three brands of stewed tomatoes rather than ten.

I want the convenience of being able to walk in, grab a basket, and ten minutes later, walk out having spent $10 on enough food to feed me for two or three meals, but no more.

Forget the idea of "bulk" if it doesn't fit with your lifestyle. It honestly doesn't matter if, dollar for pound, Costco saves you money. If you're not going to use it, it's a waste of money AND food.

4. If you do make a shopping list, be flexible

The problem with lists is that you will occasionally find yourself buying something on your list simply because it is on your list, even though a suitable alternative might be cheaper. Stay away from recipes with ridiculously exotic ingredients unless you know if a great Middle Eastern/Indian/Mexican/Thai store in which you can buy galanga root and turmeric really cheap. There's no reason to shy away from trying new things, but if you can't find coconut milk for under $4 a can, ditch the recipe and do something simpler. If limes are cheaper than lemons, buy the limes instead. If the recipe calls for brandy, but you can buy sherry for $2 less, buy the sherry.

5. Don't let anyone tell you that your cooking sucks

If you like the way you cook, that's all that matters for now. I quit cooking for five years after one particularly nasty boyfriend told me that my cooking was not to his liking. What a waste of time and money! I like my cooking. Sure, maybe I use too much salt and vinegar, but hey, it's my palate, and if I want everything to taste like dill pickles, so be it. I'll worry about someone else's palate when the time comes.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

6. If you do cook for several days, cook stuff that will taste good for several days

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are big on salmon. Now, I like salmon a great deal, but it's just not a logical thing for me to cook at home. For one thing, salmon only tastes good for a couple of days after you cook it. I might cook a fillet one night and make salmon salad the next day with the leftovers, but if there's anything left after that, it's for the dogs. I can't stand the smell of three-day-old fish.

When I do set aside time to cook my meals in advance on a Sunday night, I look to things that I know are going to taste great on Thursday morning. For instance, Indian food. Curry is one of the few things that tastes BETTER the day after you cook it. Cooking good Indian food is remarkably simple — the trick is to add more spice and salt than the recipe calls for, to cook dishes long enough, and to add garlic and ginger towards the end of the cooking process, rather than in the beginning (you also don't need to buy curry mixes — most Indian recipes can get by with cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, clove, bay leaf, and coriander, which can all be bought cheaply in the Hispanic food section of most big grocery stores).

I've never been a fan of frozen veggies like beans and carrots, but throw those puppies in a pot of curry, and you have a winner. Eaten with rice or bread of any kind, with a side of yogurt? Heavenly. I like to make three dishes and then eat two of them per meal, changing my starch (rice versus bread) and throwing in a small salad every now and then for some change. Curry is also ridiculously good with eggs in the morning.

Casseroles, if done well, are also a good way to eat one dish over the course of a week. Mashed potatoes are awesome reheated with a little extra milk, or cooked into potato pancakes with the addition of some eggs and chopped onions. Hardboiled eggs can be made into egg salad, deviled eggs, or thrown on top of an impromptu nicoise salad. Remember that a salad is really just a bunch of veggies that you throw in a bowl with some dressing — be inventive. You'd be surpised how good some fresh tomatoes taste with some balsamic vinegar, salt, and a sprinkling of fresh parsley. Fried rice is a perfect way to use up old rice. Do not fear butter. It makes everything better.

6. Beware the perfect shopping experience

I love Whole Foods, and I avoid it like the plague. They make shopping so perfect, so fragrant, so easy and fun. Before I know it, I've spent $10 on an organic melon from Chile and over $40 in the natural haircare section. No more. Trader Joe's is the only "specialty foods" place that I can leave having spent less than I intended to. Those other lovely high-end grocery chains are wonderful, but they are death to my pocketbook, and I know it. That said...

7. Allow yourself that one indulgent item

My favorite little fancy food item is a small jar of mushroom relish that has been soaked with black truffle oil. It packs an earthy punch, and only truffle lovers really enjoy it. I adore it. A teeny weeny jar costs $5 and lasts me two weeks. I consider it a worthwhile investment because every time I open the fridge and see the jar sitting there, I find excuses to eat at home rather than to go out.

If you have a favorite food item that you feel deprived without, buy it every now and then. What's life without caviar?

8. Soups are your friend

Bisque is sophisticated and wonderful, and you will eat less when you start every meal with a soup course. Trust me on this. If it's a hot summer night, a cold cucumber and yogurt soup with dill is just the thing. Saveur magazine recently ran an article about a sour cherry and yogurt soup — how awesome is that? And you could pretty much make that with any slightly tart fruit, like pineapple or nectarines, just by blending in some fresh yogurt and maybe a little salt.

9. Booze is pricey

Carrie said it, and I'll say it again. Wine is pricey. If you indulge regularly, indulge in the cheap stuff. Learn to love wine spritzers (that's where you cut your wine with a sparkling beverage like soda water and lemon juice, or Sprite, if you are feeling lazy). Buying it and drinking it at home is, of course, cheaper than dining out and having a glass of wine, so if you like to drink, that's just another excuse to stay home and make your own meals.

10. SAMMICH!

My dad is a master of weird-ingredient sandwiches. If you handed my dad some form of barbequed flesh and some kind of bread/cracker, within minutes, he will have made the most perfect sandwich in the entire world. Be it open-faced or sub-style, toasted or raw, fish or fowl, my dad has a unique ability to create amazing sandwiches that have the rest of the family drooling. The truth is, sandwiches are very easy to make.

Very few things can go wrong between meat and bread. Whatever else you add to the mix is just gravy — cheese, onions, pickles, sprouts, tomatoes, mustard, herbs, mayo, steamed vegetables, sliced apples, miso, freshly ground black pepper, and I suppose you could technically add gravy. The key is to choose two or three awesome flavors and see where they take you. Sometimes, leftover meat and whatever you can scrape out of the jars in your fridge door can create the most amazing meal.

11. Be ethnic!

Get over your white-ass self and check out a store that specializes in Persian food, or head to that Cambodian store that looks so oddly intriguing from the entrance. It has been noted time and time again here on WB that the cheapest food can be found near immigrant communities, because immigrants work their fingers to the bone and are not about to spend more than $3 on a gallon jar of kimchee, thankyouverymuch.

You don't have to be endlessly adventurous — good tripe isn't that cheap, after all, but consider buying green vegetables and fruit from these stands and markets. You'll be surprised at how much cheaper everything is. Besides, now is the time to figure out whether or not you like tofu skin — trying to feed it to kids ten years from now might not go over so well.

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Guest's picture

Every store I've been to that sells wine has offered the standard 10% discount if I bought 12 bottles, even if it was mix and match! My local Kroger also offers 5% on 6 bottles. I love a glass (ok, more) almost every night, so it's one of the few things I'll stock up on at the store because in the long run, it's definitely cheaper than buying one a day.

/did I just say one whole bottle? umm, maybe I meant one every two days... ;-)

Guest's picture

And her are some suggestions to pick up that will really help boost your health. "20 Foods to Keep the Doctor Away" at http://shanelyang.com/2008/04/10/20-foods-to-keep-the-doctor-away/

Andrea Karim's picture

I'm with you on the wine, Barbara! It's not bad meal-replacement, either.

I kid, I kid. Or DO I?

Guest's picture

cause of yr creative sammy shpeel and you being from seattle:

this pub n ballard called king's hardware has a burger called "the after school special", it's a burger topped with peanutbutter and bacon.

ive a veggie myself, so ive never tried it, but it sounds good. strange, but good!

Guest's picture
A

Finally! An article that reflects the way I shop. I am so glad to know that I am not the only one. And another positive aspect of walking to the slightly more expensive local store--supporting local commerce (my neighbors!).

Guest's picture
Peter

Just an FYI, you are under no legal obligation (unless it's in your membership card agreement, I don't know if it is) to submit to having someone check your receipt on the way out of costco, walmart, best buy, or any other. It's akin to accusing you of stealing and wastes your time. You do not have submit to search without just cause and they must state what that is. That is the policeman's job after they file a complaint saying you've stolen something.

So, if you don't have the time or the patience, just keep walking. If they balk, say you don't have the time. Of course, they may call the police on you. But they have no right to search or detain you. It's the store's problem if their checkout system is flawed, or they don't have surveillance cameras. I know, in practise it's probably more hassle than it's worth, but it's your right and people need to stick up for it ... otherwise in just a few years we'll be stopped and frisked at every store or street corner.

Guest's picture

I believe that the warehouse stores have this written into their membership agreements. You don't have to submit to this treatment in other stores, but I wouldn't be so fast to assume that you don't at BJs, Costco, Sam's, etc. Check the agreement first.

Guest's picture
Guest

Not only do these stores have no right to see your receipt, it can be considered unlawful detention (or your state version of what is basically kidnapping). I told one of those checkers I was leaving and if she touched me I would have her arrested for assault and further charges for unlawful detention. I then advised her manager that she was trying to hold me unlawfully while she searched for a $1.00 bottle of something when I had spent over $150.00. She was moved to another position and the checkers were informed of the law. Oh, BTW, I'm a lawyer and former police officer.

Guest's picture
Guest

A side note here, when you enter a private business facility where the owner has the right the deny you entry, which by the way is a fundamental American privilege of business, then you are consenting to release some expected right to privacy. If it is a policy of that store that your patronage is contingent on ensuring that the items in your cart match your receipt or you don't have something you didn't pay for when the alarm goes off, then sorry but your Fourth Amendment was checked at the door. This does not provide a business the right to search you for no reason, but they can confirm the above mentioned things. It is the same principal as your state demanding you have you a driver's license to be able to drive and having to provide that to a police officer when asked. Your ability to drive is based on your having consented to licensing and producing that license. It is not a right it is a privilege. I am a police officer who by the way is college educated with an undergraduate degree in American Constitutional Law (Political Science) from a major US University. So I speak from first hand knowledge, not street lawyer speculation.

Guest's picture
tannaz

1: this is excellent. i do this 'shopping for produce the day i eat it' thing as much as possible -- otherwise i end up with a fridge full of rotten produce. must admit though -- it does make dinner come a bit later...

2: andrea, you're back writing here? awesome.

3: thanks for the link love.

4: on the wine tip: an idea for making cheap wine very fancy and italian, especially in the summer: buy a bottle of cheap rose, infuse with a few sage leaves for a few hours, chill, serve with a strip of lemon zest in the glass. delicious and lovely and no one will know that the wine cost 3.99.

Andrea Karim's picture

When you sign up for a Costco membership, you consent to the search. However, I'm sure you can still say 'no'. It's not enough to make up for the entire miserable experience for me, anyway. Even if I cruise past the receipt people, I've already spent a good hour inside the store, loathing every minute. :)

Hi, Tannaz! Your blog was totally one of my inspirations for this post, actually. I almost mentioned the sage wine, but wasn't sure how much of your work I should be ripping off!

 

Guest's picture
Alex R.

Hi Andrea,

Thanks for an intriguing post. I like your idea of redefining a meal....just because "breakfast foods" are culturally eaten in the morning doesn't mean you can't have them for dinner and it doesn't mean you couldn't have some turkey from last night for breakfast.

I didn't agree with your focus on pasta. Grains were only introduced into our diets over the last 10,000 years with the beginning of organized agriculture. They are a large part of people's diets today because of the huge subsidies governments give to produce grains and soy.

We have turned America into one giant feedlot. Cows used to roam free and eat grass all day. Grass is a natural source of omega 3's. So meat back for our ancestors actually was a source of omega 3's for us. Now what do we feed our cows...grains (and leftover cow). They do this because it fattens up the cows that much quicker to slaughter size and they can get more beef per cow than they would with more sustainable grazing practices.

A large share of our grain production (and subsidies) goes to feeding the cows. I'm not even going to begin on the environmental problems, energy problems, and costs to water supply these practices have attributed to...Regardless, ever since the government has subsidized corn and soy, our obesity rates are skyrocketing as well. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to put 2 and 2 together when cow +grain = fat and human + grain = fat. Not to mention no omega 3's, instead the pro-inflammatory omega-6 rich in grains.

Be careful who you listen to when you receive nutritional information, lots of lobbying out there....too bad there isn't a large "beet" lobby for that meal you described, or a large "almond" lobby. Ever wonder why grains were so big on the old food pyramid...remember how red meat and dairy fought with their lobbies to stay on the pyramid at 2-3 servings/day......

Our grocery stores are a joke when it comes to food. Shop around the edges, stay away from the aisles as much as you can. Nothing in a box and minimal packaging.... Use the rule of thumb for labels (if the label list is longer than your thumb can cover you probably shouldn't eat it). (if your food can outlive you, you probably shouldn't eat it). ....I could go on and on

Andrea Karim's picture

Thanks for the thoughtful post. I disagree that pasta and grains are that new to the human diet. Wheat was first cultivated during the Neolithic period. My personal love of pasta is long-lived, but it was only once I lived in Western China that I realized how many people get their calories from wheat, be it in noodle or bread form.

I totally understand your complaints about the ways in which we current produce beef. I'm assuming you've read The Omnivore's Dilemma, so I won't lecture you about it, but that's partly why I said you don't have to eat meat every day.

I think corn is a much more loaded grain to discuss, but won't go into it in the comments section. I did talk a bit about the dangers of processed foods, and how it applies to modern obesity in the US, here.

Guest's picture
Guest JC

Wheat may not be new, but the refining process we see in our bread/pasta today most certainly is. Most of those types of products are so refined that nutritionally they are almost unrecognizable from what your great-grandmother ate.

I question your choices from a nutritional angle. It seems that many of your recommendations are along the lines of refined carbs, simple starches, and little protein. PB&J, pancakes, repeated pasta, baguettes, your previous fast food, etc, can have a major impact on people's body composition over time. If you haven't been personally affected yet by the way you've been eating, consider yourself lucky. There's usually more to it than cheap and easy.

Guest's picture
azp74

You say "peanut butter and jelly is nutritious" - are you sure about that? Plenty of fat and sugar there. I would have thought that a salad sandwich, perhaps with a slice of cheese or ham, would be a far, far more nutritious alternative!

Guest's picture
Geri

The messages I am taking form this are

1. Do it my way: cook the food I want, and get it the way I want it - fast with not too much planning or fuss.

2. Take advantage of being single and therefore able to do it my way! One of the biggest pleasures of being single is eating what you want when you want and how you want!

Great post, thanks!

Guest's picture
Hapa reader

Just wanted to mention- for some of us reading this blog "ethnic" food is normal, everyday food! Also, not everyone who reads this blog is white ("Get over your white-ass self"). While I don't expect Wisebread bloggers to acknowledge each and every ethnic group, it's not unreasonable to expect that it is not assumed that all readers are Caucasian.
Perhaps to avoid being construed as ignoring that fact, you might say instead that trying foods from outside of your own culture can lead to some great bargains.

Guest's picture
FrugalZen

I have a large Oriental Market I frequent that has an entire aisle of Ramen style noodles from the cheap 6 bags for 99 cents to much more pricey ones from Japan at $1.39-$1.69 a bag.

Its truly amazing all the flavors and kinds available...I've had noodles from Korea, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Phillipines...the list goes on.

Every one of them is quick to make up in the Nuclear Oven (Microwave..}:~D).

In my experience any Ramen style noodle that costs at least 39 cents or more per package is excellent.

If you want to look at a good website that will help you decipher all the language on the bags go to www.ramenramenramen.net

~ Roland

Andrea Karim's picture

After all, Wise Bread bloggers are diverse, so I assume our readership will be as well. However, I am making the broad assumption that someone who is of non-white descent would have had some exposure to 'ethnic'-style shopping. This might be a mistake, because it's entirely possible that you can grow up as an Asian-American in this country and never set food inside an Asian grocery store.

However, I'm using the term 'white-ass' (and that's a scientific term, btw) to refer to a sense of North American superiority that I've observed among people that I know. I know people who wouldn't set foot inside a Korean grocery store, because they assume that the foods available inside will be to strange or foreign to them. That kind of attitude can exist among people who aren't white, of course, but I consider it largely an upper middle class attitude prevalent among white people (then again, I do know a Korean guy who won't go to an Asian store unless I drag him there for mochi or something).

I apologize if I've given the impression that I consider all my readers white, because I'm well aware that that's not the case. I just thought 'white-ass' was funnier and pithier than 'Get over your American-centric mode of consumption'.

Guest's picture
May

I became a vegetarian in January and that has made my boyfriend and I change a lot about our diet, including adding more soup. Now we tend to make a big soup once a week on the weekend so on days when we don't have the energy to put together a meal, we have something ready made and are less likely to order out. Plus! It's a great easy meal to take to work if we need to.

Guest's picture
Guest

I hate to break it to you, but truffle oil is just olive oil with a synthetic chemical (that is one of the constituents of truffles) added to it.

Guest's picture
Chris

This is a great post! It made me laugh and gave me permission to feel good about my tomato and mozzarella sandwich for dinner habit.

Guest's picture
Peter T

> 1. (...) going out and buying a bunch of food all at once is a uniquely North American experience (...) Allow yourself to shop like a European, if need be. On your way home from work, stop by the store and purchase enough food for the next meal or two.

That sounds like an unmarried European without children. My (German) parents went once a week to a cheap retailer and bought groceries for the family in bulk. They did it in the seventies and they do it today, albeit on a smaller scale. They were and are not alone in doing this.

2. (...) The idea that a meal consists of a medium-sized hunk of meat, a bland starch, and some kind of green veggie is a very Anglo-American concept,

and a German one and Swedish one. I don't know about all of Europe. I agree with you, however, that you don't have to eat meat at every meal and you don't even HAVE to eat veggies every day.

Guest's picture
Pushing30

Andrea, what a fabulous post. I read it several times over and have bookmarked for future reference!

Your line "shop like a European" made me smile. I always feel guilty when I hit the grocery store repeatedly throughout the week. But similarly, I usually only know what I want to have for dinner a few minutes before I eat it. And again, pasta and rice are the staples for amazing dishes, thai, indian, you name it. So I completely agree with you there too.

Honestly, I could probably comment on every paragraph and how great it was but I don't want to take up too much of your time because I hope you will write something more soon!

One last note, moving to a city with no Whole Foods has helped my budget tremendously. Needless to say, I was salivating just thinking about the food there...oh how I miss it!!

Happy Shopping :)

Andrea Karim's picture

#11 - I'd hazard a guess that a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, even without the natural peanut butter and sugar-free jelly that I like to eat, has roughly the same number of calories (or less) than a ceasar salad from a bag.

#20 - You are probably right - with kids, shopping becomes much less frequent, because children are a pain to take to the supermarket. That's why this post was primarily for the single folk.

#21 - Thanks so much! Very kind of you. :)

Guest's picture
K_Swiss

This describes me so well, single with no kids. When I first moved out on my own I ate Chinese food everyday for dinner.....just imagine my monthly food bill because I also ate fast food for lunch. I only buy meats at Costco or Sam's Club and I find it helpful to separate your meat in the gallon size ziplock bags because those bags have enough room to feed one person. So each morning I pull a bag out the freezer depending on what I want to eat. I don't know but it helps me, but there are pluses and minuses to shopping at the warehouse stores even if you are single with no kids.

Guest's picture

Andrea,
This is just a great blog. I'm extremely glad I found it (from MoneyEnergy.com)
Anyways, another great option to save some bucks is to find the nearest Aldi Grocery Store. They can be tough to find depending on where you live, but they have 8800 locations worldwide and they have you about 45% when companed to most local grocery stores.
Best Wishes!

Guest's picture
Hapa reader

Thank you for the clarification. I didn't want to think you had any intention to exclude anyone and your explanation helps a lot. :)

Guest's picture
Guest

Luckily I was able to drag my brown ass away from my job that works me to the bone to read this post. thankyouverymuch

Guest's picture
wildgift

@brownie - :-)

Why couldn't she just say that most ethnic markets have certain ingredients at lower prices?

And a gallon jar of kimchee isn't $3. A little jar is $3! That stuff is expensive, even in Koreatown.

"white" markets have some things at better prices, too. That's why some ethnic people shop around, because they don't want to get jacked by the stores.

If you're lucky enough to live in a diverse area, by all means, shop everywhere. You'll find some different things, and even learn a lot about our country. I once saw a frozen armadillo at an Asian store here -- they were catering to Vietnamese from Texas.

Andrea Karim's picture

Yikes, that's a typo! I meant $23 for a gallon jar of kimchee, which is how much I saw it for recently at one of our larger, more expensive markets.

Guest's picture
Jaems

For those of us with a bit of a touchy metabolism, this can be hard. A focus on protein and loosening the grip on carbs can come at a price. The focus for me has typically been vegetables, meat, and complex carbs. If you are careful you can save money and eat on a low-carb system, just takes some creativity.

Great article though, plenty of helpful tips. All of my friends think I'm nuts for hitting the grocery every day or two, but it's actually relaxing, cost-effective, and fun.

Guest's picture
Ro

I live in an area with tons of Latin American markets--LOVE IT, but we don't have many other ethnic markets. I found that World Market has a lot of pre-made sauces (think Ragu)--Masala, Korma, Jerk--from around the world. So if you are stuck in suburbia with no ethnic markets, check out World Market. ;)

Don't knock Costco. Although not good for food for a lot of single people, Costco, Sam's, and the others are good for toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, tooth brushes, bottled beverages (please recycle), and other products that don't go bad immediately; and buying them there saves you money.

Also, why is everyone so offended by the comment "white-ass"? My black-ass saw it as the author adding humor to her post. Andrea, I get it...

Guest's picture
Suz

of finding the cheapest groceries and buying in bulk. However, my husband and I are currently living in a very small place while we save up some money and it's just not been very practical. Thanks for the great tips on saving money when you can't bulk-buy!

-Suz

Guest's picture
bex

The wife and I dislike grocery shopping and cooking. We use one of the prepare your own meals places (Super Suppers). We don't even prepare our own, but just buy out of the freezer. The ingredients are no worse than what we would buy ourselves and it is generally a "remove top, heat, eat" process. The unit costs gets into the $4/person/meal range.

These places typically have a free tasting at the beginning of the month so you can figure out what you like. They are also good (in our case at least) at making things special (vegetarian, no raisins, etc.)

Note: I do not have any affiliate with Super Suppers other than being a customer.

Guest's picture
Shirley

Visiting from GRS ...

I enjoyed the list. Like you I much prefer to shop at a smaller store nearby. Even though the prices of items are definitely higher, I save more in the long run because I get just what I want and don't end up buying items I don't need or amounts that are too large for us to use before they spoil. And, just today I went grocery shopping and ditched several items on my list due to cost or appearance of the products. Anyway, so much of what you said I agree with! Glad I came over to check you out today.

In re: to Alex's comment and your response--As someone who is gluten intolerant and leads a celiac/gluten intolerance support group, I wanted to point out that while wheat has been around for thousands of years, the wheat of today is significantly different from what our ancestors consumed. It has been genetically selected/modified to the point that today's wheat contains much, much more gluten and has been modified for today's streamlined cultivation practices with high yields as well as for industrialized mega bread making. This wheat is difficult to digest and has harmful effects for many. One in about 133 folks has celiac, the autoimmune, genetic disease that is triggered by the consumption of gluten. 97% of folks with celiac remain undiagnosed. An even greater number have gluten sensitivity and while they do not have the autoimmune condition caused by gluten, their symptoms can be as debilitating and over time if they continue eating gluten, they may develop celiac. Many folks have symptoms of these conditions that have been overlooked or misdiagnosed and 40% of celiacs have no symptoms, but damage is still being done to their bodies. Food for thought for all ... oh, and some of the best supplies I get for gluten-free baking and eating are from the Asian grocery store ... finely ground rice flour and rice pasta. Much lower price and even higher quality than what I can find in the specialty section of the upscale grocery store (most basic grocery stores do not carry these items).

Guest's picture
Harm

I loved your post, too. Sounds a lot like the way I shop
and eat. I get a lot of strange looks when I speak of my
pasta-centric diet, but I love it and it's healthy. I live
in a town with bad grocery stores, and no Whole Foods. I'm
kind of grateful there's no Whole Foods, because otherwise
I'd be 50 pounds heavier and much poorer, LoL.

Guest's picture
partgypsy

I have a love/hate relationship with Costco. I like it for the film processing, they can have good deals on various items like computer/household products, but we way overbuy because everything comes in such large amounts. It encourages overconsumption and divorces one from the enjoyment of browsing picking out the individual ingredients for a single meal. We don't buy paper towels or napkins there as we use cloth. Many of the paper products they stock are worst offenders regarding use of virgin forests and no recycled component, we get our tp delivered from Amazon instead. To my surprise, the wines aren't necessarily a better deal, especially when you consider many stores have the 10% discount with a case. We could save on cereal, frozen and other of items, but as they often only have expensive name brand (versus generic/less expensive alternatives) the savings are not as much as you would imagine.
I like the free samples but I feel like an ugly American when I shop there.

Guest's picture
Raul

I've been eating whatever for whichever meal for as long as I can remember. Very often I'll have breakfast at work, and it'll consist of some chicken pasta from the night before. I get odd looks, but I'm saving some money, and it's still delish!

Guest's picture
Guest

Here is a site that will provide programs on how you can get help paying for bills, and some other tips and advice.
http://www.needhelppayingbills.com

Guest's picture
Guest

Honestly, I'm not trying to be a jerk about this, but TWO HUNDRED FIFTY A WEEK ON FOOD???? At slightly over 300% of the average American's food budget (based on the last US Census data), you seem like the least qualified person to be dispensing savings advice. Not hyperbole... you are probably in the 99th percentile of Americans on food costs.

You are spending $13,000 per year on food which happens to be just 17x the annual income of the average person on Earth. I don't challenge your right to do this of course... I just wonder if you would make the same decisions if you were fully cognizant of the opportunity cost (the other things you could spend that thirteen grand on)

"I like to think that I save a bundle compared to what I would spend if I were still ordering in pizza every couple of nights"

According to this http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Whats_the_average_price_of_a_large_pizza the average price of a large pizza in the USA is $16, which means you can afford 15 of them per week on this budget and still have leftover tipping money.

Andrea Karim's picture

I'm sure there are people who are even less-qualified than I am to dispense advice. There's got to be at least one.

Perhaps you didn't read the actual article, as is the wont with some commenters, but I don't currently spend $250 a week on food. I COULD, but I don't, and I wrote the article to point out how to avoid it if you are a lazy yuppie.  

I'm pretty well aware of what I could do with an extra $13K. Thanks for your concern.

Will Chen's picture
Will Chen

"I'm sure there are people who are even less-qualified than I am to dispense advice. There's got to be at least one."

You called?

Guest's picture
Guest

What about those of us who have horrible intestinal diseases that leave us in the hospital twice a year if we eat veggies and fruits? Anything with fiber is a no no. What if we don't live in an area where there are fresh markets anyhow? There are no ethnic stores here where I live. What about a $250.00 budget for an entire month for two people? I could afford no more than that, and I'm barely making do with that amount. Please tell me what those of us in this situation can do about feeding ourselves healthy and "Non-American like". What if we don't live within a walks length of a store, and could never even imagine affording to relocate? Any answers from anyone on these matters would honestly be appreciated.

Andrea Karim's picture

Thanks for commenting - I'm actually writing up a post on that very subject, so stay tuned. In the meantime, many of our other bloggers have written extensively on how to shop for and cook cheap meals, so check out the following posts:

http://www.wisebread.com/healthy-eating-the-sequel

http://www.wisebread.com/5-ways-to-cut-your-grocery-bill

http://www.wisebread.com/how-i-grocery-shop-0

Guest's picture
Jessica

Ok. Thanks for the offer to help with the $250/mth thing.
I read these articles you posted. The first two are pretty
close to how it is for me already. Now, I like the third one.
That pantry idea is awesome. I haven't done it yet because
I have no money at all right now. You see, I only live off of
$450/mth atm. There are also two of us. We are lucky enough
to have free housing, but it is expected of us that we provide
our own meals. I am in the process of finding as much government
aid as I can. I know it sounds rediculous, but there are reasons
for it all. This is beside the matter though. The main idea here
is figuring out how to budget meals with $250/mth. I really
do not feel that the idea of eating Ramen Noodles for the rest
of my life is a good idea. Lol. Alot of people suggest this. I
believe that would kill you quicker than not eating at all.
Not really but... Now, traveling from store to store shopping
for deals is out of the question. We can barely leave the house
as it is because of gas prices. So it is better to pay that extra
50 cent than to travel 3 more miles up the road. Even worse when
the gas runs out and we have to ask for the ride or borrow a vehicle! This meal thing is really kicking me in the rear though. I am attempting to leave behind the canned kid foods and frozen dinners and try to cook some decent meals. I have a small kitchenette with all of the supplies that I will need to cook, all I need is the food. I suppose a list for two weeks at a time is about the best I can do, since driving any more often than that is out of the question. I'll be anxious to have the help writing the list. I know one thing, potatoes are a definate. Seafood and dairy are both out, unfortunately, because of allergies. My husband has crohn's disease which keeps
him in and out of the hospital frequently with flair ups if he
eats the "wrong" foods. I have to take this into major consideration as well. Thanks Andrea. Your advice to all is appreciated.

Guest's picture
azp74

#43 - I don't know if this out of the question for you because of circumstances but 3 miles is less than (or about - depending on how speedy you are) an hour's walk. If you can genuinely save a significant amount of money shopping a little further away could you not incorporate the walk into your daily routine? That way you can shop regularly, buy small amounts (less food waste) more frequently, save money, get free exercise & reduce your carbon footprint.

When I walk home from work (about 3.5 miles) I go past 3 supermarkets (varying sizes) and a fresh produce market. I do live in a reasonably large city in the UK so I appreciate it may be different for you. However, it is probably worth investigating as it's likely there are some shops around that you didn't know about!

#22 - I'd suggest that if you're eating Caesar salad from a bag then you're probably not too worried about cost or fat content! :)

Guest's picture
Guest

I stated that the fatty foods such as canned foods are exactly what I'm trying to get away from. They are, in fact, one of the cheapest ways to eat. A dollar or less per meal seems way within the budget. It's also horrible for your body. Ah well. I think I'll just be eating like I do. There is nothing more that I can do, honestly. I have to face the fact that I am poor, and that I have to eat the foods that the market packages for the poor. $150/mth in food stamps. Meh. LMAO. It's all a crock and a huge joke. Thanks for the time. I'm done. Don't worry about finding out how to budget the 200. It really doesn't matter so much when it all boils down to it. Worrying yourself to death about what you eat and what you "can't" will probably kill you just as fast as well. I have enough problems as it is. I'm sure all of you do too. Who cares what I eat. Besides, we don't even know each other. Why do we care what one another eats.

Guest's picture
Christina

What a wonderful post! It made me think about how my habits change during relationships...and that is often as I am a serial serious dater. Only once in my adult life have I gone months without being in a relationship, and not too surprising I dropped weight as though I had cancer (a saying my grandmother once she was diagnosed with cancer years ago). I didn't lose weight because I was depressed or at a loss; it was because for once I was only concerned with feeding me.

I always struggle with extra pounds once I am settled in a relationship, a common issue for people. Many plausible theories exist as to why, but after reading this I am reminded that for me, I just plain eat less when I am alone.

My boyfriend and I both work in theatre and work irregular hours each week. We managed to gain weight by trying to eat together and eat the same things, which means whoever is waiting on the other person to come home snacks quite a bit before actually eating dinner. We are both trying to focus on making healthier choices, and I think this post may remind of some basics. Thanks so much!

Guest's picture
Marie

I love this article. Thank you for sharing your wonderful ideas!

I agree with you on exploring different types of cuisine. I'm actually experimenting with Indian cooking right now and a lot of their recipes are vegetarian, healthful, inexpensive, and most of all, very tasty.

Guest's picture
Guest

im a pretty poor college grad living in one of the most expenisve cities (LA) and one of the things i do for meals to save money is to make crepes for meals. all you need to make them is flour, sugar, and egg and whatever else you want to add to it. it takes about 5 minutes or less to make and you can buy sugar/flour etc at the 99cent store for a decent amount. and its delicious!

Guest's picture
Ginny

Good post. Even though I like to cook, I agree with almost everything you said. And I have been known to eat that wonderful mushroom/truffle spread off my fingers soon after it reaches my house. And there is something about Costco/Sam's Club shopping that is just deadly depressing--it's just Wrong.

Guest's picture
Kristina

I'm not single, not childless, don't mind Costco, and live on a farm (no market close by) but I still enjoyed your article. Hmm. I do have a white ass and like wine. Maybe that's it.

You've got a fresh voice. Keep up the fun posts.

Guest's picture
marie

Before the holidays, when I knew that I would be out of town for almost two weeks, I needed to 'empty' my fridge. So for the whole month of December, instead of going grocery shopping, I ate what was there, and only resupplied the very basic, like milk or eggs.

It was a ton of fun to be more imaginative than normal and now at the end of each month, I don't go shopping until every thing is completely empty. It's also nice because I can clean the fridge when its almost empty (except condiments) and fewer things go to waste

Greg Go's picture
Greg Go

You had me at "lazy."

Guest's picture
tammy

this is a great article ...i used to live in an hispanic community in las vegas, it was great because the carnesaria was right across the street and shopping every day was a way of life ...put the kids on the school bus and off you go to the market, yehaw..but i have now moved to a small town in az and this is not a choice we have here there are 3 grocery stores plus super walmart not much choice and the prices are really high because they know you dont have any choice... so there are trade offs for the small town living thing and groceries are one of them also the lack of diversity in food is another ...lol for the person who was talking about aldi's i found this article because i was looking to see if i could buy on line from aldi's dot com ..it is a great store and i miss it much .. but thanks for the article it raised my spirits