Why You Pay More at the Grocery Store

Why You Pay More at the Grocery Store (and How to Stop)

How to Grocery Shop for Five on $100 a Week

While most of these tips may seem obvious, and we’ve probably heard them all before, I find that an occasional reminder helps keep me from straying back into bad habits.

I think convenience used to be our biggest enemy.  When I was going to school full-time and working on my doctorate, and Rob wasn’t getting home until 5:30 or so, neither of us ever really wanted to start a big elaborate meal, even though both of us really enjoy cooking.  We got into the habit of leaning pretty heavily on “quick” meals, i.e., pre-packaged freezer meals that you just toss into the saute pan to warm up.  Most of them were mediocre at best.  I’m sure they weren’t the worst possible thing we could have been eating, but I’m quite certain they weren’t the best, either.

Now that I am home all day every day, you’d think I have TONS of extra time to prepare gourmet meals.  But caring for a toddler and a grandmother with mild dementia are TWO full-time jobs!  If I don’t make a conscious effort to plan how to start dinner, it’s hard to get it going before Rob walks in the door.  That’s why I’m such a fan of freezer recipes.  For those times when the day just gets away from me, I can whip one of those babies out, and we’re in business in about a half hour.  Just as convenient as the store-bought bags, but far cheaper and more nutritious.

As I’ve said, I’ve never really been much of a coupon clipper, but I’m trying to get into it.  We do buy mostly generics, which is probably a big part of the reason I never really acquired the habit.  But there are some things that we specifically prefer in name brand, and I’m making a list of those things, so that when I see coupons for them, or see they’re on sale in the fliers, I can be sure to nab them.

Since we’ve gone gluten-free (and mostly primal), we have cut out a lot of the processed foods that we used to buy.  It’s not like our pantry was filled with garbage, but it definitely had some less-than-splendiferous choices in there.  And while healthier choices like nuts can seem more expensive, they’re really not markedly more if you consider that a handful of almonds is as filling as about a half a bag of Doritos!

One of the suggestions I hear often is to stick to the outside aisles.  The center of the store is usually where the highly processed, more expensive foods are, while whole foods, produce, and meats tend to be arranged on the outskirts.

I do find that if I do just a little advance planning before I go to the store, not just to put together a shopping list, but to create the shopping list based on what’s coming up that week, I avoid buying things that sound good, but end up not getting used because they weren’t part of the plan.  This probably saves unnecessary trips to the store to pick up one or two items that I need for a specific recipe.  (I find the same approach works with crafts:  Don’t buy yarns, fabric, etc unless you have a specific project in mind, or you’re just feeding your stash.  But that’s another post…)

So, besides the obvious coupon-clipping habits, what other tactics do you use to save money at the grocery store?

Nurturing Positive Relationships

I’m sure every one of us has had a difficult relationship of some kind: a controlling boss, an uncooperative co-worker, a troublesome family member, an overly needy, drama-magnet friend.  While we may not be able to completely remove those trying people from our lives, we would all do well to concentrate on nurturing more positive relationships.

One of the best ways to reduce stress is to minimize your exposure to stressful relationships.  Now, I am not advocating that you go out and quit your job without another one lined up just because your boss is a jerk.  And while we may sometimes wish that we could, we cannot choose our relatives. Sometimes the best we can do is try to limit the amount of time we have to spend dealing with the difficult ones.  While I don’t necessarily agree with everything in the article, there are some great suggestions in How to Handle Your High-Maintenance Friends and Family Without Losing Your Mind.

But perhaps a simpler objective is to truly invest in your positive relationships.  Think of the people who make you smile. Those who make you want to be a better you.  Those who lift you up and encourage you, but are also willing to advise you when you are wandering from where you should be.  Those who are always willing to share your joys and sorrows.  Those who can pick up right where you left off, even when it’s been a while since you talked.

Knowing that we SHOULD nurture those relationships and actually making it happen are two different things, however.  In the frantic busy-ness of modern society, it’s hard to stay connected, even when we have the best of intentions.  I find this especially difficult, when being a primary caregiver to an elderly family member seems to take up every minute of every day.  Even before my granny moved in, caring for a toddler and a teen suffering from debilitating migraines while she’s trying to finish high school was quite an absorbing task.

I think this is why I so appreciate those friends who don’t get angry or hurt when they don’t hear from me in a while.  I can go quite a few days without being on line at all, and I miss all of the FaceBook updates on what’s going on in their lives.  I just flat out don’t make it out of the house often, unless it’s for a doctor’s appointment.

I’m trying to get a little better at sending a quick message or text that says, “Hey, I was just thinking of you”.  Even if I don’t have time for a coffee date or an extended phone conversation, these little chances to reconnect help, especially when I hear back from those individuals who never fail to make me smile.

Try not to let it go too long without reaching out to those people that brighten your life.  While you don’t want to become the “overly needy, drama-magnet friend”, you also don’t want to let a great friendship wither because you let the daily grind get in the way.    And don’t completely abandon the face-to-face moments, even when you really have to work to make them happen.  Nothing is as uplifting as a simple hug, a smile, and an “I missed you.”

How do you minimize the stress that difficult relationships bring?  How do you manage to stay connected to those who give you a boost, even when you’re really swamped?

Avoid Food Waste: Buy Produce That Lasts

I have a confession: in the past, food waste has been a HUGE problem at our house.  Lettuce has probably been the biggest offender, because we like our lettuce crisp and fresh, and it just doesn’t last that long.  But fruits have also been an issue.  We tend to buy them when we’re in the mood, usually buying too many of one kind, and then lose interest and sort of…forget they’re there.

But there is no excuse for throwing away money, and I’m ashamed to admit that we’ve done so.  We’re always disappointed when we discover a package of food that inadvertently got pushed to the back of the fridge, or produce that went past its prime.  Often we found ourselves saying, “I didn’t even know we had this.”

This article, 12 Fruits and Vegetables That Last For Months, has some helpful hints for which produce to buy.  While even these items can outlive their peak of freshness, they have the best chance of surviving long enough to be eaten, and it’s helpful to know how to store them to maximize their counter-top lifespan.

One thing I might add that we have been getting better at doing:  go through your fridge, freezer and/or pantry OFTEN.  Pitch the leftovers that just aren’t going to get eaten, before they become a bona-fide science experiment.  Take inventory of what things in there are approaching the end of their usability, and make plans to use them in a meal or snack as soon as possible.  Use frozen foods before they get frostbitten.  It’s best to do this BEFORE you go shopping, to avoid buying repeats of what you may already have on hand.

We have started developing a habit of having at least one designated “leftover night” per week.  This has dramatically decreased the number of things that get thrown out because they’ve become fuzzy.  I’ve also been trying lately to get into the habit of putting a little piece of tape on the lid with the date it was made (or writing on the ziplock bag), so we know what has the greatest urgency.

A note about stocking up:  while you may be able to “save” a lot of money by stocking up on items when they’re on sale, don’t forget to take into account how quickly you can actually use all of the items.  You’re not saving much if you end up throwing some of the items away because you didn’t use them before they expired.  This counts for “non-perishables” as well as produce.  Who wants to use a bottle of mustard that expired in 2009?

What are your favorite long-lived produce selections?  What else do you do to minimize food waste at your house?

Simplify By Getting Rid of Variables

Boost Your Productivity: Kill Some Variables In Your Life

In our never-ending quest to reduce stress by simplifying, we often don’t consider all of the tiny decisions we have to make every day.  While I may not be a proponent of owning one pair of jeans and a handful of t-shirts, I can see the logic in trying to eliminate some of the repetitive decision-making options from your day.

Some people lay out their clothes the night before, and I do this if I have something going on the next day.  However, if I’m just hanging around the house, baby-sitting and granny-sitting, I tend to grab whatever knit pants and t-shirt happens to be on the top of the drawer.  I’m sure that doesn’t follow any “what not to wear” rules, but I don’t see any point in agonizing over what to wear if I’m not going anywhere.

I have tried to cull my clothes to the point that the things that I didn’t really wear often were given to someone who will wear them.  I found that even when we started keeping the laundry caught up all the time, I was still wearing the same several shirts.  I decided those other items didn’t need to be taking up valuable closet space, and complicating the selection process.

As for grocery shopping, I can certainly see the appeal of having commonly purchased items delivered.  If you’re getting a lot of the same things repeatedly, and they’re non-perishable, it makes sense to get them delivered, perhaps for less than you would pay at the local grocery chain.  But I would still have to make a couple of trips a week just to keep us up in fresh fruits and veggies, something I’m not willing to cut back on.

I was surprised that this article was so short, although it did get me thinking about other ways to eliminate decisions.  I expected to see something about menu planning (we’ve not really mastered this, but we find that we have several fall-back meals that we like to have on hand, and we do like to use freezer recipes), putting items in the same place every time (how much time do you waste searching for your car keys, purse, or fave shoes?), or even “multi-tasking” by using time otherwise spent waiting and twiddling your thumbs (read, knit, or whatever while you’re waiting at the doctor’s office, getting your car worked on, etc.)

And let’s not forget that having clear goals can save us a lot of time in the decision making process.  I’m a big fan of to-do lists (perhaps just a tiny bit obsessive).  If I have several things that I want to accomplish, it helps to try to prioritize them, so that I make sure I get the most important ones done, even if I don’t complete my list.  Then I don’t have to spend time repeatedly reading through the list and thinking, “Ok, what should I do next?”

Have any of you had success with having some of your groceries delivered?  Can you think of other strategies to eliminate some of the variables in your life, and make better use of time that may otherwise be wasted?

Quality Sleep: Unattainable Goal?

We all know how important it is to get a good night’s sleep every night, but sometimes it seems like mission impossible.  We have to be very deliberate about choosing to go to bed at a decent hour, instead of trying to get “just one more thing” done.  But sometimes, even when we allow enough hours for sleep, the rest that we get is not as refreshing as it could be.

I’m one of those “clear your head” people who can lay there thinking about all the things I need to get done tomorrow, and I’ve found that writing myself a to-do list really helps me to let things go and get into sleep mode.  There are more great ideas in this article about What to Do Before Bed and After Waking Up For More Daily Energy.

What do you do to wake up feeling refreshed?  Do you find any of these suggestions helpful?

Getting the Family On Board with Healthier Eating

I have mentioned before how helpful it is that our whole family is participating in the attempt to eat a gluten free, mostly primal diet.  I know it would be far more difficult for me if I had to make two meals, or even multiple sides for every meal.  If this is an issue in your family, especially with small children (or even a reticent husband!), this article from Mark’s Daily Apple might help:

Co-feeding: How to Get Your Family Involved with Healthy Food

Katie and I have really enjoyed scouring the grocery store for new things to try, and experimenting with new recipes, but I can imagine that we would have had far more difficulty if I had just unilaterally decided to suddenly change everything, and became a food tyrant.  Try to make it fun, and involve everyone.  Don’t be scared to try new things; approach it as an adventure, but don’t be afraid to fail, either.  Some recipes will just not turn out how you envisioned.  Keep trying until you find a repertoire of tastes that everyone is pleased with!

Rob and I have found that we genuinely enjoy doing the prep work together.  Usually, he’s fileting, dicing, or otherwise butchering the meat while I’m chopping vegetables. If you have the time to do this when you get home from work, I highly recommend it.  Besides, doing a lot of your own butchering can save you some money in a lot of cases.  But if you or your husband get home too late to pull this off (most of us prefer to have dinner before 10 pm!), try spending a little time after dinner prepping for the next day together, or one person prepping while the other cleans up from dinner.   It gives you a chance to reconnect, and the camaraderie from accomplishing a joint task will always be a boost to your relationship.  And you have the bonus of waking up to a shining sink in the morning, instead of a sink full of dishes and mystery water. Win/win!

How have you overcome any resistance to eating healthier foods in your family?  Or have you been afraid to even try because you dread what you expect to be the inevitable battles?