Monday, August 11, 2014

Grocery Shopping on the Cheap

I may have already talked about this.  I may have only written a post about it and then deleted it.  Frankly right now I'm too tired to look and too meh to care much about repeating myself.  Maybe it bears repeating.

So recently there have been numerous tweets and posts and articles about how hard it is to live on the cheap.  Apparently, people who aren't poor and most likely never have been, are trying this experiment where they live on $77 a week for food (per person if they have a family) and there's another article making the rounds about how a suburbanite woman took a homeless mother shopping, and :gasp: $50 didn't go very far.

One thing strikes me about all of this.  None of these people in these experiments know what the hell they're doing.  One guy bought bottled water, for petesakes.  Another was spending her money on snackfood.  Another guy wasted funds on a trip to BK because he didn't have time to pack a lunch and couldn't afford a better place to eat lunch.  And the moaning about an inability to buy healthy food on $77 a week or $50 for one trip really blew my mind.

Soooo, here's my take on how to shop cheap without facing malnutrition or scurvy or rickets or whatever:

1) You never buy water.  It's free in most places.  Sometimes, if you own a home, you have to pay a water bill - but it's still cheaper than buying bottles of water from a store.

2) You don't buy namebrand anything.  If there's a cheaper cheese or an off-brand TP, you buy it.  Sure, it's not as good.  Well, duh.  If money weren't an issue, I'd be eating Havarti and wiping with those wet cloth things.

3) You don't buy pre-made, pre-packaged stuff.  No Chef-Boyardee.  No Lean Cuisine.  No Stouffers.  A bag of rice, a pound of hamburger, a bag of carrots, potatoes, noodles, some cheap condensed soup... all can be turned into delicious and nutritious meals.  And yes, RAMEN.  The hated food of the dining elite.  It's actually awesome and super versatile and no, your kids won't turn into little skeletons with vitamin deficiencies because of it.  (Unless all they ever eat is Ramen, and then you need to rethink your meal planning.)

4) Snack food is a luxury.  You want snacks?  You learn how to make them yourself.  Cookies, crackers, etc. can be made cheaply if you find the right recipes. And if you can't do that, you go without. Heck, eat celery sticks with peanut butter, raisins, etc.  Those are cheap and better for you anyway.

5) Fast food is not cheap.  It is easy.  But poor people can't afford to be lazy, so if you want a burger, you buy a big ass package of 80% lean burger at the beginning of the month, you make up as many thin burgers as you can, and you freeze them.  Then you eat them on bread because it's cheaper than buns.  With or without cheese - depending on whether you can afford it.  But with lettuce, cuz that shit's like $1.29 a head.

6) Fresh produce doesn't have to be expensive.  Apples - despite the strangeness of $11 a bag one person paid - are cheap.  They aren't sexy, but they're cheap.  Oranges.  Bananas.  Lettuce.  Tomatoes - if you watch the kind you're buying.  Roma, in my experience are less expensive and just as good as beefsteak.  And for godsakes don't buy 'organic'.  It's like someone got the idea that putting the label of organic on produce meant they could charge more for it.  Bleh.  When you're rich you can be fancy-schmancy enough to buy organic.  Poor people buy regular.  It's NOT less healthy*.  It's just more practical.

7) Budget so you can buy in bulk.  Almost everything gets cheaper the larger the package.  Twelve rolls of toilet paper is cheaper than 3 4-pks.  The big packages of meat are cheaper than their equivalent in smaller packages.  Freeze what you can, in meal sized packages.  Pat the burger into patties ahead of time.  Then if you want to say make spaghetti, you take out 1 burger, thaw it and brown it to go into the offbrand jar of sauce you picked up on sale the week before.

8) Troll the bargain bins.  A dented box of cereal isn't ruined - they just can't sell it with the undented boxes.  Meat that's marked for 'don't sell after' and the day is the same day you're buying isn't tainted. (As long as you remember, good raw meat is never brown or gray.  And anything you buy either needs to be cooked or frozen the day you buy it.)  And brown bananas make good banana bread - which takes care of #4 for you, too.  They can also be turned into smoothies or stirred into oatmeal or sliced into pancakes. 

Now, I said something back in #5 that bears touching on again.  "If you can afford it."  That is the watchword of every person who's ever tried to live on a shoestring budget.  Let's say there was a sale on burger that week and you saved a dollar there, and they had lettuce a dollar a head, and rice was 50 cents off, and you still have enough potatoes to tide you over to the next week.  THEN you can check over your budget and see if that adds up to enough to buy sliced cheese.  Or a half-gallon of ice cream.  Or a chocolate bar.  My god, I didn't eat ice cream but once every couple months back in '98/'99 - and then it was the generic vanilla (which is better than no ice cream, if ya know what I'm sayin'.)

And my daughter turns 21 this week, so I obviously didn't starve the poor little dearling during her formative growth years.  Of course, she ate and then I ate - because if there might only be enough for one, the kid eats first and you have a bowl of oatmeal after she goes to bed.

The point here is, shop smarter. Sure, I don't HAVE TO watch my grocery budget so closely anymore.  But I still do it - because it's just smart.  Never pay full price when you don't have to and never buy name brand when offbrand will do just as well.  (Except with cheese.  If you can get away with buying Kraft instead of no-name, do it.  It just tastes better.)

*In my opinion, of course.  Personally, I think the whole 'organic' craze is a hoax, but I try not to go into my conspiracy theories too much here.  Be glad you aren't living with me, though. ;o)


  1. Blinking do-gooders do my nut in. They really crack me up thinking they are so good but in reality it feels so patronising. The other things that bugs me rigid is when people moan about not having enough money for food when they smoke, have 2 dogs & 3 cats and manage a night at the pub once a week. They can buy cigarettes, dog & cat food and beer but can't feed their kids - ha! Whoa, sorry, I can feel that soapbox rant coming on...

  2. Whenever people complain about eating well on a budget, I find it's usually because they buy a lot of processed foods and junk. Once you start making/eating real food, you won't go back. The prepackaged stuff just doesn't compare in quality.

    But then people will say they have no time, which is code for I don't want to give up an hour of tv or Facebook.

  3. Um....yup. Totally agree with everything you said. In some instances, I prefer the store brank. Case in point? Soy milk. I'm not lactose intolerant--completely, anyway. When I drink milk, I have more sinus problems and occasionally get cramps/gas. With soy milk, I don't. Now granted, I mostly drink my "milk" in coffee but I'm talking at least 20 oz. a day. The fancy brands taste funny when heated. My store brand? Perfect. Also tastes good "raw." I've never been one for packaged food as a rule, except for potatoes. That's my splurge--packaged mashed potatoes. With just the two of us, bulk raw potatoes often sprout before we eat them.

    Fast Food fund is set aside for when I'm in deadline mode and can barely string words together much less plan a menu and cook. LOL

  4. I'm sorry, I'm still laughing over 77 dollars a week per person. Are they insane? The hubby and I eat well at about 50 bucks a week for both of us, and that includes snacks and pop. AND we have a full stocked house.

    We shop at Kroger mostly, and we buy almost everything Kroger brand. The bread is AMAZING and it's a dollar a loaf. We are big on veggies in this house, so that's where a majority of the money goes, but here in the south its cheap. For meat we do exactly what you mentioned--buy the big packs and separate them into a pound each, which is generally a good size for whatever meal we're making.

    We don't skimp on anything. We still buy veggies, fruit, meat, breads, cheese, yogurt, milk, cereals, snacks, and whatever else we want! We just pick the Kroger brand mostly. One thing I've learned is that the giant Kroger tubs of cookies and cream ice cream is the exact same as the brand name ones, and it is SO CHEAP.

    I will not skimp, however, on things like toilet paper. Ever. We do buy the giant bags of brand name TP, but it is worth it, IMO. I spend most of my day sitting on my butt--I'm going to treasure it, even as it gets bigger, LOL!

  5. Oh, and we only buy the special treats like poptarts (hubby has a fondness for Strawberry), if they are on sale. And more often than not, at least once a month they go on mega sale. We tried no-name once and they were terrible, so we stick to the expensive brand for that one.