Do you think you spend too much money on groceries, but a large part of the produce, dairy, and other items is thrown away before you get to use it? Is your pantry full of dusty boxes and cans past their expiration date when you actually eat out frequently? If so, let me offer you my help in getting more control of your grocery spending, storage, and consumption.
This simple guide will show you how to cut spending at grocery stores and supermarkets.
This first part suggests Six simple steps to control WHAT and HOW MUCH to buy. Step #6 is an absolute MUST.
The second part will deal with finding the BEST PRICES and the WAYS TO SAVE on your grocery shopping.
Buy What You Want Vs. Buy What You Need
I grew up in Russia. The Russian history is full of severe starvation episodes caused by the revolution, wars and poor economic management.
The Russian elders remember the horrible feeling of being famished and fearing for their lives. From my own experience, as a child in the turbulent mid 90’s, I had only boiled eggs, bread and jam for my lunch and fried potatoes for dinner many days in the row.
Throwing food away is definitely not a part of Russian culture. A kid who doesn’t eat everything on his plate is always reminded about those starvation times his grandparents had experienced in the past or about children now living in other places on Earth where being hungry is just a part of their normal life.
No, I don’t think that stuffing children with food they don’t want is the right thing. But I do support teaching them to appreciate their good luck of having this full plate in front of them.
As a grown woman and a mother, I support teaching children to appreciate their good luck of having plenty of food in front of them, as there are millions of people in the world deprived of the privilege of balanced nutrition. However, there is no need for stuffing a poor kid just because of my own mental problem with wasted food. There is a better way to get your kid’s plates clean at the end of a meal.
To be able to put “just the right amount “on one’s plate is an essential habit for a healthy diet. Eat what you have first and reach for a second helping if you feel the need.
Inevitably, I brought this culture with me to the United States. I was devastated to learn that about 40% of after-harvest food in the US is just dumped to the garbage, while so many people are going to sleep hungry.
“Americans waste 150,000 tons of food each day – equal to a pound per person” – it’s a waste of more than $160 billion a year!
Commonly, fruits and vegetables are spoiled the most, followed by dairy and meat products.
Americans must stop complaining about not making ends meet while buying groceries they don’t really need. A change of this mindset can benefit not only their bank accounts but the society and the environment as well.
In my household, the situation is different. Our food purchase, preparation, and consumption processes are well-defined, structured and resemble that of a small catering business. Maybe only once or twice a year you would be able to catch me with any rotten vegetables in the refrigerator. Our family of five never had to eat out or order a pizza just because we ran out of delicious homemade dishes.
Today I want to show how YOU can ditch the habit of overbuying and throwing food and learn to control your grocery spending.
Grab a pen and a paper (or a laptop) and let’s get started.
Step #1 – Fridge and Pantry Check and Clean Up
First of all, let’s see what are the items that you’ve forgotten about a long time ago?
Open the refrigerator and check each and every shelf for the spoiled and expired products. What about that rotten piece of ginger? How long has this cheese been there to get greenish stains on it? Why this hot sauce smells so weird? Yuck!
Look what frozen products are hiding in the back corners of the freezer? Ice cream pint from last year, maybe? The leftover pizza from your kid’s birthday?
Do the same in the pantry and the kitchen cabinets. You might be surprised by the findings.
Before throwing away all the perished items, list them in your notes. These are the products you need to think twice before placing them in your shopping cart. Do you really need these items that are prone to end up in the garbage?
Step #2 – You Have It In Your Pantry? USE IT!
Once you are done with the cleanup, check for the items that are not spoiled yet, but can move to this category rather soon. Plan your next meals around those items.
For example, if you have a tomato sauce approaching its expiration date, make a pasta dinner. A bunch of browning bananas can turn into delicious banana bread. You’ve got the idea.
The same goes for snacks, cereal, candies, condiments, canned soups, cookies, bars – everything. Try to finish what’s in your pantry before you replenish the inventory.
Set as a goal to empty half of the storage space and remember exactly what is still left. Add these items to your “Blacklist”, as you don’t want to buy more before the current stock is gone.
List several future meals based on what you already have in your notes.
Step #3 – Organize The Pantry And The Kitchen Cabinets
Another important thing to mention here is the order. Disorganized and cluttered pantry, where everything just piles up is the ultimate hiding place for expired items.
Think of your pantry as a shelf in a store. Would you be able to find what you need if all items were mixed and out of place?
Arrange your pantry in a way that you and other members of the household can easily find the desired item. Put labels on the shelves for easy navigation, like “pasta”, “snacks”,” cans”, “grains”.
You should be able to estimate what you have in each category with a quick glance, before heading out for the weekly shopping.
Step #4 – Understand Your Weekly And Monthly Needs
Our next step would be a high-level understanding of your family’s grocery consumption. Very often, people have no idea about the amounts of food they really need. They see fresh shiny apples and buy a full bag, without thinking who in their household is going to eat them during the next week. Or buy some ripen tomatoes with “Hmm, I’ll make something out of it” thought. Guess what? This “something” never happens; poor tomatoes just get rotten on the counter.
Purchasing great looking products is awesome, yet buying too much, might not fit into the fridge, and now we have a storage issue to deal with.
Did it happen to you? No worries, you are not alone. We are going to fix this with better planning.
List the main perishable products you consume on a weekly basis, like milk, eggs, bread, fruits.
Think realistically, how much would you be able to use? Are there any specific schedules you follow?
For example, I and my 3 kids usually have a banana every day as a morning snack. It’s 4 people * 7 days = 28 bananas per week. If an average bunch consists of seven bananas, we need to buy 2 bunches twice a week.
Another count: we eat eggs for breakfast three times a week and usually I bake a cake using four eggs. It means I need to buy 5*3 + 4=19 eggs per week. Well, I can round it to two dozen.
Now move on to list more durable items you don’t have to buy every week, like pasta, cereal, grains, flour, coffee, tea, frozen meat etc. These items are not spoiled quickly, but still can go over their expiration date and end up in the trash bin.
How many times a month do you cook rice or make mac-and-cheese? How many trays of chicken drumsticks or roast beef chunks will you use before they dry out in the freezer?
Often we see something on sale and are tempted to save money at such a great price, buying more than we are able to consume before it goes bad. The final result, in this case, is the opposite of saving. We just let our pantry and fridge serve as the supermarket’s storage space.
List the items and the estimated monthly amounts, followed by current inventory (in other words, how much do you already have at home).
Step #5 – It’s Your Turn To Return!
The pre-washed spring mix has a caterpillar inside? You purchased eggs and your partner did too? Bought too many snacks and drinks for a party? No worries :).
Instead of throwing it away or keeping and clogging your pantry, just return those extra or defunct items back to the store.
Big clubs like BJ’s or Costco have very generous return policies with no questions asked. They even allow you to return items without a receipt, though in this case, you will only be able to get a store credit.
To be on the safe side, you’d better keep the receipts for several weeks.
Let this be a part of your regular shopping cycle. Don’t be shy, it’s your right to return!
List what you need to return before writing down what you need to buy.
Step #6 – Make A Shopping List Before You Enter Any Supermarket
This is the most important rule that I can’t emphasize more. You MUST have a shopping list!
Never ever enter any supermarket or grocery store without a shopping list, be it your major weekly shopping trip or just a quick stop by to fetch milk and a couple of oranges.
Know exactly what you are going to buy. It also implies that you know exactly what you are NOT going to buy: anything that is NOT on that list. Well, the only exclusion should be if at the store you realize there is something that must be on the list, but was omitted by mistake and is really needed.
Before starting a list, decide on the meal plan for the upcoming week. You can check a weekly circular from your favorite supermarket for major ingredients sales to get some inspiration and then build the whole meal around it.
Here is an example: Is there a sale on ground beef? We are going to have hamburgers! And we want to pair them with some whole wheat buns and greens for salad. Let’s add these to the shopping list.
The more defined is your meal plan, the better you’ll know what and how much you need to buy.
Start with the items for the main meals, add regular weekly items like milk, bread, eggs and fruit. Then check what do you need to replenish from the monthly list. Think twice before including any items from the blacklist we mentioned before.
In addition to saving you money, the shopping list will also save you the time of purposeless strolling between the aisles trying to remember what you are supposed to buy this time.
And please, don’t forget your shopping list at home! I always laugh when I need to text it to my husband as he’s helplessly looking for it in all his pockets, somewhere in the middle of a supermarket.
That’s all for part 1. In the second part, we’ll learn how to pay less for what we need and how to use grocery shopping apps, like Ibotta, SavingStar and Fetch Rewards.
They give you cash back for scanning grocery receipts. Check them out, don’t leave money on the table.
Another fun app that gives you cash for ANY receipt is CoinOut. It’s like finding nickels, dimes and pennies under your pillow every day.
If you find this guide valuable, please share it with your friends. I’m sure you know many people who can benefit from better shopping habits.
Here is the second part:
I’d be happy to learn about your tips. Please share them in the comments.
Have any questions? Don’t be shy, just ask! I promise to answer as soon as possible.