Category Archives: ridiculous but true optimism

12 tips to save you money on groceries

My mother used to use one of these and I LOVED it as a kid.  Alas, it only goes to 10 or 20 bucks!

My mother used to use one of these at the grocery store and I LOVED it as a kid. Alas, it only goes to 10 or 20 bucks!

Lately I’ve been taking greater care to stay on a grocery budget, and the process has been quite enlightening.  Though I never went hog-wild buying cartloads of groceries, I often found myself buying things in advance that we didn’t yet need, or lots of one thing, like fruit, without thinking about how much bread and protein foods we would need later in the week.  In other words, I wasn’t planning well, despite having a list.

Here are some tips that helped me:

1. Keep track of the bill as you shop.  I kept my list and my cell phone together and entered each item in the phone’s calculator.  It’s a pain when the calculator accidentally zeros out on you once in a while, but after entering the prices of everything for a few weeks, I found that I can look at the list and very closely estimate the cost before I shop.  If I have 10 things on the list and I know they will come to about $30, I know how to estimate from there if I decide to add ice cream as an impulse purchase — or decide that this week, I really shouldn’t.

2. Know your prices.  I know what yogurt, tofu, beans, and even some chips cost at every market where we shop.  If there’s a sale on yogurt or canned beans, I’m all over it because that’s two items we eat nearly every day.  Be careful about package size — sometimes an item will cost the same amount at Trader Joe’s as it does at Costco, but at Costco you get twice as much.  Which is great ONLY if you will consume twice as much.  Here’s an example: Costco has 6 heads of conventionally grown baby Romaine lettuce for $2.99 — the price for three organic heads of baby Romaine at Trader Joe’s.  I like organic, but when money’s tight, sometimes we do without.  If you’re a family of four, it’s 100 degrees outside and you’re eating salad until November, this is awesome.  If you live alone and don’t have a herd of pet rabbits, it doesn’t work at all.

3. Keep track of what you spend.  Our weekly budget for groceries is $150 (covers 63 meals for we three).  I have an Excel sheet divided into four weeks and I enter each receipt to keep track of the week’s total (along with everything else we spend).  A simple memo pad where you can jot down the amount for each trip will help you keep track, or you can use the Evernote app.  But if you shop in more than one place you need to find somewhere to record what you spent at Ralph’s or Whole Foods before you hit Costco, Walmart or Target and blow the budget completely.

4. Pay cash.  Nothing forces you to stick to the budget more than seeing the greenbacks visibly leave your hand.

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Small change #14: Buy and/or make a new food

Do your best old lady voice: What’s all this I’m hearing about kale?  What is this here Quinoa (KEEN-wah)?  How do you make an eggplant anyway?  

Buy a little kale, quinoa, or some other food you haven’t yet experienced.  Look online for a recipe or instructions on how to make it and give it a try as a side dish with dinner.  You might discover something you couldn’t believe!  You’ll also round out your diet with balanced, healthy foods.

I was asked recently by a lady in her 60s how to cook fresh broccoli as I was adding some to a bag.  I was so happy she asked! (You can boil broccoli for 2-3 minutes, but I prefer to make a shallow pool of water in a wide skillet, put the lid half on and let it steam for a few minutes.  Add a little grated parmesan over the top, and/or add a tiny bit of butter to the pool of water for serious yum.)

A couple of years ago a kid from my daughter’s school was visiting and wondered if she could taste vanilla soy milk.  She loved it, and I was moved by her enthusiastic response: “I could have gone MY WHOLE LIFE and not had this!”  Tasting one new food made her realize the importance of new experiences.  And she was all of 9 years old at the time.


Small change #12: Give away some small change

How about some small change for someone else?

A couple of weeks ago a Boy Scout troop came by with some grocery bags with a little note asking if we could fill the bag with a few groceries to help people seeking help through MEND (Meet Each Need with Dignity).

I filled the bag with chili, beans, Trader Joe’s version of Cheerios, and a couple of kinds of pasta.  I spent about $10.

Why not buy 1-2 staples for food pantry near you or send a check for the equivalent, remembering that even $5 every so often helps a lot.  Continue reading

Small change #7: Pack a meal or snack — or both, then achieve balance

Of course you’re busy, I know that.  Do this at night: Pack like your very best self.  You know, what you would pack a kid you wanted to keep healthy.  A sandwich and fruit and a few chips (a few chips means what the recommended serving says).  A salad with beans or a little chicken or something over the top, with carrot and cucumber and a little — 1 Tbsp — container of REAL dressing (not the fat free crap).

Snacks: Carrots with a bit of hummus, or even pretzels with a bit of hummus. A small handful of peanuts and raisins.  A small bag of chips.  And apple or banana.  Or a few.  Don’t be afraid to pack a lot of fruits and vegetables — that’s not what’s bringing this country down, you know?  A little dried fruit sometimes helps a sweet tooth.  A lot will give you diarrhea and well, a lot of gas, so be careful out there.

Do as little or as much of the above as you can.  If you only have time to lay out a little trail mix in a bag and grab that, it’s fine.  But if you can grab a few Cuties (little oranges or clementines or whatever those amazing little things are) or something that will quench your hunger, that will go a long way later when  want something to eat while you’re in front of the computer.  You won’t think it will work, but when you’re hungry you’ll eat it anyway and then be surprised when it does work.

If you need something to eat while you’re busy, make it fruit or a vegetable with a little protein (a cube of cheese — not a BLOCK of cheese, but one the size of a couple of dice), or a few nuts (5 almonds, for example), which will keep you from gnawing your hand off or raiding the doughnut box before lunch.

Make sure lunch, if you pack it, is satisfying.  it’s better to have a little of something you love than a lot of something you don’t.  One slice of that leftover pizza with a bit of salad if you can’t take the idea of just salad for lunch for example.  Or bring a little salad, eat it FIRST, then go get the kid’s size burger from fast food if that’s what you live for (skip the fries, or get a size smaller than what you normally buy.  You usually get small?  Share or throw half away.  Or ignore me and just bring the salad!).  You see?

If you work a little bit of fruit and perhaps a vegetable in there, you will eat less of the stuff you love and still get to have it — just not all at once.  The best way to do that is to pack something and be ready so you don’t raid vending machines or head for sugary drinks at the coffee place nearby.

If you like all of that, pace yourself.  Pack a lunch and allow yourself the sugary drink once a week, the vending machine once a week, and the burger once a week.  Just not all at once.  It will feel painless but it makes a LARGE difference over time.

Diet for 2013, Pt. 4

Happy New Year everyone!

Okay, this is probably it for now….Back to the Do’s, which seem a little more life affirming, and a few resources:


Buy clothing in your current size and get rid of the rest.  Don’t save clothing for your goal weight.  When you get there, buy yourself a few new things and cut the crap; it’s going to be a while, and you need to feel good NOW.  Feeling good now will help you stay focused.  I never thought to do this for a long time but when I finally did people complimented my clothes, and when I looked in the  mirror I felt better about myself.  That was 30 pounds and well over 10 years ago, but it still applies.  Taking care of yourself, looking your best is a must do.  It should be first on your list of things to do, so I’ve left it down here near the end of these posts where you’ll remember it.

Reward yourself.  But not with food!  Take a buck or whatever you can afford, put it aside for each day you do a better than worse.  Make a goal – little or big — Disneyland, vacation, movies, dinner or coffee and a walk with a friend, a new book or video game you’ve been wanting, perhaps a new pair of jeans?  How about the gift of TIME to do whatever you want?  Just not food.  Soothe yourself some other way. Continue reading

Diet for 2013, part 3

Well, you know there had to be some things you shouldn’t do.  Here they are, with one last life-affirming set of do’s tomorrow:

  • DON’T Weigh yourself every 12 minutes.  It takes 3500 calories to lose a pound, and the best way to do that is a combination of decreasing your calories by 100-200 calories a day combined with 300 calories of exercise.  That’s a 500 calorie deficit x 7 = 3500 calories.  That’s a pound a week.  Now, if you’re normally consuming 11,000 calories a day, you could cut back and lose weight faster.  But if you’re a lady looking to lose 10 pounds, it’s probably a better idea to lose a pound a week for 10 weeks than to starve yourself and end up face down in a cake on week 4.
  • DON’T Talk about your new diet plan like the town crier.  If you have a friend who can’t wait to savor every detail, okay.  But if you find yourself telling your significant other every single detail every single time you see each other, you are either a) very excited all the damned time or b) white-knuckling it, which means you are hanging upside down on the rollercoaster and it’s probably not going to last.  Being obsessed usually means you are having trouble hanging on.  Go ahead and be excited about the changes you are making.  Be happy about everything you are doing right.  But change should be slow and relatively effortless.  Giving up a piece of bread is effortless, but giving up everything is not.  You need to build new habits, and that takes time.  Taking time increases the chances that the changes you make will be permanent and not fleeting.  Obsession is like new love: It’s an exciting novelty, but eventually there’s got to be a deeper relationship to sustain it.  Otherwise your new love will have Duncan Hines written all over it.
  • DON’T Eat at the movies or while playing video games.  Unless you’re bringing in vegetables or a piece of fruit.  This is the kind of eating we do without having any awareness of what we’re doing.  It’s easy to put on weight when you aren’t paying attention because it feels like you didn’t enjoy what you ate – so you eat again.
  • DON’T Drink so many sugary drinks.  Soda should be as close to eliminated as you can stand it.  Juice other than orange juice (and even then, 6 oz a day will do it) is unnecessary.  Frappuccinos…once in a while.  All of these sugary drinks raise insulin levels, contain loads of calories, and will make you hungry again sooner because as your insulin levels dip, your body registers hunger.  The higher they rise, the harder they fall as glucose enters the cells.  Before it can be released, the brain says, “Give me more food!”  This might be the easiest way for you to eliminate that 100 calories.  Frappuccino?  Get an extra cup and share, just like your mother always told you to do.  Then save up the money you save for something else.
  • DON’T Take a salad with 50 calories and dump 500 calories of dressing over it.  Dip the fork in the stuff, then take a bite, or give yourself a tablespoon of the stuff and then push the rest away.  At restaurants, the cups of dressing average about ¼ to 1/3 of a cup.  That’s 4-5 tablespoons of oil, my friend, or between 32-70 grams of fat (288-630 calories).  Gasp.
  • DON’T Go below 130 grams of carbs a day.  Bread or ½ cup rice has about 25 grams of carbohydrate, to give you an idea.  Your brain runs on glucose, a carbohydrate.  If you want a lower carbohydrate diet, this amount will do, as the average sane person consumes about 300 grams of carbs a day (not just from rice, bread and past, but from milk sugar and fruit also).  If you want to consume less in the way of sugar, go right ahead, but this bullshit about low carb only encourages you to consume fatty foods that aren’t good for your heart (or, apparently, your head).
  • DON’T Consume very much saturated or trans fats.  Saturated fat is the stuff that’s solid at room temperature – butter, Crisco…trans fat is hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil that in it’s oil form was all right, but has now been turned into something that will contribute to your death.  Read labels and keep saturated fat to under 10% of calories (on average that would be 20 grams a day – the less the better) and 0 trans fat is preferred – yeah, it’s that bad.  If the label says 0 trans fat, read the ingredients.  If anything is hydrogenated, it still probably has ½ gram or less of the stuff and you should leave it on the shelf.  The naturally occurring trans fat in butter and meat behaves differently, and are okay – in moderation.  Nuts have both healthier monounsaturated and saturated fats.  In other words, they make a good snack as long as you don’t eat a 5 oz. bag of trail mix.  A palmful will do.  Stay away from powdered coffee whitener – that crap is LOADED with trans fat garbage.  Use milk or soy milk or suffer with plain.
  • Don’t believe all the fad diets that you sort of know couldn’t possibly be a good idea but you fall for out of desperation.  Save your money for something good and just do the hard work in very small steps until you get there.  There are lots of books out there and lots of articles in magazines promoting books.  Be skeptical.

One more bit tomorrow with some resources….

Diet for 2013, part 2

More Do’s for 2013:

  • Pack lunch.  You will save money and eat better.  Ready made salads you bought at the market — okay.  Frozen meals that are loaded with sodium: avoid.  Best: freshly made sandwich, pasta, soup, rice you made the evening before, etc.  The less processed the better.  Pack the night before, except sandwiches (the bread will become stale in the fridge).  Pack all over refreezable ice or in a Thermos.
  • Bring a container to work and leave it there.  If the birthday cake is a winner, or the platter from the meeting is awesome, pack some to go for later when you can relax and enjoy it.  Otherwise, LEAVE IT.
  • Bring a container to your relatives house.  Leave it in the car and when they force more servings on your or want you to take some home, chirp, “Oh, I just remembered I have a container in the car.  I would love some to bring to work/home and enjoy all over again!  Thanks!”  It’s worked for my students over Thanksgivings and Christmases and it will work for you too.
  • Take half home.  Pack it up yourself in a reusable container you bring to the restaurant.  Now you’re all ready for lunch tomorrow!  (Have a cooler with ice or refreezable ice in the car so it doesn’t go bad.  Your friends will more than likely wonder why they didn’t think of it as opposed to getting all judge-y.) Continue reading