Tag Archives: saving money

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 #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.

The perils of dynamic pricing

I’ve been doing a lot of running around lately, and I have a tendency when out and about to look around at the prices for the things we buy a lot.  Like food.  Although I can barely remember to pick up dog food before we run out, or to make my kid’s dental appointment, I have a decent memory for prices because I’m genetically engineered to avoid being ripped off.

Today I made my monthly (bi-monthly?) trip to Ralph’s (Kroger).  Let me first say that Ralph’s, you have a LOT of nerve saying you have low prices.  Most of the foods in the store were not just priced a little higher, but a LOT higher.  We’re talking a buck or more in some cases.

Of course, I’m not talking about the foods I was there to buy: Pad Thai noodles, sliced water chestnuts, and ginger (which, at the same price as Trader Joe’s, is refrigerated and of much higher quality/freshness).  In fairness, on my way out I spotted organic chard for the same price as at Whole Foods ($1.99 a bunch) and organic carrots for $.79 a pound and made off with both on impulse (whoo, I really like to live big, don’t I?).

Clearly Ralph’s does all right on some items (grapes, for example, were competitively priced on sale, as were apples), and makes up a lot of ground on others (you can get spanked buying detergent there, and the pasta was at least $.20 more per bag).  Beans in bulk at Whole Foods cost less per pound than conventionally grown dry beans at Ralph’s.  That’s how dynamic pricing works:  They grab you for the sale, and grab you somewhere down south for the rest.

I was particularly peeved by the price of Fage yogurt.

Mmmm. How much are you willing to pay to get your yogurt fix?

Like many of my students, I really like Fage, but probably unlike my students I know what Fage costs nearly everywhere a person can buy it.  Fage has really, really dynamic pricing (pricing that changes with inventory, season, or the whims of some evil genius).  Here is a cost breakdown of normally priced Fage in my ‘hood, per 5.3 oz container as of yesterday, 10/17/12:

  • Ralphs:             $1.69
  • Trader Joe’s:   $1.49
  • Target:              $1.42
  • Costco:              $1.09 – but you have to buy a box of 12 in flavors                  chosen for you

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Adorable cuteness from www.Iloveobento.com.  Now get packing!Today we made our monthly trek to the rather large, cavernous, favorite, horrible, boring mall. My child loves the place, but with its wide expanse and those tiny legs needing to see every remote corner from end to end, I pack like we’re going on holiday.

Because even though the place is huge, it has very little nutritious food.

With gas soaring over the $4 mark in L.A., and food prices rocketing, it also pays to pack a bag. Here’s what was in ours: Continue reading