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Updated on Thursday, January 22, 2015
I live in one of the most expensive areas in the country, about thirty minutes outside of Manhattan. My rent for my 800 sq ft apartment is nearly $2,000 a month, and all of those high costs extend to other expenses, like groceries.
Now, groceries are undoubtedly more expensive in the city and they are likely more expensive in other high cost areas, like San Francisco. However, we are still dealing with high numbers, about double to triple the cost of food in my home state of Louisiana.
Last year, I was spending $600+ a month on feeding two people. I decided that for 2015, my New Year’s resolution was to get these costs down on my family’s grocery budget. I knew I could do it if I got creative. So far, I’ve only been spending $50 a week on groceries. It’s not easy, but it’s doable with a few adjustments.
Readjust Your Expectations
Look, I want to be the lady in Whole Foods just as much as the rest of you. Everything is neat and organized. It’s bright, happy, and clean. However, I had to readjust my expectations if I wanted to cut my budget.
I currently shop at a little grocery store in the next town over. The food is fine and fresh. It’s just usually a mess most of the time. There are boxes on the floor that you have to step over because they are unpacking groceries at all times. Sometimes they don’t have everything on my list.
It’s not Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, but it’s important to acknowledge that some stores are cheaper, and usually they aren’t shiny and new.
Organize Shopping Lists
Order your shopping list by category. Just to give an example, it should look something like this:
- Green Beans
- Parmesan Cheese
- Black Beans
- Ziplock Bags
When you do this and put your groceries under each category, you are less likely to purchase things that aren’t on your list. You just go to that section, buy what’s on your list, and move on. Your sections might look different than mine because maybe your butter and milk are on opposite sides of the store, so it’s up to you to categorize it by your store’s layout.
Just as an example, I don’t typically buy frozen, packaged items and because of that, I’m not even going to walk down the frozen food aisle and be tempted to buy ice cream.
When you live in a high cost, urban area, meat is going to be really expensive. I’m not saying you have to be 100% vegetarian, but meals like rice and beans are far cheaper than steak and asparagus.
I take the approach of sprinkling meat in my food. So, instead of making two chicken breasts for dinner, I might cut up just one and put it in a casserole. Just because we want meat doesn’t mean we have to be excessive about it. Similarly, instead of cutting up a nice chunk of beef for a soup, I might just take a few strips of bacon, cut them up and sprinkle it in the soup instead.
I love steak and potatoes more than any other meal, but I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed the vegetarian meals I’ve been making. With the right spices, you can’t really tell the difference. If you’re the type who believes it isn’t a meal without meat, I would just encourage you to try one meal a week in the form of a casserole or soup. It’s hard to change habits, but if you need to cut your grocery budget and you live in a high cost area, this is one of the easiest ways to do it.
Cut Out the Packaged Food
The mashed potatoes that you make in the package are great and save a lot of time, but making real mashed potatoes is cheaper (and tastes better anyway).
When food is packaged, it’s more expensive especially in higher cost areas. It’s also typically not that great for you. I’ve gone back to basics, back to cutting up broccoli instead of getting it in a steamable bag. I always argued that my time was valuable and so these extra costs were worth it. The reality is that at $600 and sometimes $700 a month for groceries, it wasn’t worth it at all.
Don’t Focus on Coupons
I think it’s important to mention that I rarely cut coupons. Coupons are usually for the packaged items mentioned above. Occasionally you can find ones for good products and if so, by all means use them. I personally don’t want buy one get one free Oreos because I’ll eat them all in one sitting. The real way to save money isn’t with coupons and 40 free packs of Tic Tacs. It’s by making meals that are healthy, basic, and simple.