Last week on the Blog, we continued our conversation on maximizing the return from our food spending dollars. I gave my "Top 4" take aways, which included taking time to meal plan, making food from scratch as much as possible, reducing food waste, and eating unprocessed foods (especially for snacks) to avoid paying for expensive packaging and marketing. This week, I'll be wrapping up the 3-part series, zeroing in on the shopping component of stretching your food budget. I'll be sharing tips and tricks to help you get the most for your money while you're at the grocery store.
For some people, grocery shopping is a highlight of the week. These individuals love to wander the supermarket aisles, carefully selecting produce, reading labels, comparing prices, and discovering new brands and products. For others, grocery shopping is always put at the bottom of the To-Do List. These individuals despise spending any of their precious time in the grocery store. They get in and get out as quickly as possible, rarely read labels or compare prices, and find zero joy or satisfaction in the experience. I don't know where you find yourself. Most of us probably find ourselves somewhere in the middle, perhaps more one direction or the other, depending on our mood. I used to be someone who LOVED grocery shopping. In fact, I would often include grocery store wandering in our travel agenda (my poor family). Yet, the longer we have our store (Simply Nourished), I am less and less excited about shopping elsewhere. This is mostly because I now understand the other side of the equation really well (the retailer side vs the consumer side). I see through marketing strategies. I already know all the ingredients in products from leading "health food" and organic companies and know that we have sourced the very best. I have come to distrust the USDA labels, even Certified Organic, and would much rather support local and regional producers whose practices I can personally verify. And, to be honest, the quality of products fitting into the "health food" category that I now find readily available in other stores is simply not good. The processed food industry has really begun to take over the health food industry, which is not good for our health, but also makes for really expensive grocery bills as people try to "eat well," spending valuable resources on things like packaging and marketing rather than quality food.
So, as I mentioned already, this week I want to provide some tips to help you maximize your budget while at the grocery store. I'll be sharing these tips in list form to make them easier to remember and implement.
1. Know your spending budget before you get into the store to avoid impulse buying or spending more than you can afford. Need help setting a budget? Check out Part 1 from this series.
2. Make your Grocery List using your Meal Plan. Still not meal planning? Read (or re-read) Part 2 from this series to get inspired.
3. Stick to your needs. Grocery stores (actually nearly all types of stores) use marketing to direct and manipulate purchasing behavior. By knowing what you need, and sticking to a list of some kind, you will spare yourself from making emotional decisions to purchase things that are not true needs. Believe me, I have had to understand this quite well as a retail store owner. However, the one big difference (in my opinion) at Simply Nourished is that our Team has been taught and encouraged to be good listeners and truly use our customers' actual expressed needs in our "Sales Process" vs just selling products that have high margins or are trendy.
4. Shop the Sales Tables/Racks first. Oftentimes food nearing its sell by date will be marked down considerably. This is also true of produce that it no longer looking as pretty as when it arrived. The good news, this food is still very edible and delicious. The only caution I would issue is that if you choose to buy conventional or factory-farmed meat, eggs, dairy and produce (which I do not recommend) I would be more careful about dates and quality as there are often recalls on conventional types of those products, meaning that the risk of bacteria contamination (and therefore bacteria growth) could be higher.
5. Buy in-season produce. Fresh produce (even organic) is considerably less expensive when it is in-season. For off-season produce, consider frozen or canned alternatives to fresh. You should also consider doing your in-season fresh produce shopping at local farmers markets instead. These vendors often have lower prices and are sometimes even willing to offer a deal. At Simply Nourished we love supporting our local producers and always source from them before using a non-local distributor.
6. Choose less expensive cuts of meat and use a slow-cooker if you're concerned about tenderness. Beef especially has a huge price span depending on what cut of meat you're using. For example, chuck roasts, stew meat, round steak and even ground beef are significantly less expensive than more "prime" cuts of beef. Whole chickens are a great way to cut your cost/lb on poultry as well. Our family gets part of 3 different meals from 1 whole chicken.
7. Shop the outside edge first. Typically, the unprocessed food in a grocery store can be found around the edges of a market's layout--the produce section, meat/fish, dairy, frozen produce. Having your cart or basket full before entering the center aisles will reduce the chance of filling it up with processed food from the middle.
8. Know the "Dirty Dozen" in the produce section and focus on buying those items organic and opting for less expensive conventional options for the "cleaner" items.
9. Buy bulk whenever possible. Meat is especially less expensive when you buy in volume. Working with a local producer, for example, to buy a meat bundle or 1/4 to 1/2 of a whole animal will drastically reduce your price per pound if you enjoy a variety of different cuts of meat. Whole forms of grains, nuts and seeds are also significantly more cost-effective to buy in larger sizes. For instance, buying 1lb of pumpkin seeds will be cheaper than buying the attractive 4oz packaged size. Disclaimer: buying in bulk does require some pre-planning and budget work, and you'll have to have flexibility to use your annual food budget accordingly versus needing to follow a strict monthly budget.
10. Before adding any non-list item, ask yourself the following questions: Is this product useful to me? Does this product support my health goals for myself and my family? Keep in mind, health is a holistic thing. Beyond our physical health, we have mental/emotional health, relational health, spiritual health and financial health to consider. Grocery overspending can cause relational issues and financial issues within a family, so taking the time to ask the question can save you from problems. Asking the questions also reduces impulsivity. Adding the item to the cart or basket becomes a willful, thoughtfully made choice. We may choose to buy the dark chocolate that was not on our list. However, we've considered the purpose of buying it, and rather than a mindless choice, we've made an intentional one. In many cases, I'll buy the chocolate :) That is assuming its ingredients meet the standards I've set for what I'm comfortable consuming, and I have the financial resources to support the purchase.
I hope this list will be useful to you as you continue to look for opportunities to maximize the return of your family's food spending investment. If you have any additional questions regarding this week's Blog, or are just looking for support in this area, do not hesitate to reach out via email or by stopping in to Simply Nourished during our regular hours. By the way, we've expanded our hours to make shopping our store even more accessible and convenient--always looking for ways to bring wellness more within reach. We are now open Monday through Friday 10-6 and Saturday 10-4. Happy grocery shopping!