As I work with participants in the Frugal Mama video series challenge for TLC.com, I realize how easy it is to wing it with groceries, and how difficult it can be to resist the ‘come hither’ of take-out.
There are now five times as many fast food joints as grocery stores in America, according to this New York Times essay by Mark Bittman, Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?
One way of helping ourselves to save money by eating at home is to plan ahead to eat well. Making grocery shopping into an organized outing can seem daunting, but is actually a big relief. The satisfactions are huge for our tummies, our wallets, and our relaxed time together as a family.
So here are my top reasons on why having a game plan is a good idea.
1. Use What You Have
By checking your pantry and fridge before making a trip to the store, you won’t end up with too little salad and too many canned bottles of vinegar. (A good excuse for ordering Chinese.)
2. Strategize with Sales
When you check out the sales ahead of time (via circular or online) and structure your list around items that cost less, you’ll see huge savings in your bill. I consistently save 30 to 40% just by spending an extra 15 minutes on the sales flyer.
3. Eliminate “Quick” Trips to the Store
If you like to plan out your meals for the week, you can make sure you buy all the ingredients you’ll need instead of wasting time, energy, and gas in last-minute trips.
4. Love-Hate Doughnuts
When you have a plan, you won’t be (as) tempted during drive-bys of seasonally appropriate cupcakes.
5. Avoid Supermarket Meltdowns
Shopping with young children can feel like a triathlon. If you know exactly what you want and need, you can get in and out much more quickly. Making shopping more pleasing, makes the whole cooking thing more pleasing, which means you’ll do it more.
6. No Empty Cupboards
If you have everything that you need to make meals all week, you can’t use the bare fridge excuse for calling the Pizza Guy.
7. Simplify Decision-Making
If you’ve planned out every meal ahead of time (there are plenty of online services that can help you do this), you are much more likely to stay on track and not go out when you feel tired.
8. Efficiency Fuels Frugality
If you know what you want, you’ll have more focus in the store, and you can spend more time comparing unit prices (to really get the best deal).
9. No Spoiled Stuff in the Trash
Americans waste about 30% of the food we buy. If you plan your grocery trip based on what you already have and can reasonably eat in one week, you’ll be much less likely to throw anything out.
10. Prep Ahead
With all the ingredients in hand, you can prep some items on the weekend (chop onions, make rice) and freeze them for busy weeknights. Or make huge batches of soups and casseroles and freeze them in dinner-size portions.
11. Don’t Be Caught Unawares
A planned grocery trip can accommodate food needs for special events like school parties or potlucks so you won’t be tempted to just pick up a box of fried chicken or a an appetizer plate.
13. Make Grocery Shopping Non-Negotiable
If you build a grocery trip into your routine (every Saturday morning, for example), it will become less of a chore to be weasled out of and more of an automatic action.
14. Find the Fun in Simple Things
Planning a grocery trip online using the store’s weekly specials is actually quite relaxing. Instead of watching a show, do your shopping in your pajamas. And then reward yourself with something even more relaxing.
15. Coupons Require Planning
If you use coupons (I usually don’t), you can write down items you have coupons for in the order you would find them in the store, and even try to match them with sales.
15. Commit to Quality of Life
Running out at the last minute to grab the ingredients you need to make dinner waste precious family time and makes life even more hectic.
16. Quick Takes its Toll
Fast-food is addictive. The more we cook at home and adjust our bodies to simple tastes, the more we appreciate the goodness of whole foods eaten together as a family.
17. Trickle-Down Effect
Being organized and knowing we have everything we need is a big stress-reducer. If we are more relaxed and feel more in control of our lives, we are happier and less likely to spend impulsively or to throw money at foods that seem like they will make our life easier.
So there you have it. I know I touched on some themes more than once, but it can help to hear something said in different ways.
I am the first to say that grocery shopping is not my favorite thing. But I find ways to enjoy it, or at least make sure I do it regularly, because I do like cooking and I know that eating at home saves us big time (and makes us feel better inside).
I am having a lot of fun working with real people with real problems in the Frugal Mama Makeover series, and I feel privileged to have been invited in to help. If you live in the Maryland, Virginia, or D.C. area, consider sending in your story for this continuing series. The first video will air on November 4 on TLC.com — I’ll let you know when it’s up!
Next time, I’ll talk about how I plan my grocery trips.
What about you? How do you help yourself get the shopping and cooking done?
Photo credits: bowls, eggs.