My Foolproof 4-Step Plan To Never Overspend On Groceries

I got caught last night having my groceries delivered to my apartment, despite literally living across the street from a Ralph’s.

Despite the mountain of shame I felt, I’m not going to stop. I could try to justify my Prime Now addiction with a lame excuse, like it’s good for the economy for me to be so lazy, but I’m not going to insult your intelligence.

Here’s the real reason: it saves me money, and lets me eat better.

Before my last relationship ended, my ex and I had a system for splitting the bill. I was paying for the food I wanted, more or less, but physically going to the grocery store was always a danger to my bank account. I’ve learned that I have three weaknesses in life: orchids, cheap wine, and those dark chocolate peanut butter cups. Add to that a habit of buying a ton of fresh produce with the best intentions, and letting life get in the way of actually cooking with any of it. Every month, I’d spend $200, and still stick to ramen while throwing away things that could have been so much better for me.

Now that I’m living alone, my newly-inflated grocery bill needed some adjustments. Also, now that I truly have my own kitchen, I want to make the commitment to actually learn to cook — or at least consistently eat better.

Here’s my system to get the best bang for my buck:

1. Meal Planning

I’m terrible at actually thinking about what food I want to eat in advance, but I’m great at ogling food porn. I’ll casually browse r/gifrecipes and Pinterest for inspiration on a lazy morning. Even better, a wonderful Redditor made an app that lets you search and tag your favorite gif recipes called yummyGIF. Any time I find something I like, I add it to my Pinterest board, and when it’s time to stock up on groceries, I’ll pick 1-2 recipes I want to try. Then, I’ll survive on leftovers through the rest of the week, because, baby steps.

2. Grocery Lists

I have a magnetic grocery list on my fridge, along with a pen, so I never forget to add things as they run out. What I do forget is taking the list with me to the grocery store.

Instead, I add items to the cart on my Prime Now app as soon as I run out of them at home. This way, it’s impossible to forget once I’m ready to make my order. Plus, if I’m going out to an actual real-life grocery store, I not only have my list right there on my phone, but I can price compare as I shop.

3. Which Stores for What

Ok, here’s where frugal me probably goes too far, and why I need Prime Now in my life. I think about my grocery needs in terms of which store offers better quality and lower pricing. For my staples outside of my local farmer’s market (and its aptly named Crack Butter), this usually means:

Ralphs:

  • Orange juice
  • Ramen (you know… just in case)

Prime Now (from Sprouts):

  • Meat
  • Fresh produce* (if I can’t make it to the Farmer’s Market that week)

Costco:

  • Kirkland Signature booze (because I’m worth it)
  • Rice or pasta
  • Black beans

Anywhere:

  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Bread
  • Frozen edamame

(I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the awesomeness that is Imperfect Produce. While, as a single eater, I can’t say I’d consistently get the most out of this, it’s a great solution for those with a partner, roommate, or family. This is a subscription service for produce that, while tasting exactly right, just doesn’t look like what we’re accustomed to seeing at the grocery store. This food usually goes to waste, but instead, we can buy it for a fraction of the price of cosmetically perfect produce. Besides, I live in LA, where everyone drinks their produce anyway.)

Sure, I could drive the 20 minutes to and from my closest Sprouts, but why bother when Amazon matches their pricing? By purchasing produce and meat from Sprouts, I save an average of $10/trip. That’s nothing to scoff at. Plus, it’s delivered straight to my apartment!

Whenever I have to go out to an actual store to get that one thing for whichever recipe(s) I’m trying, I’ll double check the pricing on the rest of my list. If they’re cheaper at the store, I’ll pick them up as well. And I won’t deviate from my list.

4. Don’t Let Everything Expire

Here’s the biggest change: I refuse to let my food go bad anymore. I’ve made it a habit to use Fridgely religiously to track expiration dates on every single perishable item I bring home. I scan or manually enter my groceries and their expiration dates as I put things away, and the app alerts me a few days before anything goes bad.

While the scanner isn’t perfect, I have yet to let my food expire! All of the delicious, healthy, unprocessed food I buy actually fuels my body now, and I don’t have to rely on my ramen crutch anymore simply because whatever I thought I’d make was, um, no longer edible.

*****

So sure, I occasionally have groceries delivered, instead of walking across the street like any able-bodied adult should. BUT I’m eating healthier now than I ever have, and saw my grocery bill drop. Now I just need to learn how to really cook, and I’ll be that much closer to actual adulthood.

This post was originally published on a fledgling blog meant to help the author eliminate anxiety from her life, and to help organize her thoughts.

Image via Unsplash

  • Katie

    For folks on the East Coast, I want to plug “Hungry Harvest” – basically the same idea as Imperfect Produce. I swear by them!

    • Katie

      Oh, and for the veggies I don’t get to before they start looking wilted, I’ll chop them all up, throw them in a freezer bag, and when the bag gets full, I make soup. Nothing is wasted, it’s nutritious, and saves money.

    • Anon

      Cool! It sounds like a great idea.

    • Sheila Borkar

      Seconding this! My roommates and I just got our first delivery last weekend, and we LOVE Hungry Harvest. It’s great that they let you tell them about your preferences, so you can choose to never receive something you hate/are allergic to. I think if I lived by myself I’d probably go with a half share or full share every other week (my three roommates split one CSA box and one Hungry Harvest box every week, and it’s the best of both worlds– a good amount of produce, we get farm-fresh seasonal produce from the CSA, and staples and non-local stuff (lychees!) from HH). Highly recommend!

  • Thanks for the Imperfect Produce link! I love the idea of using “ugly” but perfectly tasty food that would normally go to waste.
    And meal planning has been a big help for me to avoid food waste. Things that can freeze if I can’t finish it or am just plain tired of it. I recently made greek style meatballs that were really tasty.
    http://reciperunner.com/greek-meatballs-tzatziki-sauce/