I have a weird confession to make: I actually enjoy grocery shopping. Keeping an eye out for promotions, picking up the best ingredients for my weekly meal plan, and finding a place for my cravings in my budget is a bit like a game for me. Sure, it’s not the most exciting activity of my week, and some days I just want to order takeout, but among all my chores as a single-woman-living-in-a-big-city, it’s the less boring one.
Recently, as I started a Serious Budget Mission thanks to TFD, I realized that my weekly grocery spending was way too high for my junior-level income. I used to spend between $50 and $63 per week, and a lot of the stuff I bought ended up in the trash (I know, I know). This waste was mostly due to the tricky adjustment I had to make, from moving from a friend’s house supplied with all the necessary kitchen tools, to a 160-square-foot apartment, complete with two hot plates and a small fridge. Those cute Mark&Spencer cinnamon bagels I used to eat for breakfast? Well, they’re much less tasty un-toasted.
So after I made this mental transition, I also had to downsize my budget. This began with planning my meals ahead for the week, and buying things accordingly. At this point, I noticed that some of my eating habits were quite damaging to my bank account. I was surprised. I always thought that takeout was the worst possible thing you could do in terms of food budget, but I didn’t expect that some grocery items would impact your spending that much. A full French breakfast with orange juice, coffee or tea, croissants, jam and yogurt, even made at home, can easily cost up to $3 — which adds up when you’re on a budget.
I love cooking, and I don’t mind using seasonal ingredients. I managed to maintain a $42 budget for the past few weeks. I’m hoping I can eventually go below the $30 limit while still using fresh products.
As a result of my grocery budgeting experience, here is a list of items I decided to cut out. Please note that I live in an expensive city, and that the nearest store in my area is Monoprix, a very pricey supermarket chain. This might not resonate with everyone, but I think city-dwellers will know where I’m coming from.
1. Packaged orange juice
As I mentioned earlier, I love getting a large breakfast with all the terrible-for-you but oh-so-damn-good things. I’m also a sweet tooth. When I can’t have croissants and jam because I don’t have time, or because my scale just insulted me in four different languages, I usually have toast, coffee, and a glass of orange juice. Low-cost orange juice makes me feel like I just poured acid in my stomach, so I used to go for the Tropicana pack, which costs $4. But recently, I replaced it with fresh tangerines. My insulin level thanks me for it, and so does my wallet.
Ah, avocados. A wonderful, delicious, versatile vegetable. Also, an incredibly expensive one ($2.20/piece in my store). I used to buy two or three, then slowly let them rot in my fridge, because I was too lazy to make guacamole. I now treat them as a luxury. Of course, living in France, most avocados come from Chile or Peru, and therefore, they cost much more than in other parts of the world. I’m sure there is an expensive item you buy on a regular basis you could turn into a treat-yourself ingredient. What’s your avocado?
This one is obvious, and to be honest, I haven’t cut it out entirely from my budget. I come from a meat-lover family, and I still eat meat three or four times a week. However, I’ve realized that I enjoy meat-based dishes much more when I don’t have them too often. Yesterday, I made a sweet potato curry that was as good as the chicken version.
Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy snacking as much as the next girl. However, I noticed that not all snacks are made equal. Some of them come in those extra-large packs that I never manage to finish, and some, usually the tastier ones, are way too expensive for their nutritious qualities (or lack thereof). A box of good cookies at my store costs around $4, and you get six tiny cookies. I hate wasting food, but I also hate getting cheated.
5. Quickly perishable products
This one may vary a lot depending on your eating habits and favorite cravings. Cold cuts, especially Italian cured meats, are on the top of my personal vice list. Even I can’t eat a plate of charcuterie in one sitting, and after a night in the fridge, they usually turn into depressing pieces of red cardboard. I don’t like getting depressed when I open my fridge.
Candy suffers from the same flaw than snacks. A bag of Haribo gummies doesn’t have a huge impact on my budget, but I never seem to be able to finish it, and wasting food does add up. So now, I buy candy when I’m having a dinner party with my friends, or during Halloween, and to be honest, I don’t miss it that much.
7. Weird ingredients I’m never going to use
If you’re like me and you like to cook, you may have found yourself falling into the food-trend trap. Kale, Goji berries, smoothies with alien-ish products in them, or even super-expensive spices that are supposed to turn your miserable bowl of carrot soup into a five-star dish…They usually end up in the bottom of my fridge, and seeing them always reminds me of my Terrible Weakness. Now, every time I see an expensive, hard-to-find ingredient on a recipe, I try to substitute it.
Overall, the changes I’ve implemented in my grocery shopping have a lot to do with lifestyle evolution. I had to adapt to a reduced living space and the lack of cooking equipment. I’m also trying to develop healthier eating habits, and the good thing is, it has actually helped me reduce my food budget.
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