Thursday, January 26, 2012

How I Grocery Shop {Secrets to Buying and Eating Simply}

As soon as it was official that I would be heading back to graduate school and instead of bringing in a teacher's salary and benefits, I would be a full-time student, paying for my own health insurance and tuition, it was decided: our budget needed to be simplified.

Part of the change we needed to make came in the form of our grocery bill.  I love natural, healthy, fresh food, and am usually willing to spend a little more on it.  However, I knew that our bill had to be cut significantly - we just couldn't afford my former eating/grocery habits.  At first, I went as cheap as I could be at our chain grocery store - canned goods, casseroles that would last us for almost the whole week, and lots of pasta.  And that worked, but it didn't satisfy my desire for at least some degree of freshness in our weekly eating.

That's when I decided to explore options other than the chain grocery store closest by.  I went to local stores, markets, and family-owned shops.  I learned that some are convenient, small, and even local, but not cheap.  Out of that exploring, I found two options that work really well for us and met my three criteria
  • They offer fresh food,
  • Have bulk dry options, 
  • And are significantly cheaper and local.  

For the most part, I now alternate my shopping between the local farmer's market in our small city each week for great, fresh produce, good bread for special occasions, and occasionally flowers or gifts; and doing the bulk of our regular, everyday shopping at a small country grocery store in a nearby town.  Although it is about a 20 minute drive to and from, it is worth it for the huge discount on prices we get.  Because most of it is from local Mennonite farms and bagged by the workers at the store, it is offered at a very modest price.  Also, they offer bulk dry goods, like sugar, flour, oats, and spices at a great price that allow me to go longer without needing to restock.

Each week, I plan what I will buy and then occasionally change only when I find a better deal on something else.  I stick to mostly the same produce purchases each week (and the routineness does take getting used to...) because I've found what works well for our budget.

I now purchase mostly apples and bananas for our fruit (because they are cheapest) and occasionally berries from Costco.  I split half of my berries and often a few bananas and freeze them right away to use for smoothies and oats.

Over the summer, it was essential - and enjoyable! - for us to grow most of the vegetables we ate in our city backyard garden.  We grew tomatoes, kale, squash, cucumbers, pumpkin, herbs, lettuce, carrots, and eggplant.

 In the winter, it's a little harder.  I either purchase lettuce and squash from the farmer's market, or buy a mix of frozen vegetables in bulk to stock our freezer and bagged spinach leaves, potatoes, carrots, or celery, and occasionally tomatoes to use for BLTs (our favorite cheap, go-to meal on the weekends).

We rely mostly on chicken breasts to fulfill our meat cravings.  We buy it in bulk freezer packs at Costco, and take out as much as we need each time we cook.  This lasts us for at least a month or two.  We usually rely on gift cards to eat out to have steak or burgers.

I buy a lot of canned black, pinto, and white beans to use for protein in tacos, chili, and black bean burgers.  We also eat a lot more eggs than we used to.

Other Items:
I buy 2 pks of eggs at a time to last us awhile, and buy locally cut and packaged bacon and cold cuts for my husband.  The cold cuts have been a huge savings - I now pay about a third of what I used to pay!

So, what do we eat?
We eat a larger variety of things than I'd imagined we'd be able to, but we do have a few stand-by favorites:
  • chili (vegetarian) and cornbread
  • pot roast (with frozen venison my husband's family gave us)
  • quesadillas (with frozen peppers, corn, and bbq chicken)
  • BLTs
  • chicken caesar salad
  • baked potatoes
  • grilled chicken w/ any seasoning imaginable!
  • healthy chicken casseroles
  • egg and salsa wraps
  • soup
Although is has been a change for us to embrace shopping and eating frugally, it has been one that we have learned from, continue to work on, and enjoy experimenting with.  I love the help and ideas I've gathered from the blogging community on how to eat healthily and frugally on a budget.  I've also sought advice from our families, who have had to endure the effects of budget ups and downs on their eating habits as they've experience life.

More to come on how we approach eating out.....

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