Do you ever track how much you spend on groceries each month? I never really thought about it until last week. Growing up, my sister and I learned that if there’s one thing that one should never really skimp on spending, it’s good food, and I suppose that philosophy has carried over into adulthood.
Of course, with the economy the way it is, dropping bucks on a slab of foie gras or a chunk of jamón ibérico is pretty much out of the question. But still. Even the every day stuff all adds up. I don’t know about you, but I tend to shop at two or three different grocery stores a month for variety–usually one Asian store, a supermarket and/or Trade Joe’s–so even though I’m spending maybe $30-$40 at each place, the bills pile up rather fast.
Out of curiosity, I added up all my grocery bills for January, and came up with a figure around $550, including alcohol. I was pretty shocked, actually, because it sounded pretty darn high for a household of two. I wondered how my spending stacked up with others, and came across a nifty little calculator on MotherJones.com that actually tells you how your food spending compares with people in your area.
The result? I definitely spend a lot more on groceries compared with people in my area, but then again, I hardly spend anything on restaurant food each month. (We get takeout/eat out maybe once a month, if anything.)
That made me feel a little better, but it was definitely a wake-up call. Perhaps I should rethink my food budget and figure out ways to stretch it out–a difficult task for a food lover, to be sure. Is it possible to save money on groceries without having to resort to stockpiles of Hamburger Helper, 10-cent ramen packages and SPAM?
A while back, I picked up a book called Be Thrifty: How to Live Better with Less by Pia Catton and Califia Suntree (excellent book, by the way) , and there are some pretty good tips in there for the thrifty cook.
Some paraphrased “Tenets of the Thrifty Cook:”
1) Avoid dining out. No problem.
2) Set a realistic grocery budget and, if possible, pay with cold, hard cash. Errrgh.
3) Buy nutritious but economical food, like beans, tougher cuts of meat for stewing; cut out things that don’t have much nutritional value, like sodas; and cut down on expensive foods, like seafood and filet mignon.
4) DIY as much food as possible. Now that’s something I can hang with. Fresh, homemade pasta, bread and ice cream? Yes, please!
5) Grow your own veggies and herbs.
6) Curb food spoilage. How many times have you found a science fair-worthy specimen of old leftovers in a Tupperware stashed in the back of the fridge? Yuck. Here’s an idea from GetRichSlowly.org.
And, of course, there are budget-stretching recipes, like shepherd’s pie, bean and pasta soup, DIY pizza, lasagna…and this simple, $7 recipe for linguine with Italian braised escarole that can feed 4 people.
In the spirit of saving money–and experimentation–I’ll step up to the challenge and try living by these tenets and beyond, and document my adventures. Feel free to chime in with your own tips and tricks on saving money in the kitchen.
Suddenly, saving money on food doesn’t seem like such a drag after all.