Hi everyone, Happy Monday and Happy Spring! FINALLY!
Today I thought I would talk a little bit about grocery shopping on a budget since keeping a grocery budget low can be tough, especially when trying to buy lots of produce and other healthy stuff. I am by no means an expert at sticking to a budget, but I have found some things that work well for me.
Since moving to Chicago 3 years ago, I have often struggled to stay within a budget. I moved to Chicago without a job so I had almost no money to live off of for almost a year. I was very relieved to finally find a job but let’s just say my salary wasn’t exactly anything to write home about. I was fortunate enough to have my parents paying my way through college and beyond, so being in Chicago was really my first taste of living off of a (very) low income.
With rent being very high, tax being very high and having a great city that needs exploring, I didn’t (and still don’t really) have the extra money to be wasting it all on grocery shopping. That being said, I love to cook and still want to eat healthy food. Because of all of these things, I needed to come up with ways to not spend a ton of money.
The first thing that I do and one that helps me the most, is to go to different stores for different things. This might sound annoying, but it really isn’t so bad. Plus, I love grocery stores and grocery shopping so I actually like doing this. Once per week, I go to Stanley’s which is a really cheap fruit and vegetable market close to my apartment. In Michigan, a similar store would be Joe Randazzo’s. If you don’t live in Chicago or the Detroit area, look around or search the internet and see if there is a similar fruit/vegetable market by you. It is totally worth it because the produce is so cheap. I know I have talked about Stanley’s before, but it just never fails to amaze me the amount of produce that I can get for so little money. I took a cooking class at Whole Foods where the chef was talking about how Whole Foods has the best produce and places like Stanley’s have worse produce and that is why it is so cheap, but I don’t find that to be true at all. There are occasionally certain items that don’t look that great, but it is easy enough just to avoid that item.
Last week I bought a huge bag of arugula, broccoli, 3 pints of raspberries, peppers, a pint of blueberries, carrots, tomatoes, mushrooms, celery, apples, sweet potatoes, oranges, avocados, onions, 2 cans of chickpeas all for only 23 dollars!
I buy the produce once per week to last me for that week. Since I try to have my meals made up of mostly fruits and vegetables, I work around what I have in the cupboard already and really only need to go to Dominick’s (grocery store) or Trader Joe’s once every 2 weeks or so to stock up on stuff like bread, dairy, almond milk, tofu, grains, oatmeal, nut butter, etc. One random thing that I have found useful lately is to freeze bread right after I buy it and then just thaw it by the slice when I want it. I think the bread I have now has lasted me for months.
When stocking up on essentials, there are certain items that I have found to be cheaper at Trader Joes, and some that you would be better off buying at a grocery store like Dom’s (Dominick’s) or Jewel.
Buy at TJ’s: any nut butters, pizza dough, tofu, wine!!, ready made/frozen meals, soymilk, nuts, most organic stuff
Buy at Dom’s, other grocery store: Dairy: eggs, yogurt, cheese, canned goods, condiments, baking stuff (flour, sugar), meat if you are so inclined.
Although condiments I actually have been buying at Trader Joe’s because it seems like EVERYTHING has high fructose corn syrup in it! Have you guys noticed that? Ketchup, BBQ sauce, it seems so unnecessary!! If you have found a good brand that doesn’t have any, please let me know!
I wish I could do more of my shopping at Whole Foods, but it is too expensive for the most part. I mostly use Whole Foods for the bulk bins. Bulk bins are also a great way to save money because you are basically saving money that you would be paying for packaging. Plus, you can buy only what you need which is convenient. Speaking of the cooking class I took, did you guys know that you can ask to sample anything at Whole Foods and they have to say yes? Who knew! Also, the chef told us that you can do whatever you want to make your produce weigh less, such as ripping the stems off of things like broccoli, mushrooms, etc and just leaving the stems. I guess I never thought about doing that, but it probably does make at least a little bit of a difference!
I recently joined Costco and buy a thing or two there. For families, obviously Costco is the shiz, but I can’t buy much without stuff starting to go bad before I can get to it and I hate wasting food. I do buy two things there every 3ish weeks: feta and hummus. The feta is like 5 bucks for a ginormous container and stays good for that long too, same with the hummus. Today when I was wandering around and sampling with the old folks, I also noticed a few other things that seem to be exceptionally good deals: olives, spices, almonds, dried fruit. They were almost all 6 or 7 bucks for a huge thing, and it seems like a lot of those foods are usually around 5 dollars for a small-normal size portion at the grocery store. My membership is totally worth it just for the few things I buy there. Well, also for the free samples and 63 cent fountain diet coke and cheaper gas prices. Last week I made the mistake of buying this:
I’m not sure if the picture does this bag justice because this is 2.5 pounds of spinach. Needless to say, 90% of my meals last week contained spinach and I was still struggling to finish it all.
As you can see, what it really comes down to is planning! Make a list of what you need from each store and try to stick to it as closely as possible. The first few years that I lived in Chicago, I didn’t have a car so whenever I grocery shopped, I could buy only what I could walk home with. While I do have a car now, I try to still keep that mentality of buying only what I need because otherwise I end up throwing so much random stuff into my cart which adds up quickly. Unless you really need to do a big grocery shop, I find it helps to not only come in with a list but also use a basket so that you can only carry so much stuff.
Also, check the ad’s to see what is on sale each week–most grocery stores post the ad’s online. A lot of times organic or ‘healthy’ brands like Amy’s will go on sale every few weeks. If you check the sales in advance, you can plan your menu around key items that you want to buy.
Hopefully these things help, some of them are pretty much common sense but I really think sometimes it just takes a little shopping around and trial and error to get used to a budget. I might have my grocery store bills figured out but according to mint.com, I’m still working on not exceeding my clothing budget every month. Can’t win them all though!
I also have some exciting news (well I was excited by it at least)…I have finally perfected the recipe for chickpea crackers.
1 cup chickpea flour
1/4 t salt or garlic salt
1/4 t baking powder
1-2 t rosemary
3/4 cup water
2 T nutritional yeast
1 t oil
Mix all dry ingredients together then add oil and finally water and stir until the mixture is smooth. The ‘batter’ should be almost like pancake batter, thin enough that it will pour easily and will bubble a little too. The below picture is not smooth yet, it is only about half way through stirring.
You will want to line a baking sheet with parchment paper before pouring the mixture on and spreading to cover all edges. The reason I know that you will want to use parchment paper is because I didn’t, and even with a well greased pan, the crackers stuck to the bottom and I think the pan might not ever recover. While the crackers tasted great, they didn’t look pretty. Once you have the batter in the pan, feel free to top with more rosemary, some salt or garlic salt, or other herbs if you would like. Bake at 350 for approx 25-20 minutes, then cut into crackers. I didn’t do this the first time, but I think you could put them under the broiler for a minute after cutting into crackers to really crisp them up. These CRACKers are aptly named because they are very addicting. I ate almost the whole panful in one sitting. The good news is they are healthy so you don’t have to feel guilty doing so! Hope you like them!