On Groceries and Food Towards Our Financial and Physical Well-Being

by David Ning · 23 comments

You can save lots of money with grocery choices

Before I continue further, I need to confess that I am an amazing cook (yes, I’m one of those lucky few who possess the skills to know exactly how to cook everything in their head but never put it in action).  This piece is done through research, observing what my wife does and asking her questions.

I must be the luckiest person on the face of this planet.  I have an incredible wife, who not only cooks for the family but showed me that we can actually be financially and physically healthy by just eating at home.  Let me share with you some of the benefits.

Never Overspend
Unlike common practice, we never buy the largest container for sale just because the unit price is lower. We found that buying in bulk usually just means we consume more (ex. If we had a bigger container of salt, each spoon full would be just a bit “fuller”).

Ever since that realization, we started buying smaller packages. Not only did this save us a few bucks, we also noticed that we started slimming down. It must be less ice-cream and Coke at night.

Decide Our Menu Based Upon Items On Sale
Well, I make it sound like I decide the menu but it’s actually my wife that does the thinking since she is the expert (I do make requests from time to time but I rarely have any ideas).

More often than not, we go to the grocery store without even knowing what we will buy. It’s not that we don’t like planning, but we would often decide what we will eat based on what’s on sale. Beyond the obvious financial benefit, we actually like the surprises this brings us.

Eating Out or Bringing Home Take Out
Now that we eat at home most of the time, we eat out less often. I work at home and Emma even prepares a lunch box for me from the night before. It’s not always the money that I save, but the hassle and time that I could spend elsewhere that I really cherish.

Save Some Gas
I heard that there are some grocery stores that allow you to shop online. I haven’t tried it but I just don’t know if I like that idea. In theory, you could save some gas but they charge you for delivery (some stores have promotional offers to waive the delivery fee). I can see this working for those that buy the same type of groceries but this convenience might be “too easy” which makes us buy even more.

What we do to save gas is that we will almost never go make a trip just to the grocery store. We buy groceries on our way home from doing something else, or Emma would go there on her way home from work. We just add it as another activity of the day, instead of making a ton of separate trips.

Coupons are Everywhere
Through the mail and the Internet, coupons are all over the place and is practically available for everything. Nowadays, I almost never buy something without first trying to search for a coupon. I actually find it quite fun to read the mailings and see what’s on sale. Sure it’s advertisements, but since groceries don’t really entice me to buy that much (unlike golf clubs for example), I find that looking at advertisements from grocery stores are okay.

There’s Got to Be More
So I shared some ways that our family benefits with our “groceries” habits, now it’s your turn. What do you do to save money on food and what are your thoughts on what we do? Of special interest is actually the online grocery experience since I wouldn’t mind trying it out one day. Let us know.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • I don’t generally buy in bulk either because we might be tempted to eat all of it:) I do menu planning based on sales, stock up if I can find a great deal, use coupons and do my very best to stick to my budget.

    That said, I don’t want to compromise our health either – so I pick and choose where to go organic, fresh, etc.

  • Manya says:

    Since I am single and have to plan and cook only for myself, I prefer shopping for the fresh vegetables on my way back home. Also, I make sure that I buy only as much as I can consume otherwise I check with the shopkeeper if he is willing to give me the quantity of vegetable or meat that I need, instead of buying things in bulk. This helps me waste food and I get to eat fresh and variety everyday.

  • Ohh, some nice ideas here! I personally just cook cheap meals. I’m almost vegetarian (save for some tilapia when it’s on sale). Beans + legumes are ridiculously cheap (especially if you cook them at home instead of canned).

    My best tip though, is to wash + cut all your veggies right away. Put them into ziplock bags in the fridge, so they are ready to go for snacks or when you want to cook something. WAY less waste when they are chopped and ready, rather than discovering that lone green pepper a month later at the back of your fridge.

    Note: this also results in eating WAY more veggies! WIN!

  • lana says:

    I have been working on the k.i.s.s. principle of cooking. I like pasta primavera maybe with a little meat, stir fry, tacos, wraps, salads with fish or steak.. My objective it to have less waste. I hate seeing food going into the garbage. We aim for $100 a week in groceries. I shop at four grocery stores on a monthly basis. If something looks like a good deal, I buy five at least of it. When my kids leave the nest, I hope to cut most meat out completely.

  • janep says:

    Stock up on canned goods. Those last a long time.

  • Anita says:

    I cook for the 2 of us perhaps 3 x a week. I try to make meals that we can eat more than once – like soup or casseroles or chili. In this way, we can eat delicious meals that cost $1 – $2/each, and feel free to go out to eat a couple of times a week.
    I always check the market’s day-old vegetable/fruit racks for items to use – they are about half the price and often I can’t tell what’s wrong with them. And the biggest thing we’ve done is almost stop eating meat. We have become educated on the perils to health of eating factory farmed meat and so no longer buy it. Americans generally eat too much protein and animal fat clogs arteries and causes heart disease, etc. In addition, we have become aware that the Meat Lobby/Industry has brainwashed Americans to believe that they MUST eat meat at every meal! We are currently late 50’s and early 60’s in age and we take NO medicines and have NO health problems! See the book The China Study, or the film Forks over Knives, for more info.

  • Skaye says:

    I stopped buying cold cereals when I realized that most of them, per pound, are more expensive than steak! I now eat oatmeal or boiled eggs for breakfast.

    I grocery shop every week and I only buy meat that is on sale. I plan my next week’s meals based on the meat I bought this week. Sometimes I have to be creative with my purchases. But it’s allowed me to research the internet for some great recipes! I now know how to bake an awesome full salmon fillet with orange juice and mandarin oranges – served with baked sweet potato flavored with some sage.

    We always eat left overs, for work lunches. Or sometimes I’ll recreate a different dish with left over meat; pot roast meat makes a great beef / veg / barley soup.

    We cook with powdered milk and save the fresh milk for drinking. In most recipes you can’t tell the difference and it’s cheaper to use the powdered. This helps to save some money.

    Everyone has great ideas! Love this site.

  • Signe says:

    We have a large refrigerator at work. On Mondays I bring a loaf of bread (LaBrea whole grain or locally made whole grain/rye bread), a stick of butter, some fresh mixed greens, a cucumber, tomatoes, sweet red or yellow pepper, a bag of snap peas, and some good cheese (Gruyere, for example) and store it in “my” section of the fridge (a crisper drawer). I make a couple of fresh open-faced sandwiches with these items for both breakfast and lunch every day and still usually have food to take home on Friday. Sometimes I’ll bring in something like hard-boiled eggs, pumpkin seeds I’ve roasted, or potato salad to augment this and usually I’ll have fruit at my desk too along with a bar of dark chocolate that can serve as desert for the week. I figure five breakfasts and five lunches lunches and some snacks each week costs me around $2 a day (the costly cheese being the most expensive item). Every meal is freshly made and tastes great and draws comments of envy from folks eyeing my “gourmet” meals while they wait for their “lean cuisine” (etc) to heat up in the microwave. I think I’m ahead of the game. I set the desk “table” with a colorful placemat and some of my favorite, colorful dishes that makes the whole meal more enjoyable. By having the food at work, I don’t have to worry about bringing lunch every day. It only takes a few minutes to put together a delicious meal.

    • Anita says:

      Sounds wonderful! We eat this way too – but I’ve lately started roasting veggies. (I check the market’s “day old” veggie/fruit section for deals.) I roast 1 or 2 cookie sheets worth at a time w/a little oil and herbs, cool, and pack in the fridge. We use them in roll-ups for lunch w/cheese and greens, with pasta or raviolis & sauce for a meal, or hot or cold in salads. Yummy!

  • Eloisa says:

    With a family of four to feed, we buy my meats (chicken, beef, and pork) at Costco. Since they come in bulk, I would divide them according to usage and store them in the freezer. (You get more for your money at Costco and the meats are very good quality.)
    I tend to buy more ground beef since it’s easier to cook and cheaper per pound. We would use them for spaghetti, ground beef with zucchini and peppers and other veggies. Staple items like rice, milk, eggs, olive oil, rice, pancake mix and pasta are quite cheap there too.

    We also buy necessities like toilet paper, paper towel, detergent, fabric softener and other cleaning supplies. (Fortunately, we have storage to accommodate these.)

    The only drawback with Costco is that they sell almost everything and you really have to be disciplined to shop and buy only what’s on your list. I would strictly just use cash and leave my ATM card at home.

    • Anita says:

      Eloisa, it is very unsafe to eat commercial ground beef. If you must eat ground beef, please buy cuts of meat and grind them at home or ask the store to do it for you (it is safer to grind yourself it at home).

      In addition, eat more vegetarian meals. Your children do not need all the added hormones in commercial meat. And the antibiotics in meat make those who eat them resistant to antibiotics when you need them to work!!! I can’t imagine the “quality” of Costco meat, but unless it’s locally and organically grown by small farmers…even then, they are at the mercy of commercial cattle food producers. See “Deadly Feasts” by Richard Rhodes and/or “The Mad Cowboy” by Howard F. Lyman for more info (you can buy used copies very cheaply on Amazon), and please read “The China Study” for information on how to live longer and healthier lives – by avoiding animal fats as much as possible!

      Please note that recent studies have found that hormones in meat and dairy are now seen to result in girls’ arriving at puberty earlier and boys later (growth hormones are all estrogenic/female). In addition, estrogen is a KNOWN cancer-causing agent. For more info on hormones in our food, google Dr. John Lee and see his website and articles on this issue.

      Good luck!

  • cynthia says:

    My husband and I are retired. I shop from a list and plan menus weekly. I write the list as I plan for five to seven days ahead and write the menu on the side of the sheet so I will had a list to remember by.

    Also, I save money by deciding once a month to eat out of the freezer and pantry, thereby forcing myself to get creative and use up what I have already paid for.

    My husband said his mother had soup once a week, (Friday is a good day) and use up left-0vers to make a vegetable beef soup. I have done this often and it forces me to try new vegetables in the soup that I have not tried before, such as sweet potatoes, navy beans, spinach and so on. Hope this helps.

  • Andrew @ Financial Services says:

    One who is talented in the kitchen can definitely whip up something good within a budget. A good idea would be to use those budget meal recipes and then substitute some of the ingredients with stuff that are on sale. We have tried this and it really saved us some fast cash, although it will require someone who has a experience in the culinary arts to make this work, not to mention someone who has a bit of time to plan all of these for the whole week.

  • Jimmy @ Wealth Is Boring says:

    Like the previous commenter said, keeping and sticking to a grocery shopping list is an excellent way to curb spending at the grocery store.

    My girlfriend and I faithfully stick to an “index card system” whereby we write down anything we deplete in the kitchen and ONLY buy those items the next time we have to run to the store. Well, those items plus her $5 Starbucks coffee, but we’re working on that one…

  • Mizé says:

    Hi.
    I always do shopping lists and try to stick to them. I do price comparison and buy less expensive brands.
    Buying in bulk may have the effect of spending more but with control it can save me some money, besides, I never buy fresh products in bulk, only things like detergents, oil, pasta, etc.
    I try to buy concentrate products, dilute them in water in smaller bottles and hide the big bottles, so I forget I have more product, and this works, no more the psychological effect of spending more because you see more.
    I also focus on cooking home from scratch but we love eating out too. I´m trying to balance things, instead of reducing drastically one of our greatest pleasures.
    Most times, at dinner I cook soups and meals that are good in the next day for lunch.
    I wish I could grow a veg garden, that would save me alot but I live in a flat. That´s what I brag about in My Countryhome blog, lol.
    Meal planning is my next step but I will plan weekly, not daily.
    A good weekend.

  • Andrea@foolsandsages.com says:

    We don’t buy much in bulk either, mostly for the same reason. I use The Grocery Game, which has small fee but is worth the money because of how nicely laid out their lists are, and also weekly fliers from some of our smaller grocery chains in the area. We eat what’s on sale, especially when it comes to fresh produce, and we eat at home. Going out to sit down restaurants just isn’t worth it, usually – the food isn’t that much tastier, it’s almost always less healthy, and there’s the tip to be included in our cost as well.

    Another way to save money on groceries is to eat less. 🙂 Considering the challenges we have in this country with obesity, a little cutting back in overall calories probably wouldn’t hurt.

  • marci says:

    Edible Landscaping…forgot to mention that one. I’m slowly taking out the lawn and replacing it with edible landscaping. My grocery store just outside my door.

  • Cassie says:

    Coupons, shopping the sales, stocking up during sales, cooking more at home — that’s what we have been focusing on. I want to start a garden next year to cut down on vegetable costs and to have some vegetables with some flavour.

  • marci says:

    I do buy in bulk, and just for a single person household. But I think I must have that ‘hoarder’ mentality…I do not want to have to buy more of it, so I dole it out very slowly. So buying in bulk does NOT cause me to go thru more of it.

    I cook extra, always from scratch, and dole the leftovers out into single serving meals. Most of those go into the freezer at work for future lunches, and some into the home freezer for quick meals instead of eating out.

    My cupboards are always well stocked, so there is never any running to the store for something – even tho the store is within walking distance.

    I quit drinking soda pop, and now I don’t need to go to the store twice a week for pop. I find I can easily go a month without going to the store 🙂

    Grow a garden. This little bitty garden of mine is now approaching 400 lbs of produce this year. Get a dehydrator, a freezer, or learn to can.

    Experiment with winter gardening – I’ve been just amazed at what is still growing here even tho we’ve had several freezes. Fresh greens, peas, root crops. Even lettuce and radishes.

  • Mike Huang says:

    Coupons are you friend 🙂 I love taking advantage of coupons when they’re plastered all over forums. Makes things free or very cheap.

    -Mike

  • MoneyNing says:

    Emily: I am lucky but not just because my wife is “cost-effective”. I happen to love her very much because she is who she is.

  • Emily says:

    Good sharing. I always buy a big bag because it’s on sale. I just realized that I might waste most of the money from letting it sit in my kitchen for over weeks and throw them away eventually. It sounds like you are the luckiest guy to find such a “cost-effective” wife. : )

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