- Meal Planning: #1 most important tip. It literally makes all the difference. When I first graduated college and started doing my own shopping I was constantly running back to the grocery store for last minute things that I hadn't anticipated because I didn't know what I would be cooking when I went grocery shopping. It isn't necessary to have every meal, snack, etc. planned out, but have a general idea of at least 2-3 meals you want to make per week.
- Go-to Meals: Whatever it is you do whether work, school or full time parenting there are nights when you just don't want to cook. These are the nights that people either eat out (if they have the money) or go for the quick, easy processed foods. Well, go ahead and make this a tradition of the past. Even on nights like these it is simple to throw something together & still eat well (and cheap). Whole grain/bean combo provide a hearty, delicious and nutritious meal. Add some vegetables (fresh or frozen) and you have a complete meal that can be changed up in a number of ways to add variety.
*Black beans, brown rice, broccoli (About $3/meal using canned beans & frozen broccoli, even cheaper if you make dried beans in advance and store them in the freezer)
*Peas, carrots & coconut rice (About $2/meal using frozen peas & carrots and canned coconut milk)
* Chickpeas, quinoa & pepper salad (About $3/meal using fresh peppers and canned chickpeas)
- Sale papers: Even if you don't get the newspaper you can easily find out about sales at (major) grocery stores by looking up their circulars online. While couponing doesn't work for me because most of the coupons aren't for food I eat it works for a lot of other people. What does work for me is knowing whether foods that I eat frequently are on sale. Last week at the Safeway brown rice was for sale buy one get one free for $2. The three of us go through brown rice like water so it was an investment for me to spend $10 and get 10 bags of rice, knowing that it would save me money in the long run. If I had a car I would probably comparison shop more, but seeing as my time to go shopping is pretty limited and I am on foot w/ MJ I have to determine which grocery store has better deals on a week to week basis.
- Farmer's Markets: Yay farmer's markets. One of my favorite shopping excursions and perhaps the easiest to budget. For my DC crowd I know there are markets open throughout the city that accept EBT and I believe that all if not most accept the Farmer's Market WIC vouchers, but double check the website linked above for the market most convenient to you. I know that Aya Community Markets and Ward 8 Farmer's Market will double your vouchers & EBT purchases up to $20! The best/most economical way I've found to use the farmer's market is to go once a month to get fresh produce & freeze whatever I don't intend to use immediately. This helps guide what I cook and helps extend the life of produce.
- Bulk cooking: This is definitely not for everyone, but I think it makes life easier and I am not particularly picky. As I have documented before on this blog I cook for my son once a week, but I often also cook for myself the same way. I might throw in a rice & bean bowl to mix it up, but some weeks I do eat the same thing throughout the week. Foods that are particularly good for bulk cooking are soups, stews and chilis (more for the winter months, but hey I could eat my sister's black bean chili any month.) In addition to bulk cooking meals, I also bulk cook dry beans. Canned beans are inexpensive enough, but dry beans are even more inexpensive AND come without the preservatives and risk of BPA from cans (I use both). The downside of dry beans is they take a long time to cook and aren't really a "throw together" meal, BUT if you make a pot of beans of your preference (my go to beans are black beans) and freeze baggies or containers in serving size portions you have the convenience of canned beans and the freshness of dry beans.
- Staple items: In my household there is always a short period of time between our bi-weekly shopping trips where we would be out of the food we really liked and only have foods that we normally would pair with something else: (e.g. brown rice and no beans). This would be the time where we'd do our quick shopping trips to "just pick up a few things" and would end up spending $20 or $30 out of our budget when we have a full shopping trip to make a few days later. To avoid this period of time or to still have good, healthy meals when we get low on groceries we always try to keep some staple items in our pantry & freezer that we always can use. These are different for every household, but they are foods that you can turn to and are relatively inexpensive.
- Tracking spending: I'm sure that when people see me in the grocery store I look crazy- I have my cell phone in one hand calculating my expenses, grocery list in the other while trying to keep MJ amused. The easiest way to break your budget is to not stick to it (duh), but seriously I always go into the grocery store with a number in mind and very rarely do I ever go over it. As I shop I total up the costs (rounding up always) and put back items accordingly. By rounding up (anything with any change gets rounded up to the next whole dollar) I always have money leftover for a treat or two at the end of the shopping trip.