One of the hardest lessons I learned when moving off campus and out on my own was getting my grocery budget under control. To start, my parents divided what they spent on meal plan and divided it out through the course of the semester to create a per week grocery budget. This evened out to be around $50 per week. At first, I thought this was so little money.
I was used to eating on meal plan, which meant burgers and fries, salmon and asparagus, and Chicken Finger Wednesday. Meal plan meant something different every day, typically full of unhealthy options. Because that’s what I was used to, I continued to eat that way. I soon learned burgers for 1 person typically meant I was eating burgers for the next week and a half.
Over the course of my first semester on my own, I was averaging around $70 per weekly trip to the grocery store. My fridge was always full and I was spending way too much time eating things I was tired of eating. After some research between semesters, I decided something had to change. I moved to the following habits:
PLAN FOR OTHER OPTIONS
My fridge always seemed to be full of leftovers because I would jump at the chance to go out with friends when they asked. As a result, I was spending money at the grocery store and restaurants with leftovers from each.
Now, I choose to make 2-3 general meals per week that can easily be frozen should other opportunities come up. This limited the number of leftovers I had while giving me easy freezer meals I just had to thaw and heat when it was a busy week. Because I was planning on having at least 1 meal out per week (with leftovers depending on the week), I did not feel guilty about eating out and could incorporate other plans into my week.
SHOP THE PERIMETER OF THE GROCERY STORE
In becoming more aware of where I was spending money on my grocery bill, I started eating healthier. I cut out purchasing chips unless they were on sale, which saved me 10% of my set budget before I even walked into the store. Instead, I swapped chips for trail mix, which can last for a few weeks with a $6 bag.
I found that getting the ingredients to make the items I purchased all the time but never seemed to finish before they expired (bread, cookies, ice cream). Now, I can create my own creations in an easy to store for a fraction of the price. My “Meal Planning” Pinterest board gives you a glance at how I make different “inside the perimeter items.”
DON’T LET BULK SCARE YOU
When I first started grocery shopping on my own, I would only purchase what I thought I would use in that week. This meant exactly 4 yogurts, 4 apples, and 1 container of meat. After analyzing my grocery bills, I started buying the larger sizes of things I used more often. I also took advantage of sales for things I used most often like yogurt and cream cheese.
For breakfast, I also asked a friend with a Sam’s Club membership to pick me up a package of pre-cooked bacon, which typically runs around $10 for a 72 piece pack. At the grocery store, it’s typically $4 for a 12 piece package of bacon. I do not need enough bulk to warrant a Sam’s Club membership but this small change ensures I will always have bacon without buying it every week.
COOK WITH FRIENDS
The fundamental reason why my grocery bills were getting so high ties directly to the fact that I got tired of eating the same thing 4 times in 1 week. After discussing this with a friend of mine, I realized I was definitely not the only one feeling this sentiment. We decided to get together and each cooks 1 main course per week and switch part way through. This allowed us both to try different recipes while also allowing each of us to buy 1 type of meat per week.
This system is nowhere near close to perfect, but we make it work. During certain weeks, we would trade off who would cook a course for the other person. Because our schedules were different, we were stressed at different times. For stressed people, there are very few things better than a nice, home cooked meal that you did not have to cook yourself.
Have you cut your grocery bill drastically? If so, what did you do differently to make the change?