Being just my husband and myself in our home, and working very different work schedules, we found ourselves in a pattern of fast food and no cooking, making us spend more money in the long run and not looking out for our health. For months, almost years, I have been trying different food methods to avoid the “I’m tired and just going to pick something up” in life. Many said try meal prepping – my husband and I are both not fans of anything that isn’t freshly cooked. Others said dinner delivery services – which are amazing, but can be pricey and don’t satisfy all 21 meals you need in a week. So finally, for those of you who need the stability of both nutritional and financial value in food, I have found my top five tips for simplifying your food routine.
KEEP A LIST OF ITEMS YOU NEED AND TRY TO AVOID MORE THAN ONE SHOPPING TRIP
Every time you run out of something, write it down. Keeping a running list of needs helps you to not only remember the huge selection of purchases you need, but also keeps you focused on why you came to the store. To prevent yourself from overspending more often than you planned, try to make only one grocery trip per week for all the things you may need. If you have to go back, make a B-line for what you need and get out of there. Don’t shop or wander, because you know that will just be trouble. With your handy list, you should know exactly what you need and can get out of the store in record time.
TIP: Use your Notes or Reminders/Lists app on your phone to keep the list so that it’s always with you and can me regularly monitored. You can share Lists with your significant other so they can add to the list as well.
EVALUATE THE DIFFERENT BRANDS AND NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION IN THE AISLE
Too many of us stare at an aisle with 30 different brands and types of tomato sauce or whatever you may need, and it can be really overwhelming. It’s important that you observe the aisle before just quickly selecting the brand you know. Store-branded goods may not always be the most financially savvy decision because different brands may have BOGO sales that are cheaper per item. Additionally, reviewing nutritional labels and comparing brands can be a huge influence on your purchasing decision. A brand may have high fat or carb content, but the healthier brand is only a few cents more. It’s all about finding the balance of nutrition and finance.
TIP: When a company is running a BOGO sale, compare the price per item to other brands and not the total price. Two jars of pasta sauce may total $4, but when one other brand’s jar is $3.50, you’re getting the BOGO for only $2 per jar and now you save yourself from buying it next time.
USE CASHBACK OR STORE APPS FOR COUPONS
There are so many FREE opportunities for you to get money back that you don’t even realize. it may just be a few dollars, but overtime it really adds up. I learned this method in college when I was only spending $150 a month in groceries. Always check the store’s app to get coupons or special deals. My usual spot is Meijer, and when you register an account, you can add hundreds of coupons to it, then you only have to enter you phone number at check out to get the great deals! No more paper!
Great apps like Checkout 51 are also very helpful to get cashback on purchases. They partner with retailers and brands to provide specific discounts on goods, and all you have to do is scan your receipt after check out into the app. But, always be savvy with your numbers – if Heinz Ketchup is $4.00 with a $.30 rebate on the app, but the store brand is $3.50, you’ll get a better deal by purchasing the store brand than getting the rebate on the app. This is important to know that apps aren’t always giving you the best deal on the shelf, and stores may have offers on the app that aren’t on the shelf.
TIP: Keep a small pocket calculator with you when shopping and add each item up when you add it to the cart. By the time you hit the end, you should have a pre-tax idea of how much you’re about to spend at the register.
CREATE A CONCISE AND ORGANIZED SHOPPING LIST
This has become one of my most obsessive habits. Before I go on any shopping trip, I make a very detailed written list of exactly what I need from my digital list, and divide it out by area of the grocery store. This way, I set a path for myself through the store (while happily avoiding the bakery) and know exactly where to go next. I also can manage what I’m purchasing and not meandering around trying to remember why I even came to the store or making another trip when I forget something, because that’s how my cart gets filled with garbage food.
TIP: Take a picture of your grocery list before shopping to have a starting point next time on what you usually buy.
DON’T MEAL PREP, BUY FOR RECIPES
More recently, I learned this from doing home delivery cooking boxes. They send you the exact ingredients and quantities you need to prepare a meal. The ingredients are fresh and it’s not giving you tons of leftover that you’ll never eat. Before going shopping, I look up recipes I want to cook (I usually buy groceries for two weeks at a time with a small trip in the middle for fresh produce if required) and make a grocery list based off the exact requirements needed for the recipes. Home Chef offers a great recipe library that provides you with a list of ingredients required to make that meal, and their nutritional facts! Flip through their menus and simply print them out. Store them in a binder for quick reference when you sit down to make your grocery list so that grocery shopping preparation becomes minimized over time. This method is great because you’re not just reheating food, but cooking it fresh in a timely manner needed for your household.
TIP: Mark your family’s favorite recipes with a color or folded corner for quick reference!