Saturday, September 03, 2011

Reader Request: Single Gal Shopping

This post is a long time coming!  And even though I’m not technically a single gal these days (hi Honey!) I still shop as a single gal because this bachelorette pad is mine all mine.  :)

Any of you that read here regularly know that I like to be a somewhat frugal grocery shopper.  I tend to only buy what’s on sale, shop around for good produce prices, and don’t like to overstock my fridge, freezer and cupboards.  I’m also a big proponent of meal planning.  Meal planning is not just for families!  It’s really the lifeline to keeping grocery costs down and perishable food waste to a minimum.  It is also a huge timer save and meal-stress reliever!

So here’s what works for me… I generally manage to pull this off for probably three of the four weeks per month.  There is usually one week (this last week is a good example) where I just don’t feel like meal planning, or I know there’s enough to scrounge up around here that it’s not necessary.  The kicker to that is that I ended up at the grocery store three times this week looking for something to complete a meal idea…which isn’t a big deal if you can get in and get out with only whatever you actually need!  I may or may not have wandered out of the store with some completely unnecessary chocolate covered almonds.

Step One:  Meal Planning

Take a look in your fridge/freezer/cupboards for main meal ingredients.  For me this means checking to see what kind of proteins I have on hand to base a meal on.  For this example week I literally had no meats or beans on hand!  If you have anything, think of what you’d like to do with it.  If you have nothing, it’s time to check your grocery flyers.

I like to write out a quick list of the days of the week and list my meals and snacks for those days.  I’m generally planning out Monday to Friday…breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.  Friday dinner I usually leave off in the hopes of Michael feeding me.  :)

Base your meals on what you like and what you have…then decide what you need to complete the ideas.  This will form your grocery lists.


Breakfasts and lunches are pretty standard.  Salads can be made from all kinds of reasonably priced veggies, and breakfasts are one of three or four favourites depending on the seasons.

Step Two:  Grocery Lists

I refuse to drive around to multiple grocery stores just to save a buck or two, but we do have a really great produce market here that has lots of local items and generally much better prices on seasonal goods.  Aside from that I stick to my favourite grocery store and if I don’t like the price of something I probably just won’t buy it.

Conveniently both of these stores have their weekly flyers online so I just take a quick look through those to see what the deals of the week are and that generally helps me decide on what I’m going to eat. 

For this example week, boneless skinless chicken breasts and pork loins were on sale so that’s what I went with.  I know that most packaged meats will feed me at least two servings so right there I have four dinners planned.  Then all I have to do is have a look at what produce is on sale (or things I know are always cheap…like maybe zucchini) to help decide on side dishes or recipe preparations.

I also keep my eyes peeled for regular pantry items I might need to pick up…ie: rice, mayonnaise, eggs, oatmeal, etc.  As well as items I consume every week like soy milk or yogurt or bananas….some stuff just never goes on sale and I have to suck it up and pay full price, but you’d be surprised how much you can save by just giving in to a different brand of yogurt for one or two weeks here and there.

If money is a real issue make sure you know what your MONTHLY grocery budget is.  Each week probably won’t be exactly the same spend so keep in mind that you might be able to save a few dollars this week but you will probably need them next week when you run out of dish soap or cheese goes on sale.  (I keep a lose estimate in my head while I’m writing up my grocery list).


Step Three:  Grocery Shopping

First and foremost, make a freaking list.  And use it!

Also, the rule about not shopping when you are hungry/sad/bored…it’s totally true.  Pay attention to this!

Go in knowing that you will probably buy something that is not on your list.  Sometimes I end up realizing I missed something in the flyers…like toilet paper is on sale, or I walk past something and it reminds me I’m running low.  If it’s a good price and I need it, I get it.  If it’s full price and it can wait, I wait.

If your budget has room, allow yourself extra items or a splurge.  For this example week I ended up with a couple of things…mainly a special container of cheese.  When I saw it in the deli case I had to buy it because it’s a seasonal item.  It’s never going on sale and it’s only available once in a while…I had room in my budget and knew I would find multiple uses for it…so into my basket it went. 


While waiting to pay, double check your list and your items as you unload them.  If you find yourself with multiple extra items use this chance to really think about if you want/need them.  Almost every time, I’ll end up putting something back and never miss it once I’m home.

And that’s really it!  You just have to stick to the plan now that you have the stuff.  It’s not saving you any money or groceries to get lazy after you’ve made it this far.  Stopping for drive-thru or ordering take-out because you are tired/busy/lazy one night is just going to be a waste of the groceries you just bought.  Of course I’m not saying to give up last minute plans with the girls, or a date night or something, but it’s just something to keep in mind.

Other notes:

I’m not a stockpiler.  My cupboards will generally have a decent selection of baking supplies and I always try to keep some soup, beans, tuna, pasta, etc on hand but I don’t buy extras “just in case”.  I buy what I need when I need it.

My fridge is what most people would call “sparse”.  I have lots of the typical condiments, etc but again…I don’t stockpile.  One or two salad dressings are fine with me, one variety of pickles is good, and the only reason I have two jars of salsa is because the sale was so good I couldn’t pass it up.

I aim for around $300 a month.  This includes all of my groceries, anything I contribute to meals made at Michael’s, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and kitty litter.  Unless I totally run out of everything at once, this is pretty doable.  (Dog and cat food comes from a different budget).

I’m human.  This is “best case scenario”.  I buy treats.  I blow the budget.  I get lazy and pay too much for avocado because I need it for a recipe.  But just like anything else in life…if you have good intentions things seem to work out pretty close to the plan.


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Krista said...

YES, this is very helpful! I am not a single girl either but my husband sails months on end leaving me with an empty kitchen. it's hard to resist those easy snack food choices but once I realized that eating badly was becoming expensive I was motivated to shop smarter.

I do stock my cupboards with some popcorn and sugary oatmeal incase I absolutely NEED a bad snack now and then. :) Some habits are hard to break.

rusty61 said...

I found this very helpful, thanks! I'm great at planning suppers, and I generally have the same breakfast every day, but sometimes lunches are forgotten until it's time to pack one for lunch. Great idea to plan all 3 meals plus snacks!

I tend to buy extras when things are on sale, but now am finding my pantry kind of over full and then I don't remember that I already have whatever it is and end up buying it again! I think I'll do an inventory tomorrow and try to just buy things as I need them.

Thanks for the great advice!

Michelle said...

Very helpful!! A couple weeks ago i was going to ask you what your game plan is for meals/grocery shopping and I never did. I'm going on vacation in a week so this week is a good time to just eat out of the cupboards and fridge and see if I can do without hitting the grocery store. I swear half the time my fridge looks like a family of 4 lives here instead of me and two cats!