In comparison to some people I know, I’ve never spent much money on food. At the same time, food is easily one of my biggest expenses–it’s just that I don’t buy much else! Here are some of the ways I save money on groceries. Please note, this list is meant to be descriptive of what my habits are, not prescriptive of what your habits should be.
I drink water. I don’t much care for soda, and I like it best when it’s warm and flat. I buy fruit instead of fruit juice. Milk isn’t an essential item for me, though I do buy it on occasions when it’s on a good sale. Instead, I drink water. No, not bottled water. Tap water. I don’t even filter it. And you know what? I think it tastes better than any bottled water I’ve ever had.
Oatmeal is my standard breakfast. Boring? Perhaps. But it’s inexpensive and full of nutrition. Oatmeal provides a solid start to the day; I usually sweeten mine with honey or applesauce.
I clip coupons and watch for sales. Coupons tend to help more with processed foods than with natural ingredients. I buy plenty of canned soup, but only because I like soup and my version of homemade is still quite sub-par. To cut down on the unhealthiness factor, I try to buy tomato-based vegetable soups with beans for extra fiber (think minestrone) and get the reduced-sodium ones when I can. Every Sunday I check my store’s weekly circular and compare the sales with the coupons I have stashed in my coupon envelope. It’s not very time-consuming and it can become a game with yourself to see how much you can save. Yeah, yeah, I’m a dork. My roommate makes fun of me too.
I don’t buy meat. I think it’s a pain-in-the-butt to prepare. I get enough protein from all the beans, brown rice, oatmeal, yogurt, cheese, eggs, nuts, and seeds in my diet that I think I’ll be fine. And a local diner near my apartment has a $2 burger-and-fries night every Monday, an event which I often attend.
Sunflower seeds are a favorite snack. I buy the roasted, unsalted ones in bulk for $1.59 a pound from my local health foods store. Tasty! This is a high-calorie, high-fat “recipe,” but here goes: I like to drizzle them with oil and vinegar, top them with shredded cheddar or Parmesan, and eat them with a fork. Weird, I know, but sooo delicious! (Sesame oil works especially well. It’s not something I usually buy, but I recently had a bottle of it bequeathed to me by a friend before she went off to grad school in China. If you have some lying around and are crazy enough to try this, that’s the kind to use.)
I attend events with free or inexpensive food. Yesterday, it was a concert/poetry reading/silent auction at a brewery downtown that was held as a fund raiser for a local poet’s bone marrow transplant. It was $5 to get in, but when they said “refreshments provided” on the flier, they weren’t kidding! There were meatballs, lasagna, about seven different kinds of macaroni salad, veggies and dip, baked beans, potato chips, cupcakes, cookies, and candy. It just had a great atmosphere – the place was packed with families and old friends. I got to hear some of my old writing professors read, as well as meet some poets whose work I had read in college. There are lots of similar events in my town, and chances are, your town is the same. For example, does your city participate in Art Hop? On the first Friday of select months, different locations downtown are open into the evening with displays of all kinds of awesome art. Many of the sites provide snacks, say, cheese, crackers, and wine (often Franzia, but occasionally something from a bottle) or mulled cider. It’s a great time, gets you out and involved in your community, and it’s free!
I don’t buy junk food, and the treats I do buy are planned for. This includes my beer. (And, yes, when I was at the brewery yesterday I did buy a pint, but my total for the outing was still well under $10.) I like tasty things! Who doesn’t? My temptation right now is this frighteningly delightful thing, but damn, is it ever expensive! $7 for a chocolate bar?! Has anyone had one? Is it worth it? This might have to go on the “holiday present to myself” list. It’s easier to stick to a beans-and-rice diet when you treat yourself to an indulgence now and then.