I have to go to the grocery store today. We finished off the leftovers last night. A new meal must be prepared. I despair.
It’s not the shopping that I mind. I actually like going out. When we go to Costco, I can usually get the kids on board with the prospect of “food samples!” and, when it is nice out, I enjoy the casual stroll over to our local Aldi. The grocery store is not the chore.
It’s everything else. The cooking. The cleaning. The planning…oh the planning. I look upon a meal-planning calendar and gaze into a soul-sucking void of uncertainty, incompetence and tedium. Damn you cruel world! Why must I be cursed with a body that requires feeding? The humanity.
Seriously, I suck at cooking. I’m not even very good at eating. I hear people talk about how much they enjoy it, how it functions for them as a creative outlet, and I roll my eyes. Who are these people? If left to my own devices, I would drink coffee for breakfast, a yogurt parfait for lunch, and tacos for dinner. Every day. On lifting days, I might throw in some scrambled eggs.
The thing is, as with so many things in life, being bad at something has mostly served as an excuse for me to throw money at the problem. Think I’m kidding? Here is a rundown of our monthly food expenses since I started tracking:
We’ve come a long way, baby, and the trajectory is good, but until I start to see a rolling 12-month average down in the green zone, I won’t consider this a habit that has been conquered.
I’m hardly an authority on frugal feeding, but still, I think it is worth talking about how we’ve made the progress that we have. The way I see it, there are 3 critical components:
Some people love Mr. Money Mustache. They discovered him, binge-read his content, and became instant disciples. That wasn’t me, but I’ll gladly concede that there are many worse cults to which one could belong.
I’ll even go one further and plug his article “Killing Your $1000 Grocery Bill” as a worthy starting point if you need some help to get the motivational juices flowing; because, for this category more than most, if you don’t really want to reduce your spending on food Mother Nature will be standing by to see that you don’t.
If it ain’t on the list, don’t buy it
When it comes to the less abstract, more nuts and bolts actionable steps you can take, this has been the most useful discipline for reducing food waste. If you waste less food, but keep eating the same things, it’s pretty hard not to reduce the money you spend.
I usually made grocery lists, but I was also pretty cavalier about buying anything that looked good while I was in the store. And if I was hungry when I went shopping? Look out. I’ve posted some big numbers at Costco when they’ve had a particularly delicious assortment of “free” samples.
Planning. Boo. This is my nemesis. I think you can probably get at least half the way to responsible spending just by abiding by a list, but, if I’m being honest, the only way you get to 100% is by taking the time to build the list with recipes in mind and a plan to actually cook them, store them and eat them. I did that in November and December–making time at the beginning of each week to plot out planned meals–and you can see the results.
The problem with this is that it is hard. It requires spending time on something I don’t enjoy: working on a weakness instead of playing to a strength. If I’m to do anything truly useful here, it will involve some way of hacking this process. For now, I’ll just stick a pin in it noting that if and when some ideas roll in, I’ll try to link back here to let you know that all is not lost.
This is a big challenge for me, so I’ll keep you up-to-date on my development as a cook, but for now, if you have any other suggestions on things I could do to improve, feel free to pass them along either via email or in the comments below.