Often when people enter their twenties, they are excited for the promise of freedom they think living on their own will bring. After living on my own on two separate occasions in my twenties I have to say that while being in control of one’s own environment is a great experience, it also comes at a great cost. I’m not just talking about sky-rocketing rental rates and paying back student loans. I’m talking basic cost of living. It’s a sneaky little thing that no one really talks about when you’re growing up, but the moment you move out on your own you come quickly to the following harsh realization:
Food costs money.
It’s weird, right? Most of your life food just appeared on the dining room table and in the kitchen cupboards, but the actual amount of what things cost, especially when you’ve never lived on your own before, can be staggering. Eating a balanced, healthy diet can be tricky when it seems like all you can afford is packaged mac and cheese but there are a few easy steps you can take to try and save money when you hit up the grocery store.
1) Make a list. List-making is my religion (as evidenced here and here). I especially love it when I’m grocery shopping because it’s so easy to get side-tracked shopping with my stomach instead of my brain. If I stick to my list I know ahead of time exactly what it is that I need and what will keep me on budget. Make it really detailed if you need to be super strict with yourself, or if you’re looking for really specific items you need for a recipe (i.e., “one 4-oz. can of crushed tomatoes”).
2) Embrace cooking. I know it sounds strange, but most packaged foods are not only priced for the cost of manufacturing, but also for the convenience that comes with buying food that’s ready to eat.
3) C.I.Y. (Cut-It-Yourself) Consider the cost of buying pre-washed, cut-up veggies and fruit. It may seem just like pennies in the short-term, but if you switch from buying the $4 container of pre-cut melon to the $2 melon itself and cut it up when you get home, it could be saving you $48/year (of course, that’s if you do a grocery shop every two weeks, and that’s only if you’re getting a melon every time, but see how it can add up?)
4) Buy in bulk. If you can afford the extra money up front, most pantry staples such as pasta, rice, flour, sugar and many other dry goods are less expensive when bought in bulk and can be stored for a long time to make a myriad of things. By stocking up on a regular basis on these basics, you can save more in the long-term by buying only the fresh ingredients you need to make meals.
5) Coupons are your friend. Scan grocery store websites, flyers and coupon websites and store them with your grocery list so they’re handy for the next time you shop. It seems nerdy, but it can actually save you a lot of money in the long run, especially if you try to coordinate using your coupons when a particular item is on sale, or if you can take advantage of a store’s coupon-matching policy. (For more tips on how to use coupons you can check out my totally awkward coupon video here, although I did warn you it was awkward.)
Once you get a grip on the fact that living on your own does not necessarily mean a glamorous lifestyle of eating out at a hip new restaurant every night, grocery shopping be an easy (and dare I say fun?) experience. I’ve definitely found that paying close attention to the food I buy makes me appreciate my food more in the long-run and helps me be aware of what exactly it is I’m putting into my body, which is never a bad thing.
Not going to lie though. Bags of chips have definitely found a way of sneaking out of the store in my grocery cart.
Have any more tips on how to save while grocery shopping? I’d love to include them here! Comment below or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.