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Food shopping / cooking / planning

August 11th, 2019 at 11:37 am

Food is one expense that tends to get out of control for me. I live alone and often work long hours, so I get into ruts where I don't cook much for myself and eat out too much. I'm working on changing this, slowly but surely.

I've managed to cut about $100 per month from the food budget compared to last year--about $65/month less on eating out and $35/month less on groceries. The past four months, in particular, have seen a big drop in eating out--but that's because the height of tax season (Feb, March & the first half of April) is when I end up eating out the most. There was a BIG drop in eating out costs once May came, and I've been pretty moderate this summer.

One thing that is helping is having dedicated credit cards for groceries (American Express Blue Cash Preferred, which costs $95/year but has a 6% back on groceries). I also just started doing the same thing for eating out--I already had a card I wasn't using that gives 2% back on dining out, and I applied for a BOA cash rewards card that gives 3% back on dining out (if you select as your 3% rewards category) that I am waiting to be approved. Cashback rewards are great, but it's mostly keeping track of expenses that is the big benefit to me. Having a card that is just dedicated to the one expense makes me much more aware of how much I am spending in that category, and awareness leads to spending decreases.

When I first started on SA, I used to track expenses regularly, using at various points YNAB and Quicken--but that was back when YNAB was the Excel version and Quicken was a download to your computer rather than online. I've tried the online versions of each and found them more trouble than they were worth.

Right now I monitor expenses by checking in regularly to Personal Capital, which categorizes expenses for me (Mint will also do this), but the dedicated credit card keeps things even more in my awareness.

Since I work in financial services, it's become part of my settling-in-to work routine (after getting a cup of coffee and filling my water carafe) to check my personal account balances as part of getting ready to work for the day. When I was putting groceries on the same card as all my other general expenses, I didn't have a sense on a day-to-day basis of how much I was spending, but now that groceries (and now eating out) go on dedicated credit cards, I am more aware of how much I spend in each category.

Another thing that helps is that I switched my main grocery store. For the past several years, it has been Wegmans. And I still go to Wegmans at least once a month to get things there that I can't get at my new "default" store, Giant. (I gave up quarterly trips to Trader Joes, which is 45 minutes away, after realizing that there was relatively little there that I couldn't get an equivalent of at Wegman's. IF TJ's would move a grocery store up here (as opposed to a warehouse, which IS just 10 miles away), I'd shop there occasionally, but it's no longer worth the time to drive down. I used to have a friend who lived nearby whom I would have lunch with on TJ's days, but she left the area a few years ago, so when I go to TJ's, it's just to go to TJ's.)

I still prefer Wegmans, but Giant finally built a gas station outside the store that I use. With the cash back rewards, I typically get a 20 cent per gallon reduction on one of my two monthly fill-ups and a 10 cent reduction on the other. Bundling rewards this way helps cut costs on both groceries and gas.

There's an Aldi's a little bit further away, but I rarely go these days, as bundling all the grocery costs at Giant makes the most sense. A competitor store to Aldi (apparently owned by a different member of the same family) called Lidl (Lee-dle) opened up about 10 miles a ways, and some time I will go to check it out, but at that distance, it would only be an occasional trip. My friend who lives nearby says they have good seafood.

I'm trying to get into more of a routine for cooking at home. In particular, I'm trying to cook some basics once a week: a few pounds of potatoes, a dozen eggs, some chicken breasts, and one or two recipes with about four servings each which will last me multiple meals. Today I bought ingredients for vichyssoise and "unstuffed cabbage." That, plus a family size bag of a salad mix, will constitute most of my meals for the week. A summer favorite for breaksfast has become either a salad (the salad I am eating most this summer I call my "patriotic salad," with arugala, blueberries, fermented beets, a touch of goat cheese, some sliced almonds, and a fruit flavored vinegar for a dressing) or a "salad smoothie"/homemade v8 with spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, a red pepper, a bit of red onion, fermented beets (I love those!), maybe some celery juice or else a cup of water to make the veggies mix. I'm doing pretty well on the weekly cooking now, when work is relatively light; will have to figure a way to prepare some freezer meals over the holidays to have some "dump and go" things on hand for tax season.

6 Responses to “Food shopping / cooking / planning”

  1. fireandi Says:

    That patriotic salad sounds delicious. Do you ferment your beets on your own? Or purchase them?

    Eating out is so easy - we're paying for the convenience, really. And I find for me that once I am in a routine of eating out often, it is much harder to restart eating at home. But, once you get into a meal-prep routine, it becomes easier to eat at home.

  2. Wink Says:

    I have the exact same struggle with groceries. Long work days = not wanting to cook when I get home = stop for takeout. Meal planning, prepping and batch cooking/freezing left overs has helped a lot.

  3. Dido Says:

    FIRE: I buy the fermented beets at the grocery store (actually, it's a mixture of beets, red cabbage, and carrots). I haven't tried fermenting them on my own, but I did get into lacto-fermenting my own sauerkraut last fall for a couple of months. I stopped when work got overly busy and haven't gotten going again yet, but I hope to.

    Wink: Yes. The conundrum is getting back into it. I've never been able to adhere to a preplanned meal schedule. I just never feel like eating what I've planned! I find it easiest to have about 3 options to choose between when I can--and often those three are the meal that I batch cooked, breaksfast for dinner, and soup/salad.

  4. Jenn Says:

    I also agree that your patriotic salad sounds tasty. I really like Wegman's too - just for quality and shopping experience it's probably my favorite store, but I find it to be expensive. Their reusable bags are the best! Mine have lasted for years. Do you have a Grocery Outlet near you? Slim selection that changes, but you can get healthy organic items at discount prices.

  5. rob62521 Says:

    I wonder if eating out is also part of your being social. If you live alone, you might want the social interaction.

    I think meal planning will be your best friend, although I imagine finding stuff in single servings is difficult. DH and I don't eat as much meat as we used to and so although we do the bulk of our shopping at Aldi, we frequent a Kroger that will let us buy one thick pork chop so I can slice it in half or just one steak. I don't need 7 pork chops, thick or thin and although I made a couple of meals out of them, it still was too much. I have trouble getting stuff to freeze once it is out of the original package. Well, let me rephrase that, it freezes, but often gets freezer burn, even if I wrap it twice, one in foil and then in a freezer bag. We wound up wasting too much money.

  6. frugaltexan75 Says:

    A better card for eating out is Cap One' Savour card (sp?)4%

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