As I've written before, grocery shopping can be quite a challenge for the single guy, especially if you don't have any steel-toed boots to wear. It never fails that almost every time I step into a grocery store either a little old lady with poor motor skills, or a flashy, bejeweled yuppie on a cell phone, attempts to run over my foot with her or his buggy. And then the person in the check-out line before me decides to carry on a cell phone conversation while attempting to write a check, which of course takes forever.
Yet aside from the "hell is other people" challenge Jean-Paul Sartre wrote about (I can easily imagine his play taking place in a supermarket), grocery shopping is also a challenge for the single guy because almost everything is packaged for families. I readily admit I sometimes have to throw out food because it goes bad before I can eat it (hence, frozen food is a blessed food group). As the price of food continues to increase along with gas, I started thinking that perhaps we bachelors could start thinking about food frugality. This week's column is about how I try to avoid throwing out food, with some tips I've developed for shopping and saving money too.
1. Go grocery shopping frequently, or as some of my other single buddies put it, "shop European style." We bachelors cannot afford to buy a whole bunch of bananas or the two-for-one bags of prewashed lettuce because the stuff will spoil before we can get all of it into our mouths. You'll save more money (and food) by going grocery shopping two or three times a week (oh yeah, and cut and wash your own darn lettuce). Besides, most of the stuff you should be eating is around the periphery anyway (produce and meats), and this stuff just don’t keep.
2. Use coupons. I subscribe to the Austin American-Statesman Sunday newspaper primarily for John Kelso's column and the coupons. It takes a little effort, but if you read the circular from your favorite grocery store too, you'll find many times you'll have a coupon for stuff that's on sale. This is especially helpful for cleaning supplies, which for some reason are expensive. I scored some laundry detergent on sale with a coupon for $2 yesterday. My grandma would be so proud!
3. Become a Dated Meat Scavenger. In the meat section there's usually some discounted meats for the stuff that needs to sell that day. At my local grocery store they discount meat 30-50% depending on the cut. You can freeze this cheap meat and eat it later. I've got a bunch of pot-roast in my freezer that I scored super cheap and that will become delicious in a slow-cooker with some potatoes and carrots and cream of mushroom soup!
4. Stockpile Like It’s the Cold War. Okay, now, a lot of us single guys don't have a lot of storage space, and I recognize that the cabinet is where the booze goes. But, if you do have room you should stock-pile sale items that you regularly eat. For example, I eat a certain vegetarian sausage patty almost every day for breakfast. Unfortunately, there's only six patties in a box for $4.50. Every other week they go on sale for $3.00 a box, so I buy as many boxes as I can fit into my freezer. If it can keep and it's on sale, pretend the Berlin Wall still exits and grab as much as you can afford.
5. Only shop for groceries after a meal. Nothing does damage to your wallet like shopping on an empty stomach. Seriously. Do a little experiment: keep your receipts for two shopping trips, one in which you are not hungry, and then one during which you are hungry. Notice a difference? That's right: you didn't really need that pricey gallon of gummy bear crunch.
6. Make a batch and freeze it. If you have a favorite soup or recipe that keeps well frozen, set aside a night to make it and freeze a batch into servings you can thaw and eat later. Right now I have three servings of chicken noodle soup in the freezer that keeps pretty well. Last night I came home after meeting with a friend, felt tired, so I simply thawed and reheated the soup: it was delicious and easy.
7. Accept and use the mark of the beast. By now, just about everywhere you shop has a "card" with a barcode that is uniquely assigned to your shopping identity. Stores use them for market research and contrived mind games: the price of things are set ridiculously high, so you're forced to use the card to purchase your item at a normal price. You're gonna spend way more moolah than you should without that dang card. So just accept it. I promise Jesus will still love you.
8. Look for the "Unit Price." That grocery stores try to pass off their market research cards as a way for you to save money means that mind games are afoot. So you should never trust a sale sign, especially if it's "two for one" or "buy 2, get three free!" Why? Size matters. Seriously. I mean the unit size. Writing this is frustrating (it's a Gunn Clan legacy—you wouldn't understand). I mean the unit price and size. Typically your grocery store will have a shelf label for each product that lists how much your item is per ounce, gram, or whatever unit your food is measured by. Sometimes something will be on sale and seem cheaper than a rival product, however, the rival product will have more of the good stuff. For example, I regularly buy sliced black olives for salads and omelets. The name brand is something like 17 cents an ounce, while the store brand is 19 cents an ounce. The store brand always goes on sale, but the name brand is still cheaper by unit price.
9. Go for generic brands, at least sometimes. I readily admit some store-brand products are grossly inferior to brand names (for example, the store brand vegetarian sausage at my grocer is super-nasty), however, some are just as good. A store brand box of trash bags works just as well as the name-brand (c'mon, it's a trash bag!), and is always cheaper. Experiment, you might be surprised!
10. Be a jerk if you have to. In our dour economic times, every nickel needs to be pinched (the jury is out on the penny these days). The last time I went shopping I had a handful of coupons. The check-out guy hit the subtotal before he added my coupons. I had to go over to the customer service counter for a "refund" of the coupon value—but dang it, I got almost five dollars back. Five dollars could at least buy me a meal, rent a movie, or a beer at the local pub. Also, be sure to watch the register screen to see if the items you are purchasing are scanning correctly. About once every other month I do catch something that has been mispriced.