Now that you’re finally on your own, you’re ready to cook for yourself—even with minimal kitchen tools. But first you’ll need some groceries! Make your trip to the store a successful, on-budget venture with these five key tips.
1. Make a schedule
Determine your food budget for the month and then decide how to approach your shopping—biweekly, weekly or on an as-needed basis. If you’re splitting food costs with roommates, make it clear ahead of time how you’ll divide up the bill. Figure out who pays for what when, for example, and whether any splurge items should be paid for separately.
Plan a larger monthly trip to the grocery store to stock up on dry goods (pasta and rice, for instance), bulk ingredients, frozen foods and heavier items such as canned goods, especially if you need to take a taxi home. Purchase perishable items such as fruit, vegetables, dairy, bread and meat once a week or as you need them. And remember to transport your groceries—especially perishable foods—home in a timely manner to avoid exposure to unsafe temperatures.
Tip: Shop with friends and split the cab ride back to save some cash. If you’ll be walking to the store, go with a sturdy backpack or invest in a wheeled cart.
2. Make a list
You’ll stretch your budget further by planning out meals and then keeping a tally on your smartphone of all the items you’ll need. A thorough list keeps impulse purchases out of your cart and means you won’t forget key ingredients for one of your recipes. Being this organized helps you stay on budget with room for a treat or two (hello, chocolate chip cookies!). Plus, you won’t come home with a cartful of groceries that don’t add up to a coherent meal plan.
Tip: If you share shopping duties with roommates, set up a synchronized grocery list on your phones so you can all see what you need to buy next.
3. Shop at the right time
Shopping when you’re hungry is never a good idea—that’s when expensive and often unhealthy impulse buys find their way home with you. Try to plan your shopping trips for after you’ve eaten a meal to keep both your budget and meal plan on track.
Tip: If you can, take advantage of your flexible schedule by shopping on weekdays rather than weekends, when stores are busier.
4. Read the flyers
Watch for sales in weekly flyers and have special offers delivered directly to your email inbox. (You can sign up for the Sobeys e-flyer here.) If you have the space in your cupboards and freezer, stock up on sale items. Some good bets are frozen vegetables, canned or dried beans, pasta sauce and super-saver packs of chicken breasts or thighs. These items can be transformed into a wide variety of dishes.
Tip: Paying attention to shelf and flyer prices makes you aware of what products really cost and teaches you how to spot a great sale.
5. Store it right
There’s no room for food to go bad when you’re on a tight budget! Pick up storage containers, zip-top bags, plastic wrap and paper towels. When you return home with your groceries, get in the habit of storing them properly to keep them fresher, longer. And finally, use a marker and masking tape to write your name on your own food items. Your midnight trip to the kitchen won’t end well if you discover your roommate mistook your cereal stash for hers.
Tip: Save cash by converting the glass jars that once held tomato sauce or pickles into food storage containers. Wash jars well; soak them in hot, soapy water to remove labels; and then soak again in lemon juice or vinegar mixed with water to remove any lingering odours.