Let me start by saying this. I am a single gal, living in Chicago — the 7th most expensive city in the world. I eat for one [well, most of the time – this girl has got to get those gains], and if you’ve seen my Instagram feed, I eat very healthy and I don’t skimp out on good food.
By good food – I mean real food. I’m talking salmon, grilled chicken, fresh produce, eggs, and even over-priced gluten free bread. Don’t forget clean protein bars like Quest, which average $2.40 per bar.
No, I’m not kidding.
On average, my grocery bill per week averages from $30-50. How do I do it? It’s not as hard as it looks. It just takes a little patience, planning, and a whole lot of commitment.
Crafting Your Budget
Before you even think about heading to the grocery store, you’ve got to start with a budget.
Each month, I lay out all of my expenses and the pay I am expected to bring in. It may seem like common sense, but unfortunately many Americans have never once sat down to look at what they bring in versus what they spend on necessities, let alone on pleasure.
In fact, one study found that 69 percent of Americans have less than $1000 in a savings account. Think that’s bad? 34 percent don’t have a single penny set aside. Ouch.
Mapping Your Meals
After I lay out my monthly budget, I – naturally – think about food, and I look at the calendar.
Each month, I usually allocate $250 (giving me plenty of wiggle room if I want to splurge). This however can fluctuate based on how many weeks are in the month or if I know I am travelling.
Say for example, I’m headed home for the holidays. I may not need to allocate as much money in my grocery budget since I can (luckily and gratefully) rely on mom and dad to cook a meal or two. I might allocate that extra money though to eating out, because odds are I’ll see a friend or two when I am in town. Make sense? Good. Now, back to the calendar.
From here I look and see what days I’ll be around for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. What days am I responsible to cook on my own dime? And from here I begin crafting my menu.
Shop The Sales
When I meal plan, I look at the ads. These usually come out online about a week or two in advance, so I know what, where, and when my favorite varieties of produce and meat go on sale.
For example, say I know next week that I’m going to land a killer deal on pork chops. I might buy them in bulk, cook some for that week’s dinner, and depending on how good the deal is, I’ll freeze the rest to use later, that way I don’t have to necessarily buy meat every single week.
The same goes for produce. But, another important factor you need to consider is what is in season.
In the summer, I always buy excess berries and freeze them so I can enjoy them in the winter months when they tend to be more expensive – perfect for my favorite sweet potato bowl or a hearty bowl of oatmeal.
Location. Location. Location.
Where you shop matters. Don’t expect to buy all of your groceries at a place like Whole Foods (lovingly referred to as whole paycheck).
My friends and family know I live and breathe by Aldi. They are the reason I can afford all the produce I eat. They also now have a great selection of fresh salmon and tilapia. I also buy my ground turkey and chicken there, too. And the liveGfree section …. forget about it.
That being said, sometimes Aldi doesn’t always have the lowest price. I still shop at Trader Joes, Walmart, Marianos, Fresh Thyme, and even Whole Foods for select items that are on sale.
When it comes to buying things like name-brand protein bars, I compare in-store prices and also shop around online. I’ve found that Amazon and Groupon can be your best friend in that regard, especially with my Prime membership.
Cash In On Those Rewards
These days, most retail stores offer some sort of loyalty or rewards program. In fact, a lot of them even require you to sign up if you want to be able to pay their listed sale prices.
Some of my favorites are at Target, Walgreens, and CVS. Recently, there was a 30% off coupon on Target’s Cartwheel App for all RXbars. You better believe I bought those babies in bulk!
Those of you who call Chicago home, can cash in on the Free Friday Deals at Mariano’s. Each week, they usually offer 2-3 products for free to customers on Friday. And I can’t forget Fresh Thyme! Double-Ad days are on Wednesday. If you shop the store on Hump Day, you get to use the sales from the previous and upcoming week’s ads when you check out.
Prep Your Meals
Now that you’ve got an idea of what to buy for the week by scanning the ads, you can create a meal plan and hit the stores for all of the ingredients you need, while staying in your budget. Now all you have to do is dust off that skillet and make some time to cook your weekly meals in advance.
Don’t worry, next week, I will provide you with all of the tips and tricks you’ll need to meal prep.
Stay tuned. You won’t want to miss it!