Smart Shopping 5: How to Stretch Your Grocery Budget Even Farther

In our fifth installment of Smart Shopping, we're talking grocery shopping, tricky budgets, and the hacks that save pennies and skimp corners.

I'm one of those people that just dreads going to the grocery store. There are few things that change that feeling of dread, though I wish I could tell you that I found a way to beat the grocery store blues long ago. However, I've developed a strategy that gets me in, around, and out of the aisles as quickly as possible. Thankfully, that same strategy also saves me money in addition to time. And I'm letting you in on my three surefire shopping tips that shorten your time spent wandering and tips that save you money at the checkout line.

It's important to remember that everyone shops differently, and one blanket list of tips might not work for a vegan the same way it would work for the real carnivores among us. The purpose of our Smart Shopping series is to take a peek into individual's lives and by doing so, we hope you'll adopt one or two small strategies that work for you to offset food costs and manage your household and grocery budget in a smart way.

1. Develop an imperfect meal plan

finally a light bulb without an orange glow

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After moving in with my boyfriend, I was overwhelmed with the concept of meal planning. While he turns every meal I make into a taco (we go through a lot of flour tortillas...), I tend to be pickier. While I used to think that I should just get over my taste preferences, I began to intuitively look at the way we eat. So he's more than happy to eat tacos every night, that meant that at least one night could be structured around tacos. Tuesday, perhaps.

I have more time to prep for a slow cooker meal on Sunday night after the grocery store, so Monday made the most sense for a slow cooker meal. All of the food we've accumulated (I cook in big batches for week lunch leftovers) by Wednesday is fair game for a dinner. By Thursday, we're both fairly over doing the dishes so those one-skillet or one-pan meals save us every week.

Monday: Slow Cooker Meals

Tuesday: Tacos

Wednesday: Leftovers

Thursday: One-Skillet Dinners

Friday: Date Night Out

This is our general menu plan. Do we always stick to it? No way. Are there nights when a frozen pizza sounds much more appealing? Absolutely, and we pop it in the oven and settle in.

2. Be flexible

when the lolzarino grills, he GRILLS

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Having a more open meal plan allows me to take advantage of fresh produce and the good deals of the week, especially on meats. This kind of smart shopping helps me find the best prices to control my grocery spending. One week, we might have tacos with ground turkey while the next, we might just kick it old school with ground beef. This open plan also allows me to experiment with recipes for Wide Open Eats or try a new trending recipe from Pinterest.

This isn't to say that our food shopping is as cut-and-dry as ingredients for dinners for the week. Both of us have items that we are willing to splurge for, and it's important to remember not to completely forgo the things you want for the things you think you need instead. If you account for the snack cravings you'll inevitably have at 8 o'clock following dinner and the lazy Saturday mornings when you'd rather snack than eat a full meal, you end up lowering your food bill because you'll be less inclined to go to the store during the week or eat out.

What are some of our splurges? I could inhale a pint of Halo Top every night and no shopping trip to the store for me is complete without cold brew concentrate because I'm obsessed with our Sparkling Iced Coffee. As for my boyfriend, he swears by pre-packaged bag salads for lunch and packaged almonds that keep him energized and awake for his busy schedule. We also always have seltzer in because it keeps us from buying soda around town.

3. Account for time

lazy sundays; local ingredients from the texas hill country

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You've heard it again and again: Time is money. And it's true! While I love visiting the local farmers at the farmer's market in town and bringing home oodles of fresh, sustainably grown produce, it's not always feasible for my schedule. A grocery shopping trip often asks us to make sacrifices, whether it's trading one store with the better prices for a lower grocery bill for the store that's closer with the more expensive produce.

While you might be willing to spend a bit more time to drive out to the cheaper store, it's also fine to define your time as an important factor in your grocery list.

secret gardens #atx #urbanfarming

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The same goes for ingredients. If I know both of us have busy weeks ahead, I'll nix fresh ingredients for their frozen counterparts just to make sure we're still getting nutrition in our dinners. Sure, I don't love using frozen chopped onions and frozen pepper slices in every meal, but when it's convenient to just toss in the taco ground meat or the one-skillet meal on the stove, I'm so grateful I have them in the freezer.

Of course, chopping and cleaning produce is a necessary evil and usually doesn't take that much time, but you'd be surprised how much faster your dinner prep time goes by when you use this little hack to cut corners on your shopping list.

How do you cut corners to save money each week?

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