One of the simplest ways to save money as well as free up a couple of hours each week, is to plan what food you will purchase at the grocery store or market. The basic idea is that you will not be purchasing more than you need, nor will you be backlogging a pile of food that could – and often times will – go to waste.
To begin, set out a calendar for the week. You can do this using a computer, but if you’d like to save some money and electricity, then pull out some paper and do it the old fashioned way – by hand. Really into going green? Unfold a paper shopping bag and use the backside. You may even choose to use some cardstock or board. The layout is simple: seven squares, each day labelled, with enough room to fill in what your needs are. Using a sticky note is a great way to reuse the calendar template, and if you find a food combination that really thrills your stomach, you can reuse this again next week.
Next, set out areas on each square or sticky note for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Be realistic when setting these up, otherwise your hard work goes to waste, and you will find yourself standing in the grocery checkout line the very next day.
You will need to do a survey of your cupboards and your fridge. What do you already have that you can turn into a delicious meal or snack? Get creative – do you have leftover or partially stale bread or buns? Rather than spending a few hard earned dollars on croutons for your salad, cut the bread up and lightly drizzle it with some oil, then fry it until crispy. This not only saves you anywhere between two and six dollars, but will also help the environment, since your homemade croutons come with 100% less packaging than the store bought variety. Make a list of everything in your cupboards and fridge, and begin planning.
Check out the local farmer’s market, and even online classifieds for local produce. Because the food is grown locally, you are not paying for packaging or transportation costs (you’ve now cut down on fuel consumption!). If you are feeling ambitious, you could even try growing your own produce for the summer months. Purchase items like flour, pasta, rice and even some candies in bulk.
At the end of the week, review what your plans were, and how you did with them. It will take a few weeks of practice to get it right, but soon you will notice that you are not tossing out half-full containers of wasted food, or spending extra money on items like croutons, pasta or rice.
While you may not follow your plan exactly, you will be exercising your creativity, thinking up dishes that you may not have had you planned the meal after a long day of work. You now have authority over your food, rather than your food dictating what you will make. You have bought for the meal, and are not wasting any food. You also have the power to cut back on packaging, which drives the costs of food up and is not any help to the environment.