The Grocery Game [Updated]

Originally published January 13, 2016. Updated July 11, 2018.

From extreme couponing to urban foraging, there are numerous ways to save money on groceries. Just Google it sometime, if you haven’t already. I did, and I found that a good many of the suggested options required a whole lot of effort to see even the most minimal results. Sure there are folks out there who can spend hours sourcing coupons and get an entire cart of groceries for $2. I, on the other hand, could spend hours sourcing coupons just to arrive at the store without them. Or worse, walk out with 3 bags of free mustard.

We play a different kind of grocery game. Simple shopping.

The basics of simple shopping are:

Make a Stock List: The single best way to improve grocery spending is to make a list of your favorite meals and snacks. From this selection of menu options, make a second list of all the ingredients and/or products required to create those meals. Only purchase the items on this list and always keep at least one of each of your most used stock item in your pantry reserves.

Shop Less Often: Keeping extras of your favorite items in the pantry means fewer trips to the store and fewer trips means fewer spending opportunities. Create a schedule for grocery shopping, one that fits the way you like to eat. We like to shop once a week, usually on Friday evening or Saturday morning. During the spring/summer season, we also visit the Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning.

Cut Down on Convenience Foods: In most cases, frozen convenience meals are significantly more expensive than making the same meal from scratch. And let’s face it, scratch meals taste better and are better for you. There is one caveat to this though; it’s not a bad idea to keep a frozen pizza or box of veggie burgers in the freezer for those times when you are just too tired (or too interested in doing something else) to cook.

Forego (Most) Couponing: Coupons often promote spending rather than helping to reduce grocery costs. A lot of coupons are for processed foods and many are offered to encourage you to try new items. Sometimes that new product is great but more often that item will just sit in the cabinet or fridge until it goes bad. By only buying from a list, it’s easier to resist the temptation to use coupons for the latest and greatest new food fad (and it also helps cut down on food waste). That being said, I do spend a few minutes each week checking the digital coupons for Kroger. Occasionally there’s one we can use (usually it’s just the Friday Freebie).

Shop Sales: Grocery stores have sales for a reason – to get you into the store. They know that the majority of folks who come in for those few bargain items will also do the remainder of their shopping there, making up their loss. The real discounts go to those who only buy the bargain items…the bargain items that are on their stock list. To supplement our regular grocery trips (and to pick up items at a better cost), Angie scans the weekly ads from Food Lion and Kroger. If an item that we have on our list is on sale at a greater savings than ALDI, then we’ll get it. If the item can be stored, we’ll get several of them.

Make it Fun: Grocery shopping really can be fun and there are a lot of different strategies to make it so. Set a target goal – like $50 – and see if you can get all the items on your list for that amount. Wager with your significant other (or child) to see who can find the best overall deal. Loser makes dinner. There are even a few side hustles that will pay you to mystery shop your favorite grocery store and last year, we discovered the Shopkick app, which is a great way to earn gift cards just by scanning items as you walk the grocery aisles.

Shop, Eat, Repeat

A few weeks ago, I posted a few simple recipes we made with ingredients from our CSA basket. Since then, several folks have asked for more summer dining and meal planning tips, so I thought this might be a great time to share a bit about what we eat on a daily basis. Minimalist meals have four things in common:

  • They are quick and easy to prepare.
  • They make use of the same basic ingredients, just in different combinations.
  • They are nutritious (and in this case, plant-based).
  • They are very inexpensive (in fact, some are even downright cheap!).

So, without further ado, here’s what the Minimalists Next Door eat for:

Breakfast

  • Oats with berries, apple tidbits, or raisins
  • Organic whole grain cereal with nut or flax milk and a bowl of fruit
  • Whole wheat toast and a banana
  • Banana flour pancakes with fruit topping (on Sundays only)

Lunch

  • PB&J with chips and a fruit bowl
  • Salad and a fruit bowl
  • Veggie wraps with hummus
  • Grilled pepper and onion quesadilla with chips and salsa
  • Leftovers from dinner

Dinner

  • Tropical Bowl – brown rice, black or pinto beans, corn, and salsa
  • Asian Bowl – whole wheat spaghetti noodles, sautéed onions, peppers, and seasonal veggies with low-sodium soy sauce
  • Homemade pizza topped with kale or spinach and seasonal veggies
  • Italian Bowl – whole wheat pasta with seasonal veggies like eggplant, zucchini, and carrots in a tomato-based sauce
  • Breakfast – either a frittata or scrambled eggs with grits and Hilary’s Veggie Sausage
  • Veggie burgers with baked potato cubes and a salad
  • Veggie plate – any combination of vegetables on hand with a baked potato or a whole grain side, like quinoa, barley, or brown rice

Snacks

  • Hummus and pita chips
  • Almond or coconut milk yogurt
  • Fresh fruit
  • Nuts
  • Granola (loose or bars)
  • Popcorn

The fruits and vegetables change throughout the year and in the winter, we add homemade soups and chili to the lineup, but as you can see, we eat pretty much the same things all the time. This makes shopping easier since we can buy a lot of the stock items in bulk. It also makes meal prep easy. We can chop most of the veggies for salads, wraps, and bowls in advance and use them throughout the week. Same goes for fruits. When it comes to beverages, we rotate through three options there as well – coffee, tea, and water.

Does your family have a standard or rotating menu? What are some of your favorite quick meals?