Cooking once per week is my jam.
So is eating healthy, home-cooked food.
On grocery day, I don’t even put my groceries away. I put the bags on the counter, unload them, and start cooking. After multiple failures, I’ve mastered the meal plan, and I make a grocery list to match it, so everything I buy belongs to a recipe.
My kitchen and budget failures include but are not limited to:
Trying to buy fewer groceries (as a budgeting strategy)
Turns out, buying less food doesn’t magically make you less hungry. I used to find myself in grocery store aisles or local cafes grabbing snacks every day. Now, I currently spend approximately $45 – $60 on groceries each week, without regret.
Vague meal planning (without a grocery list)
Feeling worldly and buying a bottle of red wine, pizza crust and peppers does not prepare you for a rustic home cooked pizza night. I’ve learned to count how many meals I will need to get through the week, as well as predict how many days each meal will last (hello leftovers!), and break down my grocery list by ingredients.
Tossing half nearly of all the food I ambitiously purchased into the trash
I’ve also learned to think about which ingredients will yield leftovers, and plan ahead so that I can use every item I buy
Now, my typical Monday to Friday meal plan is made up of:
Breakfast – scrambled eggs with veggies (spinach, zucchini, onions, peppers…)
Lunch – smoothies (spinach, zucchini, peas, cucumber, carrots …)
Snack (peas, cucumber, carrots …)
Are you seeing a pattern here?
Leftovers typically last two or three days. I plan meals like soups, casseroles, veggie burgers, and salads for supper, using up the other produce that I used to throw away, and I make all of my dinners for the week on grocery day, too. All the hard work is taken care of, and for the whole week I get to grab and go without busting the bank, my back, or my diet.
I should also mention that I almost always cook (and eat) vegetarian meals. I tease that one day I might accidentally murder my family by serving them improperly cooked meat. But I’m frugal. I don’t want to pay for a lawyer. And I also don’t like to pay for high-priced meat, so everyone is safe.
When I’m in cooking mode, knowing I’m going to be using the oven and stovetop all evening, I’ll decide to forgo air conditioning. Good for the environment, good for my budget — right? I’ve been reading advice on leaving the lights off and making the most of the sunlight, so I sweat over the stove with a knife in the near-dark. My pug, Lil Wayne, likes to cook with me. He nods reassuringly when I need support, and stands on my feet waiting for me to drop scraps.
After experimenting with leaving the lights off, I have to turn the lights on, but fortunately, it’s at the same time that I’m turning all the elements off. When I look at the pile of veggie scraps, knowing I’m about to toss them, I feel a pang of guilt thinking about these gorgeous veggie bits being wasted. Carrot and sweet potato peels, celery tops, scallion and green bean tips. I toss Lil Wayne a couple carrot peels while I think about it, then toss the rest all in a pot with some water, and make veggie broth. Lil Wayne is grateful for the extra snack, and I’m grateful for the broth — cooled down and frozen for next week’s Spanish rice.
How much do I save by cooking in the dark with my dog?
Well, the dog doesn’t come with savings, but he’s great company.
Leaving the lights off and offsetting the use of the oven by forgoing air conditioning? I’m not sure. I may save one dollar if I’m lucky. I do save a lot of heavy guilt.
Shopping with a complete grocery list: I save between $5 and $150.
I know — that’s a huge range. My most successful off-the-top-of-my-head shopping ever resulted in my only forgetting one item, and quickly returning to the store for cheese. (If you want to be a frugal champ you can factor in gas money.)
When I’m seriously failing, I’m aimlessly strolling the grocery store aisles and picking up everything that tickles my fancy, and I end up coming home with approximately $50 worth of stuff that I don’t need.
By cooking at home and cooking all my meals ahead of time:
- I save on approximately one pizza delivery ($30)
- One lunch date ($10),
- One drive through ($6),
- One or two snacks ($7.50)
Grand total saved: $103.50 per week. Over a year: $5,382.
Some tips to try:
1. Be efficient. Use your time well. Plan ahead to devote a good chunk of time to cooking all in one go, and you’ll save time overall.
2. Plan for the space you have. If you have four stove top elements, one oven with two racks, and no microwave (like me) you’ll want to make sure that you plan meals that can be cooked all at once with the kitchen you have. Plan some raw food, some baked, some stovetop.
3. Use common ingredients. You’ll have less waste and get more meals for your budget. Use real food. Processed foods are typically more expensive, less nutritious and tougher to incorporate into multiple recipes than real food ingredients.
4. Splurge and Save. If you choose something pricey, save somewhere else. If you want to splurge on fancy produce, try buying generic brand canned goods. Meat typically costs more than other foods. Plan to spread it further by combining it with grated produce, eggs, beans and grains.
5. Make it fun. I cook with my dog, and with my music blasting while dancing. Entertaining yourself and making it fun helps you invest the time without regret.
Party’s in the kitchen!
How have you changed your grocery shopping to save money? What kind of meal planning do you practice?
About Sarah Grace: I live in beautiful British Columbia as a full grown human with my boyfriend and my dog. Being a full grown human is sometimes lovely, but often painful, exhausting or unnecessarily tough.
For me, happiness is made of: people I love, daydreaming cheaper solutions, old muck (with potential), pretty things, good times, nature, mountain paths and pools of water 2ft across and bigger. You can find me online here.