Adulting: Learn to Grocery Shop like a Pro!

As easy as it is to live on pizza and McDonald’s, it’s not sustainable in the long term. Take-out costs add up quickly and lead to unhealthy lifestyles. Spending even $20/week on fast food adds up to a whopping $1040/year. One thousand dollars! That could mean a vacation, buying glamorous makeup and clothes or even textbooks. Learning how to “adult,” beginning in the grocery store, entails many key skills that every student should know. At first, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and to crumble and throw a bunch of chips in the cart and run out. Grocery shopping, to a beginner, looks incredibly hard. What’s a good deal on meat? How many cans of soup is too much? And what is the difference between a sweet potato and a yam?! As someone who has been living independently for four years, I’ve made all the novice mistakes so you don’t have to. All this food pictured below cost me only $80 when I had next to no food, and I’m still using it up over a month later! Get ready to grab your cart, because we’re going grocery shopping!

Source: Kaitlin Kenny. Edited on BeFunky.

 

Plan, Plan Ahead!

Getting groceries doesn’t begin at the store. Before even hopping in the car, sit down and pull out your phone or a piece of paper. It’s fun to be spontaneous with food, but making meal plans ensures you’ll have all the food you need and will answer the dreaded “what’s for dinner?” I either make a chart or use the app MealPlanner. I like to leave a little bit of leeway by only making a set dinner plan. I plan out all of my dinners, including leftover nights, and make two to three options for breakfasts, lunches and snacks. These meal plans should extend beyond “chicken, rice and broccoli” every single night. That’s boring, and you’ll grow tired of it. Go online or to recipe books and find something tasty. Be sure to only plan what you’ll actually eat though. Don’t tell yourself you’ll “totally eat this healthy yogurt” and then just leave it to rot because you hate dairy.

 

Source: Kaitlin Kenny. Made on MealPlanner.

 

Budgeting and Lists

After tracking down what you’ll eat, it’s time to make a list and determine your budget. It’s tempting to grab what you think you need, but that’s how unnecessary purchases and extra visits get tacked on. Look at what ingredients you have and what you require, then write it all down. Next, figure out how much money you’re able to spend. In my case, I live with my partner and pets, and aim to spend roughly $80 every two weeks. On average, Canadians spend $200-250/month on groceries, or $50-62/week, but that can be brought down for smaller families. Look at flyers and coupons to see if you can use anything from them. The Flipp app is great for keeping track of all of these.

 

Source: Kaitlin Kenny. Made on Flipp.

 

Pantry Staples

Sometimes, dinner will be demolished. Maybe it caught on fire, or you accidentally dumped too much salt in and not even the dog will look at it. It happens. When it does, make sure to always have some “pantry staples” around. While the exact contents vary from person to person, they’re generally common items used in a variety of recipes. They can be frozen, canned, fresh or refrigerated. For me, I always keep around chickpeas and diced tomatoes to make a curry, frozen chicken breasts and vegetables, and rice to make fried rice. You will never catch my kitchen without rice! They can extend to other meals and snacks as well. Popcorn kernels and bread are fantastic to always keep on hand.

 

Source: Kaitlin Kenny

Some of my many, many pantry staples.

 

Understanding Grocery Store Psychology

Everything is planned out and listed, the pantry has its staples (or it’s on the grocery list) and so it is time to actually shop. Grocery stores are a business, and like any good business, they aim to get rich. This also means being sneaky with their customers. Check out POPSUGAR’s article on its psychology here for more details, but here are quick bullet points on how to outsmart the stores:

  • Avoid wandering through aisles trying to find things. Look at the aisle labels or ask an employee where things are so you don’t buy things you don’t need.

  • Look up and down for products, not just at eye level. You’ll find different prices.

  • Many essentials will be on the back or far side. Make a beeline to them to avoid temptation.

  • Buying in bulk isn’t always the best. Only buy what you need to avoid extra costs and waste.

  • Stores will often put sale items on the ends of aisles to attract customers. Be wary of this.

  • Ignore the candy and catchy gossip magazines placed at the checkouts… where you’re forced to wait.

Source: Kaitlin Kenny

Avoid these traps!!

 

Understanding What (and how!) to Buy

After brushing up on psychology, it’s time to finally do a proper shop! Here are some tips for the individual areas and types of food, as well as general grocery tips.

 

Source: Kaitlin Kenny

 

Produce:

  • Buy only the freshest. Try looking in the back of the bins for them, as employees are trained in FIFO (first in, first out) and will rotate stock.

  • Avoid damaged items.

  • Consider convenience versus price. Buying prepackaged lettuce saves time, but is more expensive.

  • Try to purchase fruits and vegetables that are in season; they will be fresher and cheaper!

  • Ugly produce is just as tasty, and in some stores, cheaper.

Source: Kaitlin Kenny

Grains:

  • Gently squeeze the sides to ensure freshness. You want some squish.

  • For most brands, the bread tag color is an indicator of when the bread was baked (Blue=Monday, Green=Tuesday, Red=Thursday, Friday=White, Saturday=Yellow) however this may vary per type.

Meats:

  • Look for sales whenever possible. Meat is not cheap, so consider buying and freezing for later.

  • If a cut of meat has a steep discount, it is because it will expire soon. If it is something you’ll use and enjoy, purchase and freeze it.

  • Understand the different cuts of meat. Chicken thighs are generally much cheaper than chicken breasts, but can be more difficult to handle. For some recipes, it will not matter, but in others, it will.

  • Do not buy meat that is warm to the touch or has damaged packaging.

Source: Kaitlin Kenny

 

Dairy:

  • Eggs. On. Top. Do not squish the eggs. Keep with the bread and other delicate items.

  • Do not buy warm dairy.

Miscellaneous:

  • Dried goods will be cheaper than canned and lower in sodium, but it is a question of convenience versus price.

  • Frozen vegetables and fruits are great for frozen pantry staples and long-term meal plans.

  • Bagged spices are cheaper than packaged, and some can be found even cheaper in international aisles.

  • Get your salsa from the Mexican aisle. Cheaper, bigger and tastier.

Source: Kaitlin Kenny. Collage made on BeFunky.

Same size!

 

General:

  • Getting the cheapest option isn’t always the best option. There’s no sense in eating “Fruit Spins” if it’s gross. Just pay the extra dollar or two and buy your Froot Loops.

  • But, in many cases, the generic brand is just fine.

  • If it’s in the frozen/refrigerated section, make sure it’s cold.

  • As a general rule, if it’s damaged, avoid.

  • International aisles are great to try something new and cheap.

  • Eat before going out to avoid grabbing things to snack on.

  • There is a difference between sell by (store shelf life), use by (when it will expire), and best before (when the quality will be best) dates. Keep this in mind, and remember most items will be okay at least few days after the dates (but absolutely check and use common sense before consumption).

  • Avoid going during peak hours. Weekends and dinner time tends to be worse.

Source: Kaitlin Kenny

Nice and quiet and with no screaming and hungry toddlers!

 

Pay

Yes, this may seem like a silly entry, but there’s little things to remember! If you have coupons or rebates (maybe you found them on Flipp!) this is the time to use them. Ask about rainchecks: if something is on sale and they sold out, some stores will give these to you to buy the item later at the sale price. This is also the time to ask about and use any discount or point collection cards.

 

Source: Kaitlin Kenny. Edited with BeFunky.

30$ for an entire week plus many leftovers and enough meat for a month! That’s half the average! This is, of course, with items in my pantry. 

Celebrate! (*Not with pizza)

Congratulations! You’ve just finished grocery shopping like an adult. This is the first step to being a proud, functional grown up that your parents and other adult-ier friends would beam at.

 

Source: Kaitlin Kenny

The fruits of my labour: homemade pickles and crockpot chicken!

Grocery shopping looks absolutely monumental, but with practice and this guide, things will get easier! The next time you’re hungry, don’t panic and don’t call Uber Eats, just open your fridge because you’ve got it all planned. Best of luck with adulting!