This post is a part of an ongoing series of content that will be featured from time to time by my husband, who we’ll call Mr. Togetherish. I couldn’t have a blog without sharing some of his genius and humor with all of you. I think that having a husband and dad’s perspective is both refreshing and valuable. If you have specific post ideas you’d like to see from Mike’s perspective, please reach out and let us know!
I love grocery stores. And I’m not the only husband that does. As a recent article in Wall Street Journal pointed out, more and more men are grocery shopping these days. And apparently, we don’t care about healthy stuff and we don’t give too much consideration to how much things cost. It’s like Plato’s allegory of the cave: We always assumed the only food we could access is what magically appeared in our cabinets… and then one of us accidentally stumbled into a Kroger and realized we can have whatever the we want. Sausages included. And the shackles fell off.
I am certainly not in the camp of male grocery store shoppers who are less health and price conscious. In fact, I revel in the fact that I have access to the pinnacle of free trade: delicious and nutritious food, from all corners of the world for so cheap. Don’t agree? Consider this: A banana costs 17 cents (and it even comes with a free banana case). It traveled here all the way from Costa Rica, and tastes like dessert. For 17 cents.
There are far too many people who complain that grocery stores are expensive. A steak at Delmonicos is expensive. And you can make your own steak at home for 85% less. I’d like to share how I attack a grocery store.
If you want to get in and out of a grocery store as effectively as possible you need to understand your stores layout, and you need to have a list that is sorted by section. Linsey used to text me things to pick up at the store and she’d have tomatoes right after the milk followed by bread followed by a cucumber. I’d do six laps around a grocery store that’s 100,000 square feet. Sure I burned 400 calories. But it’s time poorly spent. Use my advice, and make your list before you go.
If you spend 3 minutes rummaging through your pantry and fridge before you leave to check your current inventory you can avoid having 6 bottles of mustard at one time. Break your list out by category, and as you add items, place them in the appropriate section. Produce. Dairy. Dry goods. You’ll thank me for this.
You can download our template here if you’d like to save some time: Downloadable Grocery List
Generic store brands
Smart people buy generic brands. Store brand products are not only as good as national brands…they are sometimes produced by the national brands! They’re then put into a slightly similar, but way more kitschy packaging. Do you know why store brands are generally 20-30% cheaper? Because they don’t have to spend millions of dollars a year advertising, or doing R&D, or paying royalties to a celebrity that is on their packaging. They take something tried and true and copy it precisely. For your bank account’s benefit, be proud of your Great Value quinoa.
Buy frozen veggies
We love vegetables. I am obsessed with fiber and how it feeds the gut flora. I’ll leave that for another blog. But the challenge is that we end up throwing out 30-40% of the fresh vegetables we buy because they don’t have a long shelf life. I’ve started buying frozen, precut veggies to add to stir fries and rice bowls. They cost the same, or less, per pound and retain all of the health benefits. And they stay perfectly fine in your freezer for 8 – 10 months. If you kept a fresh onion on your counter for 8 – 10 months it would literally grow another onion inside of it.
Compare prices smarter
Why buy the 40 oz jar of peanut butter instead of the 16 oz? I mean the 16 oz jar is $3 and the 40 oz jar is $6.75. “I’d rather spend less!” you think. Ahhh… but the price per ounce is quite different. You’re paying almost 19 cents an ounce for the smaller jar, and 15 cents an ounce for the larger jar. That’s a 19% savings on a product that doesn’t perish quickly, and, if you’re like me, eat with your bare hands.
You don’t need to be Will Hunting to do this math. In fact, the grocery store has done it for you. If you look at the barcode tag beneath each product it will give you the price per unit for every item, so you can easily find volume discounts. This even works for paper towels where they will give you the price per 100 sheets. (The image on the right shows how those Cheerios are actually .26 cents per ounce.)
Don’t bother with coupons
Oh, some of you ladies are going to hate me for this one. Coupons are the grocery store’s way of getting you to buy stuff you probably didn’t want or need. Sure you can save 10 cents. And sometimes I do quickly check out the coupons in the circular when I walk in the store to see if anything already on my list has a deal. I really value my time, and so should you, and I find the ROI on couponing to ultimately be negligible. Unless you really enjoy couponing, and to you it is a sport. If that’s the case, go right ahead, and get all the papercuts you want.
Don’t buy preprepared food
Pre-made salads, precut fruit, pre-seasoned salmon. All of these things are more expensive because Stop and Shop had to pay some guy $12 an hour to sprinkle salt and pepper on a piece of fish, and then mark up the cost of his labor by 20% and amortize that across the cost per pound of that pre-seasoned fish. So you could save the 12 seconds it takes to do it yourself, with the seasonings you actually like (read about our favorite seasoning blend here).
If you’re hungry… eat nuts.
You know the cliche, don’t grocery shop hungry. I sometimes grocery shop drunk. Or in my pajamas. So you know I’ve showed up to the store hungry AF. And it’s true, I started filling my cart up with bags of Tostitos and frozen French fries, DiGiorno pizzas. The carbs you would crave if you were 21, it was 2 am and you just drank 12 Natty Lights. I found a solution though. Immediately bypass your list, go right to the snack aisle and get a can of almonds. Eat a handful. Pay for them still, of course, because almonds should be a staple in every pantry, but also relish in the fact you can now go back to making sensible choices about what goes in your cart. And now return to, and stick to your list.
And finally, the last gem I have to offer to you: (drumroll)….
That hot rotisserie chicken is actually a good deal
Sometimes they’re $4.99…..and even when they are $5.99… they actually are a good deal. You see the grocery stores use the chickens you don’t buy fresh, and right before they expire they cook them. That gives them another day or two on the selling floor. If you don’t buy the rotisserie chicken? They make it into chicken salad, that gives them another week. So the rotisserie chicken, at $5.99, actually is a good way to feed your family and avoid cooking… once in awhile.
I am forgetting some things. But that’s ok. The idea is simple: have the grocery store be your main vendor for food, and become the top chef, and customer, at the restaurant in your own kitchen. You’ll save money, learn how to survive if there’s a zombie apocalypse and you’re stuck in a Walmart, and you’ll hopefully spend more time with your loved ones.
How do you shop smarter for groceries?