Life in the Lion’s Den: How grocery shopping more frequently saves us money

One of the learning curves we’ve experienced living in suburbia is kitchen design.  Our old kitchen in the sticks was tiny (almost no prep space), but with very generous pantry space.  It was set up to reheat large portions of shelf-stable foods and not for multi-course cooking.

We had about this much pantry space, but split on each side of the fridge.

The current kitchen has, effectively, no pantry, but lots and lots of custom soft-touch shelving to grab the array of dishes for the gourmet meals you’ll definitely be cooking for that special someone.  Even bachelors can dream big.

We have a zillion of these instead of real cabinet space.

We also went from this type of refrigerator

Ok, it wasn’t outside though. But this is it.

to this type

We have this but narrower, if you can believe.

The change in fridge shelving meant it was much harder to figure out where stale/old food was piling up.

The upshot of all this kitchen change was that we had to switch from weekly shopping to shopping 3-4x a week.  And we are saving a surprising amount of money.  Like 25% off the old grocery budget.

How can such a thing be?

We have found that since the kitchen is not designed to store large amounts of food that we can keep track of our food consumption easier by buying smaller portions.  Then when it’s gone, it’s really gone, not crammed somewhere random.  Things fall behind the super deep shelves of our weirdly narrow fridge.  So less is better, less likely to get shoved into the back and fall into the fridge-abyss.

Also, we used to avoid buying what we wanted if it was supposed to be eaten in a couple of days (usually deli meals, sushi or ready-made salads).  But here buying that stuff means we know what everyone’s eating a lot more easily and if the kids have a picky phase, we aren’t struggling through a stockpile of bulk whatever.  Also, yes, we can buy lighter, lower-cal stuff for Mommy and Daddy this way.

Yes, we buy oatmeal in the single serving packets.  And we’re spending less money than when we bought the bulk sack because half of it doesn’t end up on the floor when someone tiny has a meltdown.

It’s all very counter-intuitive, but it was also a nice feeling to add up the budget for the month and get a pleasant surprise.

Also, and this isn’t really money-related, but we get a lot of decent social interaction out of shopping more often.  People being nice, striking up conversation, just a lot of positivity.  The store managers know us and are glad to see us, and the kids even have their own little shopping carts they can use.

The stores we go to are real “third places” and very mother-friendly rather than “kid-friendly”.  One of the kids has leveled up to “runner” and I don’t have to bring him back or face judging about his breaking and running.  Given that in suburbia I pretty much always have more kids than any other mothers, it’s really a relief and comfort that the grocery store is a place where I’m welcome and acceptable.

(This was in fact true in the boonies too (not the kids thing, there were some larger families, usually 5 kids that would pop in now and again), but we just shopped less often, so I wasn’t seeing that aspect nearly as often going 3-5x a month vs. a week.)

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8 thoughts on “Life in the Lion’s Den: How grocery shopping more frequently saves us money

  1. Works pretty well for single folk too, honestly. I picked up the habit from doing on-the-way-home shopping rather than grocery trips. It’s so easy as a single gal to buy far too many “aspirational” vegetables – and who wants to clean them out of the fridge?

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  2. LD said,

    “It’s so easy as a single gal to buy far too many “aspirational” vegetables – and who wants to clean them out of the fridge?”

    “Aspirational vegetables” is a wonderful term. I will try to steal it–if I can get around to using it…

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  3. We have a mega-pantry and mega-kitchen but the same narrow style fridge. I think our fridge is big enough, but I’d like more freezer space.

    Here’s why I prefer to shop 2-3 times a week instead of doing a single weekly mega-shopping:

    –I can’t actually manage just once a week. Husband, for example, goes through enormous amounts of sandwich supplies, especially if he decides to make paninis for everybody.
    –Strawberries (and similar) aren’t nice a whole week.
    –Even ice cream is nicer if you don’t keep it around a long time.
    –Frequent visits eliminates the urge to buy all the things, an urge which tends to promote waste. (For example, I buy two clearance mixes and discover that–surprise!–it’s vile and nobody is going to want to eat the second one.) My new personal rule is not to buy any food that isn’t either a staple (flour, sugar, etc.) or that I’m not going to start using within the week.
    –Having a fridge that isn’t stuffed all the time means that it’s easier to give it a wipe inside now and then. The fridge is not embarrassing.
    –Baby Girl has been an excellent shopper since she was 2, and it’s a nice outing for her. Also, she may need some art supplies.
    –The store is often on my way home from other outings.
    –The store is about a 5 minute drive away.
    –As TPC said, it’s a nice built-in social opportunity.

    We waste very little food at our house, although we do still have some “aspirational vegetables” that don’t get opened or some berries that aren’t eaten fast enough. But, percentage-wise, I don’t feel bad about it.

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    • Here’s another example of “aspirational vegetables”–those bagged salads.

      I haven’t been buying them lately, but they have at best a 50% chance of being opened before expiring at our house.

      (There’s some really funny stuff in the book The Honest Toddler with regard to adults and their conflicted relationship with vegetables)

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      • my kids have always been willing to eat plain frozen vegetables like broccoli and carrots and now that the chewing of leaves isn’t a physical difficulty like salad greens with basic vinaigrette. butter with veggies is certainly liked, but they’ll eat them either way.

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    • I also have that narrow kind of fridge. I want a full sized fridge and freezer side by side, but my dh won’t let my kitchen be great. It would just be a teensy remodel. LOL.

      Between my husband and I we grocery shop at least 3-4 times a week.

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  4. I generally shop 2x/wk – smallish fridge and I buy a lot of vegetation and run out of room. I have four people and all of us are grown size. I’m the smallest human in my house. We go through a lot of food.

    I keep staples on hand and buy those in bulk, or things I can put in the pantry (I have a cabinet in the patio). My kitchen is microscopic. I used to stock my deep freeze, back before beef prices skyrocketed. Now it’s mostly chicken stock and other partially prepped foods as well as chocolate, which melts in the patio. But there are lots of things that freeze well – breads and suchlike, peanut sauce, you know. Nice to have on hand.

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