I Started Grocery Shopping Like a Grown-Up and I Have Mixed Feelings About It

published Mar 10, 2020
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Wandering the aisles of grocery stores is one of my top-five favorite activities. I find so much inspiration loitering in the produce sections! In fact, I consider the supermarket to be an outlet for creativity. I also really like purchasing food the day I plan on cooking it: It ensures freshness, and also feels very French — and who doesn’t want to feel French?

But my daily shopping habits came with a big downside: I was spending an astronomical amount of money on groceries. I fully realized just how much when my friend, who is a mother of four teenage boys, revealed how much she spends on groceries. I blushed: My own amount didn’t fall too far from hers.

To figure out what exactly I spending all that money, I decided to monitor my purchases for a few weeks. Here’s what I learned.

What I Learned from Monitoring My Daily Grocery Store Habit

The biggest downside of letting your intuition and cravings guide your grocery purchases is that it’s difficult to make informed, rational decisions that are good for your wallet and the planet. I learned that my daily grocery-store trips led to a few common mistakes.

1. I often bought duplicates of things I already had at home.

I realized this one day after trying to make room for some tamari and seaweed-flavored rice cakes in my cupboard. Real estate was tight because I already had two full packages. How many rice cakes does a woman need?

2. I bought way too many snacks.

Although I always came home with staples like eggs, milk, produce, and proteins, I also couldn’t say no to a few snacky, packaged items. There’s no shame or harm in buying these things, but there’s no way I needed seven different types of whole-grain crackers growing stale in my cabinets.

3. I let produce wilt because I didn’t “feel like cooking it.”

I would often silently kill a bunch of kale from yesterday’s trip to the supermarket because I would rather eat the collards that called out to me that afternoon. I’m not proud of this. Food waste is a serious issue, and the fact that I compost doesn’t excuse my bad behavior.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

What I Learned from Grocery Shopping Once a Week

After my monitoring experiment, I made a vow to be kinder to my wallet and the planet by sticking to a new plan: For the last month, I have been grocery shopping once a week. No more. No matter how much I tried to convince myself I “needed” to. Here’s what I learned.

1. You should do a full inventory before going shopping.

I found it immensely helpful to actually open every cupboard and drawer in the fridge, taking stock of best-by dates and the fullness of containers. This helped cut down on duplicates that will expire or go bad before I can finish them all.

2. You should make a list — and stick with it.

This is the oldest trick in the book, but it works. The only exception I made here was with produce. As someone who eats a lot of veggies, I know that I can figure out how to add just about anything into my rotation. So if I wrote “carrots” on the list, but they were all floppy and flimsy, I’d go for the parsnips instead. The key is to ask yourself honestly how much you can realistically cook and eat. Don’t load up on more delicious veg than you can handle just because they’re perky and fresh.

3. You should keep staples on hand to make “meh” meals better.

At the end of the week, I found myself cooking a lot of “use it up” meals. Good for combatting food waste, not so great for culinary creativity. I leaned heavily on my store of finishing oils, condiments, and sauces to make roasted tofu and veggies (again) taste like a treat.

How I Feel About Grocery Shopping Like an Adult

Although I’ve definitely saved money, I will admit that I feel less inspired by my larder. I used to feel like I “deserved” to cook food that inspired me, every day. But lately I’ve been wondering: Don’t I also “deserve” to feel financially secure? I think with a little more practice, I can find a happy medium.