Health and Beauty on a Shoestring Budget: Grocery Shopping

Since I moved to Boston a little over a month ago, I’ve learned that the grocery store is my greatest ally for managing a tight budget. Even with my full time job, I technically don’t have enough money to pay for rent, my bills, and even buy food! Luckily, I do have a little bit of help making the food necessity happen until my job hires me from temp to permanent at the beginning of next year.

There are a few grocery stores near me: Trader Joe’s, Shaw’s, and Whole Foods. I tried to make it work with Trader Joe’s, but the cramped & crowded store, limited and awful selection of prepackaged produce  — often sourced from who knows where — as well as the quirky staff were all deal breakers. Shaw’s is so underwhelming, even with its enormity, that I had no interest in getting lost in there weekly. So far, I’ve decided to go with Whole Foods. I rely on food from this store for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. These days, I cook or prepare everything that I eat (unless there are leftovers from a catered lunch in my office or I wind up making the mistake of spending cash on a cheap dinner out). I’ve figured out how to save money, eat healthy, and keep my grocery bill way under $100/week. I should note that a weekly bill under $100 accounts for standard meals and no fancy or specialty ingredient purchases. Spices, oils, and vinegars are definitely vital to how I remain sane while cooking everything I eat. While they are initially expensive, when used properly, their value is very long lasting. Also, sometimes the bill is closer to $115 if I plan on cooking for two people. Tips and advice after the jump.

Two of my top favorite things about Whole Foods are 1. The abundance and variety of Produce and 2. Plenty of bulk produce versus pre-packaged fruits and veggies, so I’m in control of how much I purchase of an item at a time. As a vegetarian, I rely on a combination of vegetables to get all of the vitamins and nutrition that I need. Here are some of the things I purchase most frequently, and how much I spend on them.

Kale: $2.99/lb  (Tip: Don’t just grab whatever bunch is on top. Make sure that what you choose has the best possible leaves and is the right amount that you need for the whole week. Unwind the rubberband to lighten up the bunch if you need to. Since this is something that’s by the pound, you’re not obligated to buy by the pre-packaged bunch.)

Baby Spinach: $2.00 case

Avocados: $2.00/ea

Onions: $.99-$1.49/lb

Garlic: $3.99/lb

Ginger Root: $2.99/lb

Celery Hearts: $2.29/package

Cauliflower: $3.99/head

Baby Carrots: $1.69/package

Broccoli Crowns: $2.49/lb (Tip: If you don’t eat the stems of broccoli, don’t waste your money on the weight.)

Crimini Mushrooms: $3.99/lb (Tip: This may seem silly, but sometimes I pluck the stems out of the mushrooms before going to the check out to save money on weight.)

Bananas: $.79/lb (Tip: Another great thing to be picky about. Don’t feel obligated to take an entire hand of bananas just because they’re all attached. Only take what you really need for the week.)

Seasonal Fruit, like Strawberries: $4.99/pint Blueberries: $4.99/pint

Grapes: $3.49/lb

I spend the most amount of time in the produce section. Next, I move on to the sandwich goods. Tofurkey is around $2.99/package, and organic American Cheese is about $3.99/package. There’s no real advice on this one. I’m not sure if you can buy Tofurkey from the deli counter (a great option for meat eaters to control the quantity of deli slices they get), but 1 box always gets me through the work week. Same for the cheese.

One of the things that always seems a little expensive on the bill, but is vital for my protein intake and nutrition, is nuts. One pound of Cashews (always unsalted! Keep an eye on your sodium intake with packaged foods) is around $7.69. Nuts are dense with calories, fat, and protein, so I only eat a few at a time, and a pound usually lasts a little over a week. Another Expensive item is eggs. The dairy case is full of “cage free” and “free range” chicken eggs, but I prefer to spend a little extra money($4.39/half dozen) on “Pasture Raised” eggs. “Pasture raised” eggs come from healthy, happy chickens that enjoy grass, sunshine, socializing, and laying eggs naturally. If the expensive ever became too much, I’d rather stop eating eggs altogether. The difference between “cage free” and “pasture raised” is well explained in this video.

Also from the dairy case, I pick up a half gallon of milk for $3.69, and sometimes butter.

Other items I get every other week or so include bread $3.99/loaf, tortillas, $3.19/bag, pasta, $1.29/lb. I have a stockpile of Dal and Basmati rice that was donated to me by my boyfriend’s mom, and I tap into the supply to practice my Indian cooking once a week.

As I mentioned earlier on, oils, vinegars, and spices inflate your bill at the time that you purchase them, but when used correctly, they become incredibly cost-efficient. One of my favorite spices to have on hand is Nutritional Yeast. Ranging from $6-$8 depending on where you get it, this cheesy flavored, flaky seasoning is full of Riboflavin, Thiamine, Pyridoxine, Niacin, Folic Acid, Panthenoic acid, and selenium. Extra Virgin, Cold-processed Olive Oil can be purchased for as little as $8.99/liter and can last for up to 3 months. EVO is great for dressings, cooking vegetables, and even facial moisturizer. More on that one later.

One final note on Whole Foods being great, is that you get a $.05 discount for each re-usable bag you bring to the store. $.05 or $.10 may not seem like a lot at the check-out, but the fact that it’s there is nice. Instead of the company taking advantage of savings on bags for themselves, they pass it along to the customer as a discount.

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