About a month and a half ago the unexpected happened: I got laid off.Â Suddenly, I was a statistic of the growing unemployment rate, and I needed to make immediate changes to my spending.
I thought of everything I needed to do: cancel my Blockbuster account, freeze my gym account and take advantage of the beautiful weather outside to go running.Â However, the one thing that I really needed to tackle was my grocery store budget.
Cooking has always been my savior, my stress reliever and the one thing I really enjoy doing.Â I was determined to continue cooking the same way.Â I wanted to create new healthy recipes and to spend time revamping sweet favorites, such as chocolate chip cookies and peanut butter brownies.Â I needed to learn how to cook great food on a budget.
Being unemployed taught me some valuable (food) lessons. These tips might seem trivial, but together they will conquer the grocery store checkout:
- Buy sale items in bulk. Stock up on key items when their prices drop. Try the following:
- Make checklists first. Before going to the store, plan all of your meals and snacks for a typical day.Â I mean everything–your three main meals, your desserts and even your snacks.Â List the ingredients you need; then go through your coupons. It sounds like common sense, but it requires some forethought. You’ll be amazed at the savings.
- Plan your meals around sales. This may take a little time, but it can be fun and rewarding.Â If you see chickpeas and goat cheese on sale, why not plan a Mediterranean salad one night?
- Get your clipping on. Mosey on down to your nearest deli or convenience store and buy the Sunday paper; you’ll find tons of coupons. You can also find many coupons online at websites like coolsavings.com and coupons.com.Â Once you have clipped everything out, make yourself a little book with pockets. Label one pocket for meats, one for dairy, one for canned goods, one for frozen foods and one for personal care. Especially if you have a family, you can save tremendously with coupons!
- Buy local. You will not find a better deal than locally grown produce. The reason is simple: there’s no middle man!Â Itâ€™s straight from the farmer to your plate. And the taste? Fantastic.
- Use the power of freezing. When your favorite items go on sale, buy extra and stick it in the freezer. This is especially important with expensive items like meats and poultry. Freezing tips:
- Do not freeze, defrost and then refreeze uncooked meats/poultry; the food will get too dry when cooked.
- Try whipping up a big batch of lasagna, chicken cacciatore or pasta and then freeze single servings separately.Â You now have your very own healthy TV dinners.
- Thaw and serve homemade frozen meals for unexpected guests.
- Freeze fresh fruits when they’re in season.Â Buy a couple of extra peaches, let them ripen up, quarter them and freeze them in plastic baggies. The same goes for strawberries and all of your personal favorites. â€” Kanwal Ullah