One of the many reasons I hate grocery shopping is because it is so dang time consuming. When I shop, I’m generally shopping for a week to two-weeks worth of groceries. Since I cook dinner at home almost every night, and pack my breakfast and lunch from home, and have a skinny teenage boy who eats every two hours, that’s a lot of food. But it’s not just the quantity that slows me down. It’s the price comparisons, the expiration date checking, and the coupon organizing. I can’t just grab and go, I’ve got to analyze.
And I’m not even really good at it. Some of you R.W.’s out there are the Masters of Food Deals. You browse every flyer and ad and plan your shopping destinations based on the best deals. You have mounds of coupons, and know which stores will double or triple them. You get rebates and two-for-ones. You are dedicated and efficient, and I’m very impressed. Me, however, I’m just trying to get what I need without having to take out a second mortgage to do it, and to get done and home in under two hours.
And that’s another big reason I hate grocery shopping. Every time, without fail, no matter how careful I’ve been, I get sticker shock. There was a time in my life when things were tough and I carried a calculator around with me to keep track of my total, putting things back if I got over budget. I’m blessed that I no longer need to do that. But that doesn’t mean I can just buy anything and everything willy nilly, and grab only the top brands. I compare prices of the store brand vs. others. I do the math to figure out the best value by quantity. I do clip coupons, even if some weeks I’m only saving a whopping $2.50. So I try to be wise and clever, yet when I’ve piled my purchases on the conveyor belt, and the cashier tells me my total, I’m still pained.
As I load my groceries into my car and drive home, I start to do food economics in my head in an effort to make myself feel better. I’m shopping for 3 of us, plus occasional friends or guests who may visit. So here’s how I rationalize my bill. Three of us, for let’s say 8 days of groceries, multiplied by the number of home-prepped meals, minus the meals purchased out, and I come up with approximately 46 meals. If I have spent $250, that comes out to approximately $5.43 per meal. Ugh, don’t think that makes me feel any better, sounds pretty pricey.
I have to admit that from time to time I do get bored with my home-prepped meals. Every morning is pretty much the same, I take to work with me fruit and yogurt and some sort of cereal bar or a slice of quick bread. Lunch is one of three things: leftovers, salad, or a cardboard heat ‘n eat meal (aka Lean Cuisine). Once in a while I gotta be wild and crazy and stop at a Dunkin Donuts or get a lunch out. And, let’s all face it, some nights we just don’t have the energy or desire to cook, so we do take-out or go out.
Today was one of the lunch-boredom days. I had a lack of desire for my heat n’ eat meal, and I had a spare 45 minutes between meetings and hankerin’ for a good salad that I hadn’t made myself. So for the first time in months I went to Panera for take-out. There were two things that made me happy: First, they still make my favorite salad. Second, they now offer a choice of half-size or full-size. I wish every restaurant offered portions. Jolly and excited to enjoy my lunch, I paid for my little half-size salad, a chunk of bread, and a medium fountain drink. Then the cashier rang me up. $9.50. WHAT? $9.50 for THAT? For a tiny salad that probably took the food prep folks 4 minutes to throw in a to go container and a piece of bread chopped off a larger loaf? Talk about sticker shock. As I got back to my desk and opened my mini salad, which didn’t even come half way up the sides of the container, I realized there was no way to do mental food economics to make it any better. Yes, I ate every last bit of it, and it was yummy. But for $9.50, my bread chunk should have gotten up and tap-danced on my desk.
In a way, it made me feel better about my weekly sojourn to that place I hate. Perhaps my $5.43 average meal cost for groceries isn’t so bad. After all, some of those meals are full-on hearty dinners. Not quaint little bits of rabbit food.
Funny thing too… you would think that with my efforts to manage my food bill and cut costs, I’d buy less food and eat less, thus losing weight. Not so much. Because buying healthy food like fresh fruit and veggies, especially in January, is expensive. And somehow I always seem to manage to still buy all my favorite foods that start with c: carbs, cookies, chocolate, and chips. I’m a whiz at finding sales and coupons for those.
So the vicious cycle continues. I cook, we eat, I shop. I wince at the total. I rationalize. But every once in a while, I’ll hit some really good deals or find a coveted $5 off the total order coupon, or maybe – just maybe – come in a few dollars under budget. And I’ll head home with my trophy: buy-one-get-one oreos.
Because heck, I earned them.