Eating HFLC on a Dime

Photo credit: www.makeitmissoula.com

Photo credit: www.makeitmissoula.com

I recently restocked my larder with foods recommended via a “shopping list” from a prominent HFLC website (that shall go nameless).   The list contained about 50 grocery items, broken down into categories like: Spices and seasonings, meat, produce, dairy, fresh herbs, etc…  I had about half of the items on the list already in stock – especially all the spices and seasonings – I figured it would be fairly inexpensive to re-stock what I did need: Meat, dairy and fresh produce in amounts to feed 3 people.

As I stood at checkout, experiencing a wicked sense of the time dilation that occurs as the cashier scans my items, I realized that I was just about half-way checked out and the total cost was already almost $100 dollars!  Let’s face it, eating HFLC can be an expensive proposition.  Especially if you adhere to the ultra-organic, grass-fed choices that are supposed to be so essential to our good health.  However, I think there are some short cuts that one can take to help balance good health with financial health.

Use It or Lose It

Want to make an impact on the money spent buying groceries?  If you do nothing else, use what you buy.

According to a 2012 Issue Paper publication from the Natural Resources Defense Council, American families throw out approximately 25% of the food and beverages they buy.  The cost estimate for the average family of four is $1,365 to $2,275 annually!  Imagine being able to save 25% on your grocery bill just by eating what you buy.

It sounds like basic common sense, but the steps below will help you waste less food and save more money.

  • Be realistic.  If you’re not the type of person who relishes spending time in the kitchen chopping peppers or dividing up 6 lbs of ground beef to freeze, then don’t buy in bulk with the intention of storing the excess.  If you know you won’t make the time to prep food for longer-term storage then buying large quantities is simply wasting money.
  • If you’re stocking up on a sale item, be ready to prepare it for longer-term storage as soon as you get home.  Don’t let it sit in the fridge until you have time to re-package it and/or freeze it.  Life will get in the way, as one day turns to another and another…  the food will spoil.
  • Review proper techniques for storing food.  A quick search via Google uncovers a plethora of resources that provide the best methods for freezing and storing foods.  You’d be surprised how long/short some foods should be stored.  Other foods may require preparation or re-packaging before storing longer term – spend 10 minutes learning the basics and you’ll save big dollars.
  • Eat what you have.  Nothing prevents waste like a few nights of eating only what you have in the freezer/fridge – no shopping, just exhaust what you have.  You may even come up with a new recipe for bottom-of-the-freezer-casserole-surprise!
  • Check what you have before you buy.  Always, always, always double check your stockpile before shopping.  My grandmother’s “thing” was buying pasta sauce.  She could not leave a grocery store without buying a jar or two, “just in case” she didn’t have any at home.  She had some at home.  She had tons at home.  In fact, we were still eating pasta sauce she had bought almost a year after her death.   Nothing wastes money like picking up that frozen whole chicken when you already have three sitting in your freezer at home.  Take your inventory before you buy so you don’t buy what you don’t need.

Where’s the (Grass-Fed) Beef?

Pre-HFLC, I loved my Sunday roasts with a nice hunk of beef surrounded by various root vegetables, slow cooking for hours.   I would look forward to that meal all week long.  So, in considering where I want the bulk of my grocery dollars to be spent, I try to buy my largest cut of beef as the organic, grass-fed variety and make my most enjoyable meal out of it.  This allows me to really savor the meat and, because of the size of the beef cut, I can use the leftovers over the next few nights – extending the potential “healthfulness” of the organic/grass-fed proteins into the majority of my meat-based meals.  If your budget groans at the idea of buying all your meat as the organic, grass-fed variety, then consider choosing this option and realizing that the cost per meal decreases the more meals you can make out of the choice piece of meat.

BTW, I always back-fill my other meat meals (hamburgers, chilies, stews) with considerably less expensive “store-brand” meats that are as minimally processed as possible (e.g. not in cardboard packaging like mass-market hamburger patties).  These meals aren’t as large or savory and the slightly lower quality meat makes little difference to me.

Buy One Get One Should be Your Mantra

I hate clipping coupons and reading through my grocery store’s paper circulars.  That’s why I use smartphone apps from my favorite stores to track when items go on sale.  My first step is to build a list of items I need – many store apps automatically tell you if that item is on sale as soon as you add it to your virtual shopping list.  One store in particular (ShopRite) is really good about telling you if the item is on sale this week or next week – which means I can even plan ahead an additional week.

Bottom line, use your supermarket’s smartphone apps whenever possible.

However, if you can’t use a smartphone app and are stuck reading the store’s paper circulars, here are some tips:   The key is not to get distracted.  Meats and produce tend to be on the cover, over-flap and back pages of circulars.  Dairy can be interspersed throughout (especially cheeses and sour cream) but if you approach your reading with a prepared shopping list, you can almost make it a game.   “Where’s pork chops” becomes almost as easy as “Where’s Waldo”.   Avoid the center of the circular which tend to be all the sugary-carby-foods you don’t need.

Buying on sale is essential for saving big dollars.  Look for BOGOs (Buy One, Get One) offers and take advantage!  Stock up whenever the price is low.  This is especially true when buying seasonings and spices, which can be very pricey.  Using sales and BOGOs you may spend a little more this shopping trip but you’ll save big when you don’t have to buy those item at full price later on.

My Arctic Expedition

I have a little cube freezer that I use for overflow when my regular refrigerator’s freezer is full.  Because it’s a cube, once it’s full it’s really hard to tell what’s inside without partially unloading and reloading the freezer – a real drag, not to mention bad for the frozen food.  If you’ve ever looked for something at the bottom of your freezer that you just know is in there, then you can empathize with my plight.

While I love my little cube freezer, it could certainly become a money-suck.  First, I don’t remember what I don’t see – so, if my 3 lb roast is not on the very top layer of items in the freezer, I’ve most likely forgotten I have it.  This increases the risk I’ll buy another roast when I already own one at risk of freezer burn.

My solution?  Stick a list on the front of the freezer with the inside contents listed.  As I use stuff, I simply mark it off the list (or decrease the quantity number).  If I add something, I add it to the list (it helps to keep a writing implement nearby).  The list also helps me take a quick inventory before I make a grocery run without lifting the lid of the freezer or digging around like a crazy person looking for that lost bag of shrimp.

You Better Shop Around

Listen, trust me on this… You have to shop around to get the best prices.  No one store is going to consistently have the best prices on all items.

Shopping around is probably one of the more contentious of my suggestions and some are quick to argue that the time/gas spent running between supermarkets isn’t worth the savings.  To those people I say, it’s about balance.  Balancing the value gained (money saved) shopping around vs. time invested (life-suck) shopping around different stores.  As soon as the shop/life balance gets out of whack, saving money seems to pale in comparison to saving time.

So how to strike a balance?

  1. Plan your trip well and know before you go.  Know which stores have which items you need on sale and organize your driving route in geographical order.   For example, I drive to the store furthest from my home to pickup bulk nuts, olive oil and some dry goods and that’s it (because those items are cheaper at that store – on sale or regular price).  Then I drive to the next closest shop for meat – because they have a good selection, great sales and lots of BOGOs.  Then I drive to the last store, closest to my home because they have the cheapest dairy and eggs.   By focusing on what to buy at each store, I’m in and out of each in about 15 minutes.  Also, purchasing in smaller amounts, I’m frequently able to use self-checkout – another option for speeding up my trips.
  2. Three is the limit.  Don’t go to more than three stores at any one time.  Period.
  3. Shop early/late.  You will save tons of time avoiding mind-numbing, spirit-crushing supermarket lines if you shop before 8AM and after 10PM.  The downside to this approach is that some specialty areas (Deli, Meat/Fish counters) may be closed.  I’m lucky that the counters in my local stores open at 7AM and guess what? I never need to take a number.
  4. Limit multi-store shopping to your monthly stock ups.  Unless you have three markets really close by, it is probably not worth the time and gas to travel to two or more markets each week.

These are some of the things I do to keep the cost of HFLC food at a minimum.  I’m wondering what other folks do – feel free to comment below!

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