Common Sense Food-Shopping Adds Up at the Bank

I’m a writer. A broke-ass writer, it’ll probably say on my tombstone. This means I’m cheap at my very core.

For centuries, writers have toiled for the mere sake of writing. Usually, writers earn crap wages, supplement their calling with “jobs,” and that’s the way the cheap-eatin’ cookie crumbles.

Me, I’m okay with that. If I work too much, I may not have the time to write something brilliant (yuk-yuk-chuckle), even if it doesn’t pay, because, without the writing, I don’t maintain my craft, I don’t keep kicking wordy ass, and life gets complicated in a hurry. And, sorry, but those other jobs? Not what I enjoy. Writing, I love.

So, choices get made.

I know, there’s this whole “Buy ethical food! Organic is everything!” kick, but a lot of those folks pushing that lifestyle and those food-buying habits CLEARLY don’t live on MY budget.

And I’m a foodie, so, y’know, fuck ramen.

Sometimes I buy ethically, sometimes I don’t. In my perfect wet-dream reality where I sleep on sheets of gold, with pillows stuffed of angels’ feathers, get cocoa-butter slathered on my ass daily, and all that, I’m buying local, 100% organic small-grower foods.

In this reality, though, my happy place sings when I see a can of Suraj’s chickpeas for sale for 67 cents. Screw your expensive ethics, buddy.

At least I know what my financial reality includes, and when I do shop, I shop where my bucks stretch the furthest.

Today, I made a Twitter comment slagging the local grocery chain “Save On Foods” as being a complete joke, and was surprised how many folk replied. Half agreed, the prices are 10-20% higher than elsewhere, and for no justifiable reason — the generic brand is shit, the other stuff includes your average staples to be found anywhere. Whole Foods is similarly priced, but they have products I feel better about buying when I do know for realz that I’m overspending.

The reality is, I think a lot of people fail to note how much they’re overspending on groceries. When prices have already increased an average of 5% this year, are you sure you’re being thrifty on your food choices?

I save a lot of money just by making my own things, like homemade tzatziki. Doing the math today on the fancy house-made tzatziki sold by Whole Foods versus mine, which is made with real organic Greek yogurt, lemons (not cheap vinegar), and high-quality olive oil, I found mine costs $6.50 for a litre volume of it, versus $6.30 for a QUARTER of that at Whole Foods. And those savings take all of 20 minutes to make happen, and it lasts a month in the fridge.

Hummus, another example. I make my own beans, use more of the boiling liquid/brine for thinning for consistency, no olive oil, etcetera, and I think I make some of the best hummus you’ll ever try, again at about 30% of the purchase price for commercially-made hummus, and it keeps two weeks but can freeze for up to three months. (Meaning I’m saving 70% or more every time.)

Furthermore, when it comes to any kind of beans, and I’m using a lot for soup or something, I hydrate and cook my own — often for 75% or more off what canned beans costs, then I put extra beans in their liquid, in Ziploc bags, and freeze them for up to 3 months — which I then thaw and use as I would from a can.

Some boxed wine can actually be terrific and really saves you money (30% or more) if you’re a 1-2-glasses-a-night person. Then, save yer moolah for a nicer bottle with a splurge item on the weekend.

Whole chickens — even if you buy already-roasted ones at the Supermarket — are a huge budget-saver. While the ready-at-the-market roasted birds are usually 1.2-2 pounds, for $7.99-11.99, I can get a 5-7 pound chicken (Vancouver, visit Poultry Land on Granville Island) for $15 or so, a really good Halal / Kosher bird, and the amount of meat that comes off that is phenomenal. But, face it, that smaller, less-economical chicken can be a lifesaver when you want a healthier meal on a weeknight. Grab some salad fixings, a nice bread, and make it go further.

Whatever’s left of those roasted chickens gets frozen in small packets for salads, sandwiches, tacos, and more. Chicken bones get simmered (frozen until then) for stock, and I can make a good 20 LITRES of stock, which I then cook down to a super-concentrated 1 cup or so and freeze for a LONG time. I mix a tablespoon of “stock” with a cup of water, and then I have stock for all manner of uses — instead of paying $4 for a LITRE of the supposedly-fancy stock I think is real boring. That’s about $80 worth of “fancy” stock, plus all the chicken that can go in salads and other meals, for a total of $15 an an afternoon of work (which is really only an hour or so of labour, just a lot of waiting for shit to simmer — watch movies!).

Now and then I plan burrito factories. When you get wraps on sale, buy them, freeze them, and get ready to make wraps and burritos. You can do classic chicken-and-bean, Indian chicken curry, whatever, but I generally find I can use good food, control the calorie & nutrition count, and provide myself with up to 20 freezable lunches for under $2 each. Just make sure it’s drier stuff you’re putting in there — nothing soupy or it’ll be a mess later.

Let’s face it, the cost of living is skyrocketing. Somewhere between making ethical food choices and fiscal ones lies the perfect medium.

I buy nice local produce when I can, I save in other areas, and make compromises or plan ahead to get savings. An example of planning ahead is, by knowing a great quality produce shop I love has “customer” day on Wednesdays, I shop there and save 10% on everything… mostly quality local stuff, and that’s where I get my organic eggs, rice, and other things that never go on sale otherwise. But, THERE, I know my coconut milk costs 20% more there than another store’s prices, so even saving 10% means I’m throwing out money, when it comes to buying the coconut milk.

So, be intelligent. Buy what’s cheaper there. Buy the other stuff elsewhere. Yeah, it’s work, but it’s YOUR money and YOU had to work for it, so why not SAVE it with a little work now too?

It’s really about realizing how many products you buy on any given shopping trip and how much each little item can blow your budget. Add the difference up. Just today, one pack of pita bread was 25% more across the street. I saved $1 on that one item. Imagine how much that adds up in a single month, a single year. I live in an exorbitant city on an underwhelming income, it adds up a LOT.

Know how the saying “getting nickel-and-dimed” means a person’s pissed off at getting price-gouged? Well, we nickel-and-dime ourselves daily. Think more about everything you spend, and who sells X item for less, make some effort, and you might see a huge difference in your bank account. God knows I have.