What I Learned Food Shopping With My Grandmother

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I would never need to buy ketchup again! That's like 12 dollars a year or something.

I would never need to buy ketchup again! That’s like $12 a year or something.

I have come to believe that all grandmothers have special powers in the kitchen—especially when it comes to stretching a dollar.

My grandmother keeps more food in her house than any person I know.  She always has 45 pounds of pasta on the stove, five-course meals available to reheat in the fridge, and a larger variety of cereals than the supermarket.

And yet, I’m pretty sure my grandparents’ food bill is less than mine (which consists of instant coffee, ramen, and Reese’s Pieces, if you were wondering).

***

My grandmother has more tricks for cooking meals on the cheap than she does varieties of cereal. I recall a past shopping trip with her and the lessons she shared with me. I should probably start taking her advice before my blood pressure skyrockets from daily ramen (aka salt in a cup).

Come Prepared

Going to the store, my grandmother always has a grocery list and a flyer full of coupons. “You have to have a list,” she said. She adds that, “If you don’t have a list or haven’t clipped coupons, most of the bigger sale items are usually advertised at the front of the store. Look through that first.”

“And you can’t have an empty stomach. You’ll end up putting all sorts of garbage and junk food and snacks in the carriage.” I note that this is probably how I ended up with six packages of mega-stuff Oreos last time I went shopping solo (at three times the filling for a limited time, I can’t help but think it was worth it).

The list my grandmother keeps usually centers on bigger sale items (which she has planned her meals around) like meat. She also carefully calculates the amount she has in coupons, so she knows exactly how much she’ll end up spending and saving at the checkout.

In-Store Strategies

Our trip took us to BJs. List in hand, we first stopped in the meat section. My grandmother rummaged through the packages to find the most recent time stamp. “If you’re paying the same amount, you might as well get the freshest cut,” she explained. “If I don’t use it all today, it will last longest in the fridge.”

After finding a pot roast cut that had been packaged minutes before we arrived, my grandmother directed us to the sample carts (BJs is notorious for setting up carts throughout the store around lunchtime). She wouldn’t be cooking until dinner, and rather than spend money on lunch out, we taste tested all the featured food products.

At check out, the cashier’s grand total was different than my grandmother’s pre-calculations. She was not afraid to ask why and realized a coupon did not ring through. The cashier immediately rectified the problem.

“You don’t have to be rude about it,” she explained. “But there is nothing wrong with wanting to understand where the mistake is.”

Saving Up At Home

After bringing our groceries back to her house, I began unloading. My grandmother explained how her grocery saving habits began. She married my grandfather at 19 and was “very poor,” she said. “I started clipping coupons and learned from there. We … pinched every penny we could.”

In the fridge, I recognized the small container filled with ketchup packets and other types of sauce from various take-out restaurants. She always asks for extra. (“If [we’re] not going to use it now,” my grandmother said, “we can use it later.”)

Also, there were Ziploc bags and Tupperware filled with leftovers.

“Most things can be cooked twice,” she said. “You can make ham or potatoes or egg into a salad with a little bit of mayo; you can bake most things into a casserole dish or even sauté them up in a pan. I never throw out food.”

***

It’s always hard to believe that the wonderful aromas wafting from the kitchen are rejuvenated leftovers, but every time I put the first bite of food to my lips, I relearn the same lesson: waste not, want not … or maybe just that grandmothers are the best. I don’t know.

Let us know how you save on food in the comments!

(Photo: xajondee)

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  1. Glenn Hall February 27, 2013 / 3:06 pm

    I always check Stop & Shop and Shaws circulars before I go shopping. I’m amazed at the number of people I know who never look at the circulars! I never pay full price for ice cream (Edy’s is usually on sale for half price at one of the two stores), pasta (I can find Barilla one pound box for $1 vs non-sale price of $1.65), soup (during Oct – March, Progresso is often on sale at $1 a can vs non-sale price of $2.69 – I’ll buy 20 cans at a time on sale), Entemen’s pastrys (often on sale for half price (I’ll buy two crumb cakes and two packages of donuts and pack some of it away in the freezer so it doesn’t go stale (I don’t want to eat 2 crumb cakes and 24 donuts in a week!)).

    I guess the bottom line is that I never pay full price for groceries!

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