Cooking with Alison

Grocery Budget Challenge – The No-Buy List

In Grocery Budget Challenge, Mind Your Cents on June 28, 2016 at am

This article is part of the Grocery Budget Challenge series. See the Introduction here.

A great way to eat better and save money is to avoid buying the items on this no-buy list. I use this list to help resist temptations when I’m in the grocery store, especially when I see great deals on tasty but unhealthy foods. No matter how cheap something is, consider it a complete waste of your money if it’s bad for your health. (Keep your eyes open for my upcoming post, How to Shop in Bulk and Actually Save Money, for the buying rules that I created specifically for bulk shopping.)

The No-Buy List for Grocery Shopping

  1. Beverages. 
    • Beverages, including fruit juices, often contain a lot of sugar among other unhealthy ingredients. Also, caffeine-containing beverages will dehydrate you.
    • Instead of consuming processed drinks, try drinking water that you’ve infused with thin slices of cucumber, herbs, and/or fresh fruit (e.g. orange, lemon or lime).
    • If you’re a tea or coffee lover, stop buying tea or coffee from the coffee shops. Instead, buy a bag of tea leaves or coffee beans and make your own at home. (Recipes: iced tea, Hong Kong style milk tea)
    • You’ll be surprised by how much money you can save this way. You will also reduce the amount of waste that ends up in the landfill (especially if you stop buying bottled water).
  2. Pre-sliced or grated cheese.
    • The cost of pre-sliced or pre-shredded cheese is significantly higher than the cost of a block of cheese.
    • You should also know that pre-grated cheeses contain additional preservatives as well as, sometimes unlisted, filler ingredients such as wood pulp.
  3. Pre-cut fruits and vegetables. 
    • The cost of pre-cut or pre-rinsed fruits and vegetables is significantly higher than their whole, unwashed counterparts. Not only will you save a lot of money by washing and chopping your own produce, you will also reduce your risk of getting a food borne illness. It is not uncommon for companies to recall pre-washed or pre-cut vegetables due to contamination.
    • Furthermore, processing plants often use a chlorine solution to rinse or soak the fruits and vegetables. This includes “baby” carrots.
  4. White flour grains. 
    • When shopping for bread, pita, tortillas, and pasta, whole wheat and whole grain (even better) are preferable to white flour products. This will increase the fiber in your diet which will also help you feel full faster.
    • The same goes for rice; red, brown, wild, and black rice are all healthier than white rice.
  5. Frozen meals. 
    • Pre-packaged meals are usually low in fiber and high in sugar, salt, fat, and preservatives. Despite being unhealthy and not filling enough, frozen dinners can be very tempting, because they are quick and easy to reheat, and often appear to be very affordable.
    • However, when you think of the cost in terms of the number of meals that you can get, processed foods are actually much more expensive than home cooked meals. For example, a single frozen dinner might cost $2 per meal per person. Seems like a reasonable price for a meal, until you realize that $2 could instead be used to purchase any of the following ingredients:
      • 1 loaf of whole wheat bread which could be used to make up to 12 sandwiches, or
      • 1 box of high fiber pasta which contains 4 to 6 servings of food, or
      • 1 large bunch of kale which would make 4 to 6 servings of soup or salad, or
      • 2 cans of beans which would be enough for at least 4 servings, or
      • 1 pound of fresh chicken drumsticks or 1 can of fish or 1 package of smoked oysters for one person
  6. Unhealthy food.
    • Every now and then, we should treat ourselves, but unhealthy snacks, chips, cookies, candy, and dessert, etc. should not be part of our shopping or dietary routines.
    • Try to avoid processed foods in general. That includes things like sauces, hot dogs and sausages, granola bars (which are very high in sugar), cereal (also high in sugar), and pre-packaged meals (e.g. canned soup, boxed macaroni and cheese, Hamburger Helper, Lunchables, taco kits, etc.).
    • If you’re going to buy something that’s processed, be sure to choose wisely by looking at the nutrition label and avoiding products that are high in sugar (> 5 g per serving), salt (>= 20%), fat, or artificial colouring and flavouring (e.g. monosodium glutamate (MSG)).
  7. Anything you can’t finish in time.
    • Food wasted is money wasted. So check the expiration dates of non-perishable items and don’t buy anything that you: 1. can’t freeze from fresh or cooked, or 2. can’t finish before it goes bad.
    • Be sure to have a plan in place to use all of your groceries before they expire and don’t buy any more than you need.
  8. Anything you already have.
    • Don’t buy something if you already have it or if you have a suitable alternative for it. In other words, don’t buy anything you don’t actually need and don’t replenish something until you’ve completely run out of it.
    • This will not only save you money, it will also help reduce clutter, food waste, and stress.
  9. Anything that’s not on sale.
    • This criteria is for those of you that want to be incredibly strict with your grocery budget. Each week, grocery stores will discount a selection of fruits, vegetables, protein, legumes, grains, dairy products, and/or spices, etc.
    • It is more than possible to eat well while buying only those groceries that are on sale. You just need to be more flexible with your meal planning and adventurous with your cooking. But be aware that not all sales are actually a good deal, so do your research.
  10. Anything you don’t need.
    • Grocery stores don’t just sell groceries. They have all sorts of tempting merchandise, like household decor, kitchen utensils, cosmetics, and clothing. Don’t buy anything that you don’t truly need.

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