Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Passion for Penny-Pinching: Groceries

Passionflower near Cypress & 6th. I wanted an excuse to use this photo!

Perhaps "penny-pinching" is not an admirable term, but I think being wise and frugal with your money (but generous to others, particularly those in need) isn't such a bad thing. Wasting money is foolish no matter how you slice it, so let's not equate 'cheapness' with fiscal responsibility here!

I also think that if you do it correctly, you can in fact be incredibly efficient with your money without anyone noticing! How? It just takes a little foresight. Today, I'll highlight grocery shopping.

I can't believe I forgot about customer appreciation Wednesdays! New Apple, W. Broadway at MacDonald

Frugal Food

New Apple Farm Market on West Broadway (not the 4th Avenue location that I tend to favour) has a customer appreciation day every Wednesday - 10% off your purchase of $10 or more. Saving on groceries isn't always as easy as it should be, and an across-the-board discount like this is so valuable when you buy items that very rarely go on sale.

So plan ahead - when are you going grocery shopping next week? Make it Wednesday, and choose New Apple over Safeway! Safeway is really only a good option for big-brand foods like Kellogg's cereals and Campbell's soups (or Procter & Gamble products in the household department), and probably only because they move so much of those products. For anything else, especially spices, specialty and exotic/imported foods, Safeway can be literally TWICE as expensive! Take nutmeg, which we needed in a hurry one day - $7.00 about at Safeway. Same quantity (and probably fresher) at a local small grocer - $3.50!

From "The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook" - the prettiest food pyramid image

Safeway's produce is almost never as good in my mind, either. So another good frugal practice is to not shop at Safeway - check the online flyer to see what's on sale, and if it's something you need, go for it. Just don't shop here first! (The same can be applied to any chain, i.e. IGA and No Frills, though the latter does have some very cheap options!). Note that you can sign-up for weekly sale e-flyers from these larger chains.

Jericho Village - Paul's No Frills
Less picturesque from underground, but still quite cheap.

I suppose one other way that the big chains like Safeway can be good deals is seasonal stock, particularly near Christmastime when the baking supplies are often on sale. Again, if you monitor the flyers, you'll be aware of this. Or, if you plan on doing traditional Christmas baking, make sure you comparison shop for candied cherries, pecan pieces and Crisco before you invest. A cheeky way I remember what Safeway is generally good for is the "white person food" rule - if it's something you were raised on (and you're a white kid from Canada), Safeway might be your best bet. (I'm thinking things like Kraft Dinner, Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup, Oreo cookies, Premium Plus salteen crackers, Nalley's potato chips, Pirate cookies, Froot Loops, Jell-O pudding cups and Chips-A-Hoy cookies (note that none of these things are healthy lifestyle choices!!! Or even likely non-GMO choices!), for example).

MarketPlace IGA on 4th avenue at Collingwood - very friendly staff here!

Another good practice is to shop with a list (partly so you won't forget, and also so you won't deviate from your plans!), and to not shop when you're hungry; the urge to save money will be beaten out every time by the powerful natural urge to eat!

Kitsilano Natural Foods - W. Broadway at Stephens

A great way to save is to buy in bulk, and the best place for that in all of Kits, so far as I can tell, is Kitsilano Natural Foods, which I have blogged about previously. It's also much more environmentally friendly, so remember to bring a reused plastic bag to fill up again.

Coupons can also be useful, but quite honestly they're becoming so scarce that it's almost not worth mentioning. There are a few places online where you can register and subscribe for coupons to be mailed to you (I've done this), but oftentimes what's on offer is just not what I would buy to begin with. And if the coupon cannot be combined with any other offer (which is what most of them say), it's almost pointless to use it when you could stock up on the item when it goes on sale and end up saving substantially more. I did a bit of trial-and-error with online coupon sites for Green, Broke & Living in Kits test purposes, and ultimately decided that the effort put in rarely pays off. Sale monitoring is likely more efficient and a better deal, and you also won't have to deal with stingy store-operators that won't honour the coupon (it has happened to me enough times that I tend to try my luck with coupons at large chains only).

In season today - $0.69/lb at IGA. Another flyer find, and a BC product

For produce, buying in-season and local will also be a cost-efficient move. A great way to find out what's in season is to go Farm Folk City Folk's Get Local BC website's seasonal availability chart here. At one time, this chart contained just the vegetables - now there's a section for fruit, seafood, meat and dairy, and herbs, too! Print it out and put it on your fridge, or wherever you list what groceries you need to buy! - Seasonal Availability Chart for Fruit - Seasonal Availability Chart for Herbs - Seasonal Availability Chart for Meat & Dairy - Seasonal Availability Chart for Seafood - Seasonal Availability Chart for grains, honey, nuts and fungus - Seasonal Availability Chart for Veggies

Frugal, Nutritionally-Dense and Yummy Meals

"Eat Well, Spend Less" - Five frugal recipes from outline the benefits of black bean burgers, quiche, chocolate chip chilli, seasonal soups (my favourite option), and lentil shepherd's pie. I'm considering trying the shepherd's pie tonight - I hope it tastes as well as "Everybody Loves Veggies"'s version at City Square Mall!

That Shepherd's Pie recipe is GOOD! (Cheddar made it better!)

Cheap, Healthy, Good - this blog is the real deal. Their "about" section says, "Cheap Healthy Good is a blog dedicated to the advancement of frugal, nutritious, ethically-minded food in everyday life". Can't go far amiss with that mission statement! Recipes are varied and inspired, and are listed in their master list here, which segregates the recipes into vegetarian and carnivorous entrees. I'm getting hungry just reading that list - it reads like Moosewood's stuff (and Moosewood's recipes are also fairly economical, too!).

Speaking of Moosewood (Ooh! They updated their website! Nice!), they appear to have deleted their original online recipe trove and replaced it with only a select few... so sad. Hope you bought the books or downloaded the freebies when you had the chance.

Other frugal (and vegetarian!) meal ideas:
  • cornbread with homemade chilli (or stew)
  • whole wheat pasta (spaghetti with veggie sauce; rotini tossed with roast vegetables; orzo salad, etc.)
  • curried dal (lentils that don't taste like lentils! Vij's does it best; get the cookbook)
  • rajma chawal (a way to eat red kidney beans if you don't like chilli much - I love Vij's version!)
  • mashed potatoes and roasted veggie casserole (i.e. a shepherd's pie)
  • homemade seasonal soup with biscuits (add cheddar and herbs, or go for a buttermilk-based recipe)

I like this article on 'healthy, frugal eating' at WiseBread by Philip Brewer - it's just restating some obvious facts, but it's succinctly written. It's inspired me to grab my carry basket and head to Apple Farm Market to buy whatever's cheapest and most plentiful. According to Get Local BC, it should be artichokes, beans, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, corn, cucumbers, fennel, garlic, kale, leeks, lettuce, mustard greens, onions, parsnips, peppers, potatoes, pumpkin, radishes, rutabagas, salad greens, spinach, squash, tomatoes, turnips, zucchini - that's just about everything!

Canada's Food Guide - Health Canada

Basing your meal planning on Canada's Food Guide is a good place to start if you're really unsure of how to come up with a balanced meal.

And in the UK, a much more logical representation of a balanced diet!

An afterthought: The Benefits of Wise Spending

One of the many benefits to eating well, local, seasonal and consequently cheaply is an accumulation of cash. And if you want that money to go an extra-mile too, consider donating to the Union Gospel Mission Thanksgiving fund which provides full traditional Thanksgiving meals to the needy of the downtown eastside and surrounding areas. For $26.32 (I'll bet that's less than your typical grocery store purchase!), you can feed 8 people Thanksgiving dinner.

Autumn = harvest season. Time for thanks!

Please consider donating - I do every year, and I'm always happy to do so. UGM makes it so easy to give such a small amount that gets stretched to bless many people.

Another group that can really stretch your monetary donation to feed those in dire need is the World Food Programme. With the famine in the Horn of Africa, now is a critical time to give.

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