My grocery spending got out of control during lockdown, but 3 new habits are helping me save $300 a month

  • At the start of the pandemic, I grocery shopped as a form of retail therapy. But soon my spending was out of control.
  • To get myself back on track, I started by limiting my shopping to just once a week and shopping only from a list.
  • I also meal prepped as a way to use the food I already had in my fridge, and did a no-shop challenge to cook from the stores of food I've been hoarding in my pantry.
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I love to eat. Or rather, I love to hoard food. I'm guilty of the act of "spaving," which is when you spend on deals and discounted items thinking you're saving money. But in actuality, you're just squandering funds, and it would be best to purchase items you actually need, or not spend in the first place. 

I admit: During quarantine, bargain shopping has served as a welcome distraction and a form of retail therapy. I get a thrill from spotting a deal. And even though I know full well that buying 10 of something just because it's 50% off isn't truly saving money, I do it anyway. 

One of my favorite bargain-hunting spots is the discount chain Grocery Outlet. During lockdown, I stocked up on stuff I didn't really need. I figured the potential shortage of staple household and food items justified my hoarding ways. 

Fast forward to the summer, and my cupboards were still loaded with giant cans of beans, packets of rice, and pasta in a can. I knew I had to put the brakes on my compulsive grocery shopping ways. So in August, I decided to try a few tactics to shave down my monthly food bill. 

I limited my shopping to once a week

A compulsive deal-hunter who typically buys multiples of a "deal," I knew that once I entered the sliding-glass doors of any market, my paycheck would soon vanish. To break this habit, I decided I would "batch" my grocery trips so that I would only go once every week. I kept a running list of things I needed. 

Before I left the house, I would do a quick check of my fridge and cupboards to make sure I didn't already have a certain item. To my surprise, there were a handful of times when I thought I had run low on butter or a can of coconut milk, only to discover I had supplies that were perfectly good and untouched in my kitchen. Shopping less frequently also saved time, the money I would've used on gas, and was safer than going to the market every other day.

I did some meal prepping

Alongside shopping less frequently, I also started meal prepping. Instead of perusing my favorite foodie Instagram accounts and heading to the market to replicate a recipe — which often had me hunting down specialty ingredients and spices that I only used once — I would start with what was already in my kitchen. Then, I'd base my meals around that.

I typically spent a few hours cooking, several times a week. It really cut down on the time I spent laboring over what I ate. Plus, it helped me eat relatively healthy. These meals were more nutritious than my standard fare and included simple salads with greens and some nuts and shredded cheese. I'd add some grilled meats such as chicken or bits of steak. I also steamed some veggies, mixed in some beans, then added a bit of nutritional yeast. These weren't meals fit for a gourmand, but they also helped me cut down on some impulse shopping. 

I did a no-spend grocery challenge 

This challenge is probably what helped me save the most money. At the beginning of the month, I started a no-spend grocery challenge with my friend, Sarah. The rules were fairly straightforward: We weren't allowed to buy new groceries. Instead, we were to clean the shelves in our fridge and what remained in our cupboards. We could replace essentials only after we had depleted our supply — for instance, a carton of eggs or a loaf of bread.

I was surprised at just how much food I had lying around. And I had a lot of fun tossing random ingredients together for a meal. I started by focusing on the perishables: dairy products and produce lying at the bottom of the fridge crisper. I cooked a tasty stew with nopales, ground turkey, and spinach. 

Next, I mixed perishables with canned goods. For instance, tuna, hummus and marinated artichokes spread on top of cucumbers. These little meals typically took a few minutes to prepare and were healthier than packaged, processed fare. 

I had some early wins. For one, I was thinking of buying some vanilla ice cream and an expensive case of prebiotic soda, which cost a pricey $40 for a 12-pack (I know, blame Instagram feeds) for a float. Instead, I used some green matcha pea milk and ice cream I bought at Grocery Outlet, which I already had. Another surprise? Except for purchasing a carton of eggs, I didn't really need to restock on groceries for three weeks. I was a bit embarrassed at how many times I needlessly went food shopping.

Changing things up really helped me change some of the habits that had pushed me overboard with grocery shopping. I realized just how much money I was wasting buying things simply because they were on sale. In turn, I was able to save a hefty chunk of change — about $300 a month — and realize how a few tweaks in my habits could make a big difference.

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