I take my graphing calculator to the grocery store.

Actually, I should say I used to.  The batteries died, and all the batteries in the junk drawer were dead too, even the ones that were still in the original packaging.  So now I have to take my non-graphing calculator to the grocery store.

I dislike the non-graphing calculator because the buttons aren’t sensitive enough, and there’s a slight delay.  Also, you can keep the running total just fine, but if you want to stop and calculate the unit price of a particular item, you have to remember what your total was.  The graphing calculator will show me where I left off.  (Maybe you’re all a lot more capable than I am, but the grocery store overwhelms me, and if I also went for a run earlier in the day, I am apt to be especially weary and confused.)  Also, the 83-Plus is just so satisfyingly heavy.  I tell myself that I’m not really a weirdo until I begin using Reverse Polish Notation.

But even my sister, the one who introduced me to the CVS game, the one who calls to tell me about the meat she found on mark down, even she thinks I ought to learn to use the calculator on my cell phone, so the other shoppers will think I’m just texting.  I know — the monstrous calculator makes it look like I’m too proud of my high school math class and can’t let go, but it’s really not like that.

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The grocery budget: beyond buying low

For the past couple of years, I’ve been working hard to keep our grocery budget low.  It’s not as low as it could be, but there isn’t much wiggle room either.  Sometimes I have to resist buying something unnecessary (soy sauce, chocolate chips), so I can make an occasional expensive purchase (the big container of ground coffee, or the big container of ground beef, on sale).  It’s easy to believe that self-control in the grocery store is what it’s all about.

Once you learn your prices, you can determine if a sale is really a sale, if the big container is really cheaper, and so on, but I know I tend to forget about all that once I get home.  Feel free to laugh if you’ve already figured this out, but I’ve just begun thinking about it.  So, here are three ways to watch your “spending” once you get the groceries home.

1. Eat more of the cheaper items, especially if the nutritional value is comparable.  For example, where I shop, I can find carrots for $.50/lb.  Apples, in season, don’t usually go below $.70/lb.  I buy lots and lots of apples when they’re this cheap, and late in the season, I’ll pay up to $.99/lb.  It’s tempting to think, “Oooh, apples are so cheap!  We can eat all the apples we want!”  I must remind myself that carrots are still cheaper, so for lunch, I should eat carrot sticks, not apple slices.  I don’t like them as well, but if I don’t enforce (on myself — Th. doesn’t eat carrot sticks), a carrot-sticks-at-lunch policy, we run out of apples, and there aren’t enough to snack on, let alone bake with.  I have actually found myself wishing I could buy more apples, but there isn’t room in the budget.  And why?  Because I hogged all the apples!

This brings me to… 2. Don’t over eat.  Unfortunately, I can’t find the exact spot, but somewhere on her blog, Money Saving Mom advises readers to simply eat less.  I’m not sure I’ve seen this brilliant piece of advice anywhere else.  Stop when you’re full, or if you’re like me and you’re never full, stop when you’ve met your daily recommended value.

Again, an apple example.  When my husband comes home from work, or sometime shortly before dinner, I give him some apple slices as an “appetizer.”  I do this because he usually doesn’t eat produce at breakfast or lunch.  I, on the other hand, eat produce at breakfast, produce after my mid-morning run, produce at lunch, and sometimes produce for an afternoon snack.  Plus whatever vegetables we have with dinner.  (I eat way more than my husband.  Not just more produce, but more food.  But that’s not the point.)

The point is, I don’t need an apple before dinner, even if I’m a little hungry and they’re only $.70/lb.  I will not starve, and if I were really and truly about to faint from hunger, I could eat a carrot (or, you know, something more substantial — boy, did that sound meager and pathetic).  But he needs an apple, so he can have one.  I would give him two if he asked.

It comes back to my preferences.  I try not to let them control me at the store, so why should I let them control me at home?  Perhaps I would enjoy an apple before dinner, but so what?

And finally, 3.  Think about the cost of the recipe.  I must remember that even though most things in our kitchen are “cheap,” carrots are cheaper than apples, rice and potatoes are both cheaper per pound than pasta, and almost everything is cheaper than cheese!  I’ve discussed this briefly before, but I’ll just add a couple of examples.  If I need bread for dinner, I lean toward something that doesn’t require yeast, eggs, or very much butter.  Soda bread is mainly flour and buttermilk, and since I make my own buttermilk, it’s not that expensive.  I have also found that if I start making my focaccia bread half an hour earlier, I can use just a teaspoon of yeast, rather than a tablespoon.  If I were really dedicated, I could calculate the cost of each recipe and put it on the recipe card, and then rank my menus by cost.  Other ladies have done this, and I think perhaps I ought to.  Actually, here is a link to the calculator I downloaded ages ago, with such good intentions.  She seems to have lots of other useful tools that I’ll have to look at.

Again, you may already know all of this.  I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.  Do those of you who are much wiser than me have other suggestions?