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My dad is the type of person who clips coupons on mPerks and reads the weekly ads from the grocery store and buys things in stock. For the last four years or so, he’s been trying to teach my brothers and I to do the same thing. I didn’t think much of it before, you know: How hard can grocery shopping be? You write a list of the things you need, walk in, get your things, pay and leave. Right?

Foolish woman.

No, I get the sense that whoever decides how to set up the stores, they place the food and all the things you really need – like soap, paper towels, toothpaste, etc – in the back. The fun things – clothes, make-up, books, scented candles, booze, the kind of ottoman you’ve always wanted – all that crap is in the front to confuse you. Before you know it, you’ve “just picked up” a new hand towel because it was purple and only $1.79, candles that smell like apples, a bottle of wine (always good to have extra one around) and a $3 face mask because this is the weekend you’re going to pretend your living room is a spa.

Granted, you might pick up the useless crap that’s on clearance or generally just cheap, but once you add it up, together it can become expensive.

Rule #1: Always ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” Ask yourself this at least three to five times, because you’ll see that you have no good reason to spend extra money.

Of course you’re welcome to treat yourself. We’re busy, hard-working people, aren’t we? We deserve something nice once in a while. But can you afford it? Now, I’m not saying that I am poster child for wise spending, but I try my best. In the last six weeks, I’ve noticed that there are three ways to live comfortably without breaking the bank:

Rule #2: Treat yourself but don’t throw all your cash away.

  • Spread it out. When I moved in my apartment, there were a bunch of things I needed to get, but my parents warned me not to get it all at once. I needed a curtain for the window on my front door so I got that first. Other things like baking pans, frames for my photographs and a door mat, I held off on that for a few weeks. (In fact, I’m hoping to get a mat for my birthday, plus a coffee table… ’cause I’m clearly an adult.)
  • Put a limit on weekly spending. If you’re making plans with people, knowing that some of things you’re gonna do will cost money, tell yourself how much you’re willing to get rid before your pockets feel too light.
  • Only once. Sometimes you may go overboard, which is alright; it can be inevitable. In that case, tighten your belt for at least a whole week. Doesn’t seem like much, but you can call it a draw.

Then finally, how is grocery shopping supposed to work? I probably can’t help those with children and pets, but maybe this still applies to you; who knows.

  • Write a list. (And fricking stick to that list.) Remember rules #1 and #2.
  • Think rationing back in WWII, only less depressing. When you’re buying for only yourself, it’s easy to buy too much food at first. I’ve found that it helps to more or less plan your meals. Not telling you to write a menu, but I try think about how soon something’s going get eaten, if I’m in the mood for anything special and how much time will I have for cooking in the upcoming week.
  • Coupons and memberships are your friends. Not that I’m a corporate groupie, but I tend to buy groceries at Meijer, Aldi and Kroger. I check their weekly ads and write a list of some things that are on sale; I’m signed up for mPerks and got a Kroger card; and frankly, Aldi is a great place to buy vegetables and cheese for a reasonable price, plus wine and candy imported from Europe.
  • Don’t buy it because it’s furry. Just because it’s on sale, doesn’t mean you have to get it. Unless it’s something you need or usually get, leave it alone. (P.S. I hope Gilmore Girl fans appreciate the reference.)
  • Expiration dates! Smell the potatoes. Get the green bananas. It’s a pet peeve of mine to throw things out. I care about the planet so I don’t want anything to go to waste. I was so mad at myself earlier this week when I had to toss a whole banana in the garbage. So check the date on the milk; reach for one in the back of the row if you have to. Seriously, smell the potatoes, because you don’t know how long they’ve been sitting there and they go bad quickly if not stored properly. Buy the green bananas so they don’t go bad before you can enjoy them. (Yes, I know that sounded dirty.)

Hope that’s helpful in any way. I think I’m gonna go and eat some leftovers now.