Monday, June 23, 2014

Grocery shopping

A break from the career updates to talk about one of our favorite things: saving money.

We've noticed a lot of people don't pay much attention to the price of groceries. This is always absurd, but especially here. I could be mistaken, and I don't have a large data set to back me up, but I would guess that L.A. is one of the places with the largest difference between high-priced groceries and low-priced groceries in the U.S. On the one hand we have what I'll call "health conscious wealthy" and on the other hand, we live in the midst of one of the most productive farming regions in the U.S., so supply is high.

All of this is to say: you can buy groceries for $$$$ or for $/5.

Here are our tips for L.A. Some of them can be generalized.

1. Know the lowest common price for things, and don't buy above that. Onions are a great example. Onions are frequently 5 or 6 lbs for $1. They are also frequently 1 lb for $1. Just wait.

L.A. specific knowledge (lowest common prices):
Produce (per pound)
Potatoes: $0.10-0.20
Tomatoes: $0.50
Apples: $0.50
Bananas: $0.33
Mangoes: $0.33 per each
Watermelon: $0.20
Broccoli: $0.50
Parsley: $0.33 per bunch
Spinach: $0.80
Grapefruit: $0.33/per each
Oranges: $0.20
Squash: $0.50

Pasta: $1/lb
Bread: $2/24oz loaf
Milk: $3.19/gallon
Eggs: $0.15/egg

2. Go to multiple stores. I don't mean waste your time (and gas/electricity, if you're one of the many death-machine drivers out there) visiting a bunch of different stores on each shopping trip. I mean, each time you go out for groceries, visit a different store, and buy the well-priced items.

Bread is over-priced at our neighborhood grocer, so we go to the Food4Less for bread. But the produce prices can't be beat at Edi and Peter's so we go there for that. And the 99 cent store has the best price on half-n-half. Trader Joes is good for... um... people that don't like to think about how much they're spending, but don't want to pay quite as much as they would at Whole Foods. Stina says I'm being unfair. There are a few things there that are comparable to elsewhere, like dairy. Vegetarian meat substitutes are better there. And they're slightly cheaper than a non-taco restaurant. And they sell Mochi Ice cream. So does California Market on Kingsley, though, and they have a lot of fun, cheap, uncommon produce too.

3. It's okay to not buy things. I mean, you still need to eat, but if, for some reason, you find you're all out of milk, and you're at Edi and Peter's, consider yogurt instead, and do without milk for a few days. Also, is a protein bar really a better choice than a sandwich filled with produce? Is the Whole Foods salad bar ever a good choice? No. No it isn't. Get out of there! Or if you're really stuck starving and Whole Foods feels like your only option, opt for the minimum that will sate your immediate need. An overpriced loaf of bread for $5 is better than an overpriced salad bar for $15. You can get your nutrition elsewhere.

4. Eating out or ordering delivery is a special event. Except tacos. Tacos are cheap, nutritious and everywhere. Because salsa is a thing. If anyone wants to go out, always suggest tacos.

5. Don't fall for the hype. Warehouse stores like Walmart, Target, and even the much-lauded Costco rarely have the best prices on groceries. They often have loss leaders, like milk, for cheap, so you'll assume all their prices are good, but if you really total things, the above tips will save you money.

Aren't you glad you saved hundreds of dollars? Feel free to thank me with it.