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Goal-oriented groceries

Want to wean yourself off convenience foods and treats? Try this new approach to a shopping list.

By Donna_Freedman Jul 25, 2011 9:11AM
When filming an "Ask the Money Expert" video for MSN Money, I answered a question from a reader who needed help with grocery shopping. She wants to cut down on food costs but her resolve tends to fade once she's in the supermarket.

I mentioned a few old chestnuts, such as not shopping while hungry, creating menus based on the best deals of the week, and making a list of only the ingredients you need to cook those meals.

Then I suggested a different way to write the list:

Begin with a goal. Post continues after video.

Before you write "milk," "bread" or "ground beef," write something else that you really want, such as:

  • Debt-free in 2011.
  • Pay cash for our next car.
  • Down payment for a home.

Halfway down the list, repeat the goal. When you've reached the end of the list, write the goal one more time. I suggested it be written in capital letters with a black Sharpie so that it can't be ignored, or easily crossed out.

Do this with every shopping list, every week. Seeing the goal spelled out should help hold you accountable as to where your money goes. While I think you should allow for a payday treat, it's easy to get carried away -- especially when you smell the chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the in-store bakery oven.

Having your goal right in front of you may help you put things in perspective: Overspending on nonessentials is not getting me any closer to my dream.

Our choices have consequences

Some weeks this might not help. Some weeks we really do want the Doritos, or to buy a rotisserie chicken and a sack o' salad because we're too tired to cook.

But we have to remember that choices have consequences. The more work that's done for us regarding food, the less value we get. Money spent on Double Stuf Oreos is money that can't snowflake a debt. Frozen mac 'n' cheese is much costlier than making our own. Those prefab bottles of "all natural" iced tea work out to as much as $13 a gallon.

Yes, some days we're just going to say "the hell with it" and buy the cut-up pineapple or the pre-marinated steaks. But if we do that consistently, we forfeit the right to complain about how much longer our months are than our money.

We can't pretend that our choices have nothing to do with the bottom line. We can't eat our cake and have it, too. Or, for that matter, our Double Stuf Oreos.

MSN Money columnist Donna Freedman blogs at Smart Spending and Surviving and Thriving.

More on MSN Money:

Jul 25, 2011 10:20PM
Learn to cook.  Keep a pantry of basics on hand.  If everybody works-----set aside one day a week to cook for the rest of the week and freeze the meals in portions to use as needed.  Use the crock pot.  Buy stuff that you use often in bulk when it's on sale and stock the pantry or freeze in portions for later use.  Don't buy the chocolate chip cookies.........make them!  Same thing with the mac and cheese.  Both freeze well for later use.  For green salad, it's almost cheaper to buy the prepared greens..........due to waste from unused lettuce sitting in the refrigerator. 
Jul 26, 2011 11:56AM
I say if you have the money to spend and no debt then do whatever you want and let it be that. However, if you're like me right now dealing with unemployment in the family and large debts this is a really good tactic that I plan on using. There are so many things at the store that we think we want or need, but we don't. Sure, cooking takes time and energy, but it's not hard to find some really basic recipes out there to prep and cook in less than 30 minutes. Or better yet, use the crock pot so you just throw it in and it's ready when you get home from a busy day at work. It's not as hard to prepare food as you all might think it is. This mentality is pretty genius for those struggling.
Jul 26, 2011 8:59AM

some of the items mentioned would cost more making at home than just buying all ready done.
rotisserie chicken? sure buy a rotisserie  for 30 , buy a chicken for 5 if lucky and store rotisserie for a month between uses? I can buy one all ready done for 5 and dont have to store anything nor season it.  Who can make oreos at home?
Some things are cheaper to make than buy all ready done and some are cheaper to buy all ready done. The articule was a bit pointless unless the writer is a really good cook and has many kitchen items {  rotisserie } on hand to  use.
Jul 26, 2011 6:19AM

someone: Your first 2 paragraphs meaningless & nothing to do w/the article. Seriously this article is not about where you 2 met.


akjomama: who has TIME or the ENERGY to spend a whole day doing nothing but cooking? I tried this once & will NEVER do it again. Even my mother born in 1944 who always made cookies from scratch no longer does because she doesn't have the time or energy. Like everyone else she's too busy trying to make a living & then is too exhausted on the weekends.


I survive on 5 hours of sleep a nite & believe me the last thing I want to do is spend it in the kitchen baking & cooking.

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