Holiday shopping of any kind can be a hectic, frustrating experience, and the grocery store is no exception. In fact, it’s probably worse because you’re not expecting it to be crazy and it’s likely one of the last things on your mind since you’ve got more important matters like gifts and travel plans to think about.
And, of course, while you want to eat healthy, there are probably a number of holiday treats and traditional meals you’ll be expected to make. How do you make it as easy as possible on yourself and still get what you want? Make a holiday meal planner. These are great if you know you’ll be making specific meals at specific times, since you can plan ahead and keep an eye out for sales. It will also encourage you to look ahead at your ingredients to make sure you have enough for, say, the four dozen batches of holiday cookies you’ll be making. Meal planners are fantastic for your regular meals, too, because they take away the need to figure out what you’re having at the last minute, and if your family has certain foods you eat a lot of, you can stock up. As a bonus, add prep and cook times into your meal planner so you know what you’re getting into each day.
Virtual coupons – just as good as the paper kind. This should be a year-round strategy, but especially around the holidays when you’re trying to save money and time, check out local stores’ websites. Not only do they usually have the weekly ads online, most have web coupons–and you can get even more savings by signing up for emails from the store.
Look like a world-class chef. Don’t have time to think about what you want to make? Another great thing you’ll find on store sites is recipes. They don’t have hundreds, but in a pinch it’s nice to know they are in a place you’re already looking. If you want a bigger selection, check out recipe-specific sites like Allrecipes.com, which has a special tab at the top just for holiday ideas and even gives you nutritional information so you can keep an eye on your family’s waistlines as well.
Buy generic. Most people don’t notice the difference between most generic and name brand products, and this is doubly true if you are cooking from scratch. Do your bank account a favor and buy the store brand this year. If you’re cooking for a large group, this can make a big difference.
One-stop shopping. If you start to really get into looking for coupons and sales, you might be tempted to only buy the cheapest items from each store, going on several smaller trips to multiple places. Don’t do it. Have you looked at gas prices lately? Unless it’s a truly amazing deal, you’re likely to spend more money driving around than you’ll save. Beyond that, who has the time to take multiple trips to the store every week? Instead, make a list for what you need and go out only once a week (Mondays and Tuesdays are the least busy days for grocery stores), planning your meals around the sale items if you can.
‘Tis the season – to avoid your impulses. While you should always try to avoid impulse purchases (a great reason to make a list and eat before going to the store), this is doubly important around holidays when stores put out things specifically designed to make you buy them due to their festive nature. If they’re already on your list, fine, but don’t get sucked into buying eggnog and brandy or that adorable wreath of candy just because it sounds good in the store.
Juliana Weiss-Roessler has ten years of professional writing and editing experience. For four years, she managed the web content for the star of an Emmy-nominated reality series. Currently, she is an editor for the geek girl e-zine PinkRaygun.com, a contributor to the career blog at Resumark.com, and owner of the food blog CookFastLiveYoung.blogspot.com. Follow her @cookfast on Twitter and learn more about her work at WeissRoessler.com.