If there’s one thing I hate, it’s wasting money. As a single girl trying to pay a mortgage, manage bills, and enjoy a quality life on one income (in Southern California, no less – one of the most expensive places in the U.S. to live!), I have to make every penny count. And that’s why what I’m going to say about grocery shopping is going to sound completely contradictory.
When it comes to buying groceries, less is not always more. But more is not always more either. Here’s what I mean…
When buying food, many economists will tell you to look at the per-unit, or per-ounce price to find the best deal. The lower the per-unit price, the better the deal. And that might be true for families or multiple-people households.
But for single girls, things are different. We must also factor in whether we’ll be able to eat what we buy before it goes bad. Sometimes, individually packed, single serving options are more cost effective in the long run, even though there is more upfront cost.
Let’s use cottage cheese as an example. A 16-ounce container of cottage cheese costs $3.29, which is $0.21 per ounce. The same 16 ounces of cottage cheese packaged in four individual “On The Go” containers costs $3.99, or $0.25 per ounce. 16 ounces of cottage cheese will cost you $0.70 more if purchased in the single-serve packs. When multiplied by numerous items in your shopping cart, it’s easy to see how fast the savings add up, and why buying the bulk item is economically smarter.
But here’s the problem. If you’re the kind of person who can eat an entire tub of cottage cheese in just a few days, go nuts! But if you’re like me, and it takes you a few weeks to work through 16 ounces of cottage cheese, there’s a big problem. An open container of cottage cheese will only stay fresh in the fridge for about a week. And I’m lucky if I can get through half of it before it goes bad, which means I end up throwing away half the tub. So now the once-inexpensive $3.29 tub of 16 ounces has turned into a very expensive $3.29 tub of 8 ounces, or $0.41 per ounce. Ouch! Since the individually-packaged cottage cheese packs remain sealed in the fridge, they last much, much longer and end up being the economically responsible choice.
So, the moral of that story is to be realistic with your eating habits. Save where you can, but also look for single-serve packaging – you just might reduce food waste and save money in the long-run.
But what do you do with foods that don’t come packaged for the single person? Here’s a list of my top 10 suggestions for storing bulk food.
- Chicken Breasts: Before placing chicken breasts in the freezer, I repackage them into individual zip-top freezer bags. This way I can thaw one at a time (if I’m cooking for just me), or two or more if I have guests.
- Ground Beef: The smallest quantity of pre-packaged ground beef you can buy is typically one pound. So, unless I’m planning to cook for a group, I break out the ground beef into quarter-pound pieces, flatten them into patties, and place in zip-top bags to go in the freezer. When they’re frozen as thin patties, they thaw quickly, which makes cooking much more convenient.
- Hamburger/Hot Dog Buns: Hamburger and hot dog buns are usually sold in 8-count packs. I’ve found that hamburger and hot dog buns freeze very well. (Are you seeing a freezer trend here?) However, with these goodies I don’t go through the hassle of separating them into individual zip-top bags. I just place the whole package in the freezer. They break apart very easily and thaw quickly.
- Pasta: A serving size of most pastas is 2 ounces, and there are usually 7 or 8 servings per box of pasta. That’s a lot of pasta for one person! Since air and moisture are the main enemies of an open box of pasta, I transfer my unused pasta to a double-storage solution in an attempt to keep out as much air and humidity as possible. First, I transfer the pasta to a zip-top bag and squeeze out as much air as possible. Then I place the sealed pasta into an air-tight glass container. Stored this way, your pasta should last many weeks.
- Pasta Sauce: A serving size of pasta sauce is ½ cup, and a regular-sized jar of pasta sauce usually has 6 servings. Luckily, acidic foods last longer in the fridge than non-acidic foods, so it is safe to put the lid back on the glass jar and save it in your fridge for 5-6 days. (Be sure to check it – if it looks off or smells off, don’t tempt fate. If in doubt, throw it out.) If I reach day 6 and still haven’t used the rest of the jar, I’ll use it to make one of my go-to pasta freezer meals, like Cheese-Stuffed Pasta Shells, and prolong its life in the freezer.
- Bananas: I love bananas. Regular bananas are not wrapped or bundled in the store, so it’s easy to pull off two or three from a larger bunch, and purchase only what you know you’ll eat. But I always buy organic, which are bundled together and bound with tape in groups of 5-7. Unfortunately, I can usually only eat one a day, which means there are at least 2 or 3 bananas that turn brown before I can eat them. If I catch them in time, I will peel them, slice them into half-inch chunks, and freeze them in zip-top bags. Frozen bananas are great in smoothies. Or, place the frozen banana pieces, plus a bit of cocoa or peanut butter or honey & cinnamon into a blender to make “nice cream” (faux ice cream). And, of course, there is always banana bread.
- Bread: I love bread, but I can rarely go through an entire loaf before the last quarter of it starts turning funny colors. My local store used to carry half loaves, which were perfect for me! But sadly those were discontinued. Storing bread in the fridge instead of on the counter top prolongs its life by double. And, bread also does surprisingly well in the freezer. Take it out piece-by-piece as you need it. Slices thaw quickly with just a few seconds in the toaster. But be careful not to keep it in the freezer too long. The moisture in bread makes it susceptible to freezer burn.
- Butter: Unless I’m baking for the holidays, or in recipe-testing mode, butter seems to languish in my fridge for long periods of time. And butter is one of those things that quickly absorbs odors from other foods. So before long I start to have onion-scented butter. Good for sautéing potatoes – not so good on toast. One trick for keeping butter fresh in the fridge is to buy the type that is wrapped in foil, like Kerrygold Irish Butter. The foil keeps out the other fridge smells, and the butter stays sweet-tasting longer. And, of course, you can always store sticks of butter in the freezer until you’re ready to use them.
- Cereal: There are few things I hate more than stale cereal. But, unless I’ve recently treated myself to a box of Captain Crunch, it takes a long, long time for me to work through an entire box of cereal. Their cardboard box and plastic bag packaging don’t do a great job of keeping the contents fresh once they’re opened. To minimize the staling effects of ambient air and humidity, I pour the boxed cereal into air-tight Rubbermaid or Tupperware containers. These containers are specifically made for cereal, with a hand-hold on one side and a pour spout on the other. They won’t keep your Captain Crunch fresh indefinitely, but will make it last much longer than its original packaging.
- Cheese: If you’ve read my recipes, you know how I feel about pre-shredded cheese. I always, always (did I mention always?) buy my cheese in bricks, and then grate it as needed. But that means I often have bricks of cheese that run the risk of going bad in my fridge. The solution? You guessed it…freeze it! Yes – cheese can freeze! The harder the cheese, the better it freezes and re-thaws. Cut it into pieces no larger than half a pound, wrap it in plastic wrap, then place it in a zip-top bag, and into the freezer. A word of warning here: Freezing changes the texture of cheese. When it thaws it’s still great for cooking and melting, but I wouldn’t slice it for a cheese and cracker tray at your next party. Save the fresh stuff for that.
Saving money is an ongoing challenge for the single girl. And preventing food waste is a big part of that process. With a little resourcefulness and creativity, grocery shopping can become part of the single girl’s saving plan rather than our spending plan. So, what are some of your food saving tricks? Post them here, and you just might see your suggestions appear in a future article.