Though we are Jewish and so this month doesn't bring on the end of a year for us, I think now is as good a time as any to review our grocery shopping habits, and how they have changed in the course of the past year.
Food comprises an important slice of every household budget - a slice that is likely to grow, as food prices are rising. Food is one of the variables of household consumption, together with electricity, water, clothing, entertainment, and miscellaneous purchases. It's an area where we can exercise a lot of creativity (as opposed to, for example, rent).
So... I know I have recently expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that I am unable to do the grocery shopping myself, and that this way many things that weren't on the shopping list end up in the cart, but a fair examination of our pantry, refrigerator and freezer showed that we have actually improved a lot in the past year, in points such as:
* Shopping less often. We have managed to go down to one, perhaps two shopping trips per week. This is partially due to more successful list-writing. When composing the shopping list, I began to write down not just things that we almost ran out of, but also things that ran just a little low. Also, if we forget to buy something, now we most often just do without it for a few days, until the next shopping trip.
* No more diapers. This sounds trivial, but a year ago we still had to buy diapers for Tehilla. Sure, I only put her in diapers at night since she turned 18 months old, but still this was a considerable expense, especially because we used to buy the higher-quality brands since anything else would give her a rash.
* Less pre-packaged foods. In particular cookies, cakes, sweet rolls, etc. There was a time when I decided that we'll consume less sugar if I bake less. I tried that, and the result was only that my husband started buying cookies, cinnamon rolls, etc, which of course contained much more sugar than what I would have put into my homemade treats. I returned to baking, and now my husband knows he can almost always find a cake or cookies at home to serve with tea to the family and guests, and he buys less sweets. Of course if it depended on me I'd bake less and serve platters of dried fruit, nuts and such like, but one has to be realistic. If the choice is between my homemade cookies and cakes and store-bought ones, it's obvious that mine are the healthier and cheaper variety.
We also buy less spice mixes, which are mostly a waste - it's much cheaper to use basic spices, though a mix might be more convenient.
* Less store-bought bread. We do buy bread for sandwiches in the middle of the week, but I make our Shabbat challah. This saves a last-minute dash to the store on Friday (during which other things, some of them unneeded, were bought along with the challah).
* Better-stocked shelves. I now have a larger variety of beans, grains, lentils, rice, pasta and such like inexpensive versatile basic foods which I can make into frugal meals.
Speaking of frugal meals, most of the meat I cook these days is made in the form of a stew with a lot of rich sauce that can be spooned on rice or pasta or soaked up with bread. For example, last Thursday I made beef stew. On Thursday evening, we ate couscous with some of the liquid part of the stew. On Friday night and Saturday we ate the beef. On Sunday I took what was left of the stew - mostly liquid and little chunks of meat that fell apart - and cooked it with some leftover rice for a few minutes. This made an excellent lunch, and a total of four days' worth of meals - not too bad.
Next grocery shopping goals: buy less soft drinks and disposables.