Grocery Shopping for a Benjamin

A Benjamin is a $100 bill, correct? There are a lot of things I say then regret because I don’t actually know what they are. For example, I spent about 5 months in high school calling people “dildos” (hey, upswing in SEO!) because I thought it was a funny word I’d heard some time. Finally, my best friend intervened and suggested I not label people as faux phallic tools. Other than the occasionally frequent misuse of the inappropriate, I am nothing if not a stickler for the rules. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system taught me all about anatomy through the FLEBHS program (pronounced flea-biss, as in something you catch if you don’t remember your coloring worksheets), so I know that pretty well and follow it accordingly (heeeey, Davey the Hubbers), I was a fifth grade safety patrol leader, and as such, a subsequent victim of Charlotte-Mecklenburg student-on-student assault (I warned them not to horseplay. They showed me what real horseplay looked like. Was it fun? “Neigh.” Harharhar).

And, as the wielder of the knack for anal retentive behavior financial discipline, we follow the strict Dave Ramsey envelope system, wherein we pull a set amount of cash each week, divide it into categorized envelopes and spend accordingly throughout the week. The system is infallible, until, as a rule follower, you find yourself in line at Target with items falling into four different envelope categories (“Pet Supplies,” “Groceries,” “Cosmetics,” and “Toiletries.”) ‘Twere you to think that the reasonable thing would be to just pool money for the total and know that it all comes out in the wash, you would be incorrect. The proper rule following technique instead, is to have the cashier ring up four separate transactions, pay out of four separate envelopes, and apply coupons four different times. That’s what you do. Do you make friends in the process? Hell no. Did you have a whole lot of chance of that happening anyway? Hell no. You learned that much in FLEBHS too. BUT, BUT, what it does teach you is how to spend not a penny over $100 a week on groceries. Including wine. Helllllloooo.
I pre-plan meals for the entire month, which gives me a good game plan for what to buy for the upcoming week, but although the content of the meals rotates and varies, the skeleton of the dishes remains similar and easy to track. I also shop at multiple stores. It’s not always hassle free, but it works, and once you find your rhythym at each store, it’s totally painless (unlike some of those street-slanged STDs FLEBHS taught me about, though, so did my college step-aerobics instructor during that part of the syllabus… double step + The Clap… tough class, y’all). My stores of choice are Trader Joe’s, Target, and Harris Teeter (in a very limited role). Here’s a peek at my grocery list week-to-week.

1. Canned beans. I never leave a store without a couple cans of beans. I typically grab a couple of cans of white beans, black beans, kidney beans and garbanzo beans. They’re inexpensive and tremendously versatile for bulking up any and every dish, and, as a bonus, they can be easily transformed into a dip or spread for an appetizer in the case of a dinner party.
2. Spices. When I first set out to stock my own kitchen, I was disheartened by how expensive nice spices were, and I felt like I was forever out of a key ingredient to a recipe. Now, not only have a streamlined my arsenal to what we use most, but I grab one on most shopping trips to have as a back up for the ones we use most (garam masala, curry, Tony Chachere’s) or to expand our collection. Target has the best price and selection that I’ve found.
3. Nuts. My husband loves nuts. He can eat an entire bag in one sitting, and I’m currently on a nut butter whipping frenzy, so nuts are our splurge item. Pistachios are DTH’s favorite, while I prefer to have raw cashews on hand. I pick these up at Trader Joe’s and rotate between the two, and that keeps us fully stocked week-to-week.
4. Produce. Nothing infuriates me more (huge hyperbole… everything infuriates me, and the “more” factor changes minute-by-minute) than outfitting my crisper with a bounty of produce and letting it go bad. For a while I was out of control with my produce buying…. picking up random shiz that we never ate and throwing away boatloads of it. Now I keep it simple… weekly staples are bananas, broccoli (roasted broccoli is the best thing in my life somedays… not to say my life isn’t good. It’s to say HOW good roasted broccoli is), kale (I varying between leaves, which I use for chips and shredded, which I use for dressed salads), Brussels sprouts (roasted. Cajun seasoning. Sea salt. White balsamic. Olive oil. Parmesan), asparagus (do you feel healthier when your pee takes on eau d’asparagus? If you do, I do too. If you don’t… umm… I do.), and then I rotate a few wildcards in each week – sometimes berries, something carrots (haha, never carrots. They’re the worst), zucchini, bok choy, edamame or beets (which I always have grand plans for and then throw away). Oh, and avocado when I’m feeling frisky.
5. Wine. I like my wine like I like my TV volume – in even numbers or multiples of 5. Do not even talk to me about prime numbers (I hate you seven. I real do). So. I always leave Trader Joe’s with 4 bottles of wine. And since I never spend more than $9 on a bottle, this is a great addition to that $100. I usually get two reds and two whites, and those most frequently take the form of a shiraz and a red zin or malbec and two sauvignon blancs. We like what we like, y’all.
6. Protein. Since I have a framework for the week’s main meals going into shopping, proteins aren’t a guessing game. And they’re one of the only things I shop for at the Harry Teet. Most frequently they include chicken thighs, split chicken breasts and ground turkey, but I’ll sub in lamb and/or a fish if there’s a great deal to be found. Two proteins for the week nearly always means that some can be frozen for a later date.
7. Cheese. If you haven’t drooled over Trader Joe’s’ (man, is that word the hardest to make possessive? YES.) cheese selection, just go do it. Their cheddar-gruyere blend is always a favorite, and they recently released a lavender-espresso-rubbed hunk. Which is how I like my hunks of any kind.
8. Bread. In the past few months I’ve been buying a Dakota loaf, unsliced, from Great Harvest week after week. I can usually stretch a loaf to two weeks without a problem, but go ahead and put your faith in me when I tell you that an egg-in-a-basket with plenty of butter and a very thick slice of Dakota bread is the only thing you’ll want to eat for days on end after you make it the first time.
9. Milk and eggs. Boring. Buy ’em.
10. Baking supplies. The specific list changes weekly, but instead of needing to blow one whole envelope on a huge baking supply trip, which is easy, trust, I treat them like I treat the spices, collecting as I go. This can include coconut, butter-flavored Crisco, vanilla, chocolate chips, Nutella, what have you, but it means that I’m always ready when the craving to bake hits, and it hits often, and it hits hard.

Last week I spent $99.99. No lie. And I didn’t even have to put anything back. And I celebrated like a fool. By texting my mom, my sister, my dad, and my husband. Because they love me, and they only judge silently.

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