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On Overcoming Grocery Shopping Challenges

So what do you do when things are expensive and produce has an even shorter shelf life than normal?  You adapt, improvise and overcome it to the best of your abilities. I talked last week, in my post On Challenges - Grocery Shopping in Interior Alaska, about not always getting what you have on your list and the challenges of finding the ingredients for recipes.  This week we're gonna talk about how I've overcome some of those things.  Today we're gonna talk about grocery shopping.  How I shop, when I shop, and where I shop. 

Anyone who lives in Small Town America knows that it's rare to be able to get everything you need in one place.  This could mean shopping in multiple stores, or it might even mean shopping in multiple towns.  If your town is small enough you may have to travel to get groceries.  There's just some stuff your little town does not, will not, and cannot carry.

Alright with all that said, let's start with the grocery list.  I keep a working list on our kitchen counter.  It's broken into two columns food and non-food.  I don't use any kind of fancy list to organize things,  just a spiral-bound notebook.  There are two of us writing on this list, which means simple is better.  There is a second, smaller notebook for the town shopping list.  It's a bit fancier, as it's a reporter's notebook,.  Long and thin, top bound, easy to fit in my bag and easy to hang onto when traveling in and out of multiple stores.  Having two different sized notebooks also helps us keep track of which list is for where. 

Now onto the grocery shopping.  Let me preface this by saying I buy what is available and I don't dwell on what isn't.  This bit of advice is applicable no matter where you live and shop.  Buying what is available takes some of the stress out of the shopping at hand.  After having lived in four states, I have learned that there are just some things that won't be available in your area.  Ok, now about the shopping.

Local Shopping is first, this is the shopping we do the most of.  Our shopping routine is as follows, every two weeks, generally on the Saturday that follows payday.  We start at the commissary and usually end at the local grocery store.  While our grocery store is hit or miss on fresh produce, it is far better than the stuff I can get at the commissary.  Other factors for shopping at the little grocery store include the fact that they have both a bakery and a deli, neither of which are options at our small commissary.  The local grocery store also sells whole bean coffee, the commissary does not.  On the flip side canned goods, dry ingredients, meat, dairy, and eggs are all usually cheaper at the commissary.

Less frequent are the trips to "town", we go every six to eight weeks for shopping to get the things we can't get here.  This includes a stop at Costco for bulk purchases and a stop at Fred Meyer for extras.  Costco is where I buy things like nuts, snacks, some meat, produce, and dog treats.  Fred Meyer is where a lot of the "treats" and "bonus buys" come from.  This is where we buy lunchmeat, I grab things from the olive bar, occasionally splurge on something from the cheese counter, and where I get the "good" yogurt.  This is where we pick up shelf-stable special ingredients that we can't get locally; and where we buy seafood, lamb and the Boreshead hotdogs we love. 

Finally, there are then very infrequent online purchases.  If there is something I really want but cannot get locally or in "town" I will order it.  I do a bit of grocery shopping on Amazon and other shops like King Arthur Flour, and a few others.  These kinds of purchases aren't very frequent.  We buy things like falafel mix, individual packs of sauerkraut, spices, and some vitamins just to name a few of the things we buy online. 

That about does it for the secrets to my grocery shopping habits.  Later this week I'll talk about some of my cooking hacks that help with both saving money and adapting recipes to what is available and accessible to me.