Usually when I go to the grocery store, I’m all business. I shop at two different grocery stores – one high-end chain and another big-box retailer – and always browse the weekly circulars online before even venturing out to the store. I come prepared with my list, my coupons, and I rarely waiver from it, almost never giving in to temptation in order to purchase my wants instead of just my needs.
But I make a few exceptions – three to be exact. These are grocery luxuries that leave me feeling a little richer.
Luxury #1: Wine
I don’t know why, but having a glass of wine with my husband after our kids go to bed is my ideal way to end the day. We never have more than one glass apiece, but simply sipping it is a luxury of which I could never deprive myself.
Of course, I have ways to make my luxury budget-friendly. First, we limit the amount of wine we drink on an evening basis; when I said “one glass apiece,” I meant it – and our glasses are smaller than the typical wine glasses, which are usually 6-8 ounces. By drinking roughly three ounces at a time, we’re able to extend the life of a 750mL bottle across four days or more. Additionally, I’ll often buy boxed wine – there’s more out there than just the Franzia rosé your great aunt used to drink at family gatherings these days. One box of white wine, which usually runs around $13-$15, is the same as 3 standard 750mL; and let me tell you, while you can find a decent boxed wine for $13, you’ll be hard pressed to find a good 750mL bottle for $4.33. Another strategy I use is buying in bulk. One of my favorite grocery stores has a rotating discount that gives you 15% off six bottles of wine, or 20% off a full case. As long as you know how to store wine – upside down (so the cork won’t dry out) in a cool, dry, dark place – this can be a great option too.
Luxury #2: Cheese
I’m not talking about generic American cheese slices here; I’m talking about the real, honest-to-goodness stuff that is as rich and satisfying as a slice of cake. In fact, one of my favorite cheeses resembles a layer cake – it’s five layers, alternating a sharp Wisconsin cheddar with a crumbly blue. Sure, I can’t get it 24 slices of it for $2.69 – it normally costs around $2/oz – but it’s worth its weight in gold to me.
It’s trickier to score a deal on a high-end cheese like this because it will actually go bad if you store it too long at home; in other words, you can’t buy it in bulk and save some for later! Instead, I buy small portions of it, maybe just a few dollars at a time, ensuring that I’ll sure what I’ve purchased before it spoils. I’ve also become friendly with the clerk in the special foods section of the grocery store; he can usually point me to specialty cheeses that are about to go on sale because they’re nearing their sell-by date. Buying these cheeses is the best way to get the most bang for my buck. In some cases, it means that I’ll have to eat it even sooner than I’d planned, but for other cheeses – especially hard cheeses that are built to last – can still be good long past their expiration date. I’ve also become comfortable with lobbing off a chunk of cheese that has grown some mold, since the parts without mold are still good to eat if they’ve been stored properly.
Luxury #3: Chocolate
Let’s get one thing straight here: a Hershey’s bar does not qualify as fine chocolate. Period.
The type of luxury I’m talking about is a piece of chocolate so creamy that it melts in your mouth. While most mass-produced American chocolates contain high amounts of sugar and low amounts of milk and butter, thus giving them a longer shelf-life, most European chocolates cut down on the sugar and add in good old-fashioned milk, cream, and butter instead to give their product a smoother texture. With that little chocolate lesson in mind (I grew up a stone’s throw from a local chocolate shop, that made all its own sweets in the European style; annual school field trips to the store were a rite of passage in my home town, and we all learned from an early age to appreciate a truly fine piece of chocolate), I’ve always bypassed chocolates made by companies like Mars and Hershey in favor of Lindt and Ghirardelli. While both companies’ chocolates are largely made in the United States (that is, if you’re buying them in the USA; they also have plants abroad), they’re crafted more closely to the European style than the American one.
However, because these nicer chocolates contain more dairy products – and because dairy products cost more than sugar – they are also more expensive. My trick? I stock up on these treats in the days after major candy holidays, like Easter, Mother’s Day, and Valentine’s Day, when the grocery stores slash their prices. Sure, I may end up eating a pink-wrapped Lindor Truffle in the middle of July, but who cares if it tastes like a little bit of heaven?
Reader, what are your favorite grocery store indulgences? What do you do to keep them budget-friendly?