Stop Shopping, Start Provisioning!

The Shopping Mindset runs directly counter to my budget! Once upon a time, if you asked me what I was doing on the weekend, I’d say “Having a look around the mall.” Shopping was the activity, and finding something I needed was secondary, if it was in the picture at all. I just wanted to browse and feel inspired by new looks. There was a social aspect, too – I would run into friends or relatives, or be able to chat throughout the week about new products or great deals. “This? It was on for $8.99 at Winners!”

Later I gravitated toward independent local businesses, and every few weeks, I’d do the rounds. I’d buy jewelry or notebooks or stuffed animals or used CDs. That may be a good way to stimulate the economy, but not a good way to manage my money!

Finally, I set strenuous savings goals for myself, and my recreational shopping had to stop. I decided I wouldn’t even say I was shopping any more. “Shopping” automatically made me think of frivolous spending. From now on, I would only go provisioning!

Provisions (n): a stock of necessary supplies

Provisioning (v): supplying something for use

For me, provisioning means:

  • Planning all purchases in advance
  • Meal planning
  • Buying groceries, but not going to the candy store or the cheese shop
  • Buying from a list of essential household items
  • And most importantly, being strict with myself about needs versus wants

When I was growing up, my family lived outside the city, so we had a planned trip for groceries once a week. My parents shopped from a list, but would allow us to choose a “sweet cereal” for the weekend, which would only last us kids 2 days. (Mom baked every week so we never felt deprived.) After the provisioning trip, we would go straight home so the ice cream wouldn’t melt! Then we’d all help package things up for the freezer and put everything in its place. If my parents wanted to “go shopping” or if they needed to purchase something for the house, it was always separate from the provisioning trip. So I had good training!

Somewhere along the way, though, I fell off the wagon. Let’s take groceries as an example. I used to go to Pete’s specialty market occasionally, a produce market occasionally, the Farmers Market once a month, Costco once a month, Bulk Barn once a month, and the neighbourhood supermarket 3-4 times a week or more!

My first step was to start meal planning (that was in February 2011) and buy only the ingredients needed to make the planned meals, plus baking supplies and snacks. However, I’d make up a meal plan, then get to the grocery store and pay top dollar for the ingredients I needed, while other foods I liked were on sale. The answer, which seems obvious now, was to visit the grocery store and the produce market once a week to see what was in season and on sale, and plan meals around those things. For example, last month we looked everywhere for fennel for a recipe, but it was just not available. This week, the new crop has arrived and it’s everywhere.

I would like to shop less than once a week. Usually we do one big provisioning trip a month for basics, and then we return weekly for fruit, vegetables and dairy.

I have a new strategy for the other stores and markets. Visiting Bulk Barn every month or two for grains is working out fine. Our big Farmers Market is high-end and attracts a lot of tourists, so we now go there rarely as a “treat,” and stick to the local produce markets instead. I only go to Pete’s Frootique once or twice a year to buy UK imports for Rom – otherwise it is just recreational shopping – I do not need to browse 20 different varieties of olive oil. Plus, with some sleuthing, we have found that Marmite is cheaper at Superstore than at Pete’s!

I’m quite sure that a Costco membership is no longer worth the annual fee of $55, but I can’t resist its lure. I am tracking my Costco savings this year so I can decide whether to renew next time. We don’t buy much packaged food, but you can get good quality staples like organic brown rice, pasta, fair trade coffee, and (non-vintage!) extra-virgin olive oil at Costco. We also buy large amounts of nuts and raisins there. However, we have to compare the quality and cost with Bulk Barn.

So now our food purchasing does not involve canvassing the whole city for new and unusual delicacies – we plan meals based on fresh, real, and mostly common, foods. We still splurge on a few things (y’all know I love goat cheese and pesto) but we plan them into our meals and don’t waste a crumb!

Now provisioning for the house is another thing entirely. In the past, I would look through all the small appliances at Home Outfitters, thinking “ Wouldn’t it be great to have a panini press?” or “The kettle isn’t going to last much longer, so I’ll buy this one now.” The new strategy, of course, is to make a list of what is absolutely required and buy only from the list, waiting as long as it takes for something to become available used or go on sale. I would never go into Home Outfitters just to look around! It may not be fun in the same way as going out shopping and finding a deal, but it’s satisfying to get good quality stuff for the best price and add to one’s Curated Collection of Kitchen Classics!

In the past year, I bought:

  • a replacement microwave oven
  • a “cordless” electric kettle (the cords on my last 2 wore out from being plugged and unplugged so often)
  • a box grater (cheese grater with catching container) – old one rusted after 25 years (!)
  • a large sieve – old one was only 8 cm, not so great for  straining stock
  • and 3 plates with cute pix of robots on them – oops!

This month I have an exception – I have a vacation coming up in London and Sussex – and I have savings to do some recreational shopping. It will feel strange to browse through shops just for the heck of it!

Overall, I am happy I have my parents’ good example to fall back on, and I hope my kid had enough exposure to frugal shopping for it to sink in!

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  1. I grew up the same way, then like you, got away from it for a while. Now, we shop to live instead of the other way around. I think more families will be starting to shop more wisely in the future.

  2. SarahN

    Agh I think travelling is the moment I succomb (sp?) to ‘browsing’ shopping (namely for clothing, and trinkets, jewelry etc) There’s only so many museums etc.

    But I agree, shopping used to be a hobby (even earlier this year when I was still outfitting my house) But now I have a list, and I work with it. I plan the $$ and the items, mainly. And it’s more about managing money so I have more money for more worthwhile things – but as I said, I go through times where I spend it like a mad woman.

    I used to meal plan for five, but now it’s just me, I plan on a more day to day basis, buying only what I need at IGA and the green grocer – both of which are within a block from me. It means minimal to no waste, cause I eat leftovers, but I only buy what I need too… Very interesting to read you ‘wising’ up and changing your ways! Kudos to yoU!

  3. Joy

    I love calling it “provisioning!” Being post-college and on a strict budget, I definitely set out to the grocery store with a bit of what I like to call “frontier mind,” like I live out on the frontier and need to make sure I have only what’s necessary to survive. It makes a big difference because it’s easy to pass up unnecessary frivolous purchases when I think what I could buy with that money – another package of flour or sack of rice, for example. Great post!

  4. I’d really like to get to the point where we have ONE errand day.. So I do all my shopping, banking, etc..on one day each week. I’m working towards that point anyways…

    • Hmm, that would take both organization and discipline, a tall order! My parents did that, but it was kind of imposed on them because they lived outside the city and only drove in once a week. If they forgot anything, they did without!

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