Monday, December 31, 2012

Grocery Shopping For Carless Folks

One of the most common questions I get from friends and family is about how I manage with groceries, seeing as how I have no car and live in an area that is still being developed (cmooon grocery companies- you need to open one here!).

I think learning to grocery shop when you live in a condo like mine is a good skill to learn, especially for people who have never tried it before, so I thought I would share some tips.

Here is the thing- it is at least 1km in any direction for me to get groceries. The only local option is a small convenience type store just down the street- great for occasional items but too pricy for everyday shopping. For the bigger stores nearby, 1km is a bit of a distance to walk carrying groceries, plus they tend to be "urban" themed grocery stores, which means super high prices and terrible selection!!

So how do I manage to fill my fridge with yummy goods (and not mooch car rides off people?). Here is my method:

1. Get a granny cart
I know what you are thinking- "Casey, I would look like a fool with one of those". Yes, you would. Until you leave the store with your groceries all comfortably snuggled in there (in reusable bags of course- just tie the handles to secure). Cause once you are rolling along and you see everyone else struggling to carry home food- you will be laughing!! I only really use mine in the summer, however, because it is too heavy to lift up the streetcar steps and is better suited to a bit of a walk on a nice day.

2. Get small, reusable bags

I have two bags that fold into tiny pouches that I can toss into my purse. Don't get the kind that need to fold up in a special way- get the kind with pouches! Especially pouches that are connected so you won't lose them (or you can sew into the lining).

3. Find the best store for you!
I actually go to a grocery store no where near my condo. I found out there was a No Frills (cheap groceries!) just off the subway on my way home from work. I simply get off, buy my groceries, hop back on, and bring them home in the warmth of transit! This can also mean being strategic about where you shop. I love me some Coke Zero, but there is no way I am dragging home a case from some far away grocery store (unless I have my granny cart). I choose to buy cases of pop at the small, expensive, corner store near me. Sometimes the higher price is worth saving the effort.

4. Shop often
I try to go once every week or once every 2 weeks (I am only one person so groceries last me awhile). My arms can only carry so much so if I go often I will have less to carry on each trip- just enough food to last me until the next time.

5. Plan meals and shop smart!
If you are buying too many groceries, you will being dragging home items that eventually you will throw out because they go bad. Make no sense. I am not the best meal planner, but I often have one or two dishes that I want to make and I buy those ingredients, plus some basics to make up the other meals that week. I also stay away from a lot of canned/frozen goods because they are heavy and bulky! Same goes for juice and milk (and sadly, cantaloupes)- too heavy to carry so I just don't bother.

You know, in many European cities people go daily to buy fresh foods. That is why their fridges and cupboards seem to be so small. I also think that is why they are so healthy! I might not be the healthiest eater in the world (hello Coke Zero sitting right beside the laptop right now) but the fact that I can't carry home lots of prepackaged stuff I think helps me eat a lot better. And I save a lot of money by making meals myself!

And yes, I know there are also options for places that deliver groceries, but I enjoy walking around the store, being inspired, seeing what's on sale, and verifying my produce health myself. 

Have you ever lived without a car? How did you get groceries?


  1. We don't have a car either, and while there are a few grocery stores nearby, they aren't very good. I go grocery shopping about twice a week - just getting a handful of items each time! I do some shopping at a store near my office, and then get some heavier items near home, as we need them.

  2. Hey there! I just found your blog via a comment on Young House Love and I am also car-free and live in about 400 sq feet, so I added you to my reader! I live in Portland, OR and it's possible to bike year round here, so I do most of my shopping with my bike. I've got oilcloth panniers attached to a rack, and can plop two full shopping bags right into them. I've also hauled cat litter/food and other heavy things on my rear rack! Car2Go has come in handy as well... it's a short-term smart car rental company that is pretty inexpensive if you're just driving one home from the pet store or something.

    1. Thanks for visiting! Im hoping to get a bike this summer, but I find riding in the city a little intimidating :S

      We have car2go along with other car sharing programs here, but i priced it out once and it wasnt really worth it. Plus I dont think the lot is that close to me anyway (I did a hear a rumor that my building is looking into getting us a couple of car sharing cars IN our building!)

  3. The way car2go works here in PDX is, you can leave it in any metered or free public spot, and you pay by the minute, which seems pricey up front, but the thing is, you can just leave it and not pay while you're wherever you drove it to! They're ALWAYS running deals to get a free membership, which made it easy to give it a try! Zipcar is here too, but I never bothered to buy a membership since you have to pre-plan, return it on time to the same spot, and pay the hourly rate while it's just sitting there, etc.

    I've never been to TO so I have no idea what you're up against biking-wise! Portland is much smaller and less dense, so I imagine it's less intimidating here than where you are. When you get a bike, just start in your own neighborhood, and then as you get more comfortable go on from there. I feel so mobile when I have my bike with me (even if I take it on the bus partway to my destination sometimes)!


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