It’s been almost a year since I stopped going weekly grocery shopping. And I’m so happy!
I’ve saved a ton of money and I know we’re eating better for it.
Before you all think I’ve totally gone off the rocker, let me explain. I have been to a grocery store here and there and we are still eating regular food and such. But what I have done is to give up the notion that I need to go to the grocery store once a week and get all the stuff we need to survive. We don’t do that anymore. I have not gone to a store without a specific list or item needed at all in the last year. I have saved us a ton of money, I’m certain. Our food bill for the month is less than $50 a week, sometimes it’s around $30!
Here’s what we do and why it works so nicely.
Step One… Simplify. We ditched all the convenience food from our menu. No more tv dinners or pizza pockets or premade cookies or anything like that. We try and cook from scratch almost all the time. I say almost because there are a few items we had trouble giving up. Like crescent rolls! We like them with dinner at times, and they are good for some fun recipes like our homemade baklava or fake chicken pie. So we do use those. But that’s about it. Everything else, we either make or we go without. That was one of our biggest savings in food. When a box of potato skins costs $9, or a package of cookies is $4, that can add up FAST! And it’s so loaded with all this junk, it’s just dreadful. Who in their right mind would take a hard, store-bought cookie over a fresh, homemade, chocolate chip one?
It was rare to get out of the grocery store for under $100. Especially if I went to China-Mart or any chain grocery store. And without a list or a menu plan, it was just a random weekly drain on us of things that well, we just picked out with a vague idea of what we liked but not really of what we needed. And it always seemed to include things that we may or may not actually eat before it would go bad. Every week I was adding wilted salad and weird leftovers to the compost pile and that is just money lost.
Step Two… Make a dinner menu for the month. We sat down and came up with all the meals we like for dinner. There were roughly about 13 things that came up over and over. They could have slight variations, so we doubled them to 26 meals. We added a couple takeout nights (2) and came up with a couple special meals/leftover meals and had 31 meals.
Then I made a simple form that has 1 through 31 on it. Each number/day got a meal, and it was posted on the frig. It’s very simple. You see what day it is and that is the meal you cook. If everyone is gone, or say the kids are at their dads for a specific day, then you get to freeform, which usually means leftovers or maybe a treat dinner out with friends. If for some reason a meal can not be done (say the meat is still frozen or you don’t have it) you can switch a day ahead and swap, but we rarely do that. Occasionally if we have a meal that is just not going to work with our schedule, we might ditch it for leftovers or sandwiches. Very flexible. But the best part is that I can look at it and set out the next day or two’s meat need in the frig to thaw. Or make sure I get it from the local butcher we shop from.
Step 3 – Make a store shopping list.
I took all the stores that I want to shop from. Most are local, a few are chains and also the Farmer’s Market in season and my garden when it gets going. I ended up with about 5 spots. And then I wrote down the things that I get from each store. SPecific things. So that I know when I need lunch meat, it’s Monette’s Market and when I need flour it’s GFS Restaurant Supply. And then I made a printable list for the frig of all these staple, basic items by store.
Here’s my list to explain.
Monette’s Fruit Market
Bulk Candies/Snacks (They sell bulk goodies like yogurt coated raisins and chocolate pretzels and other goodies so we can get a 1/4 pound of this and that and feel like we’re getting a treat instead of buying a high priced pre-packed bag of name brand stuff)
House of Meats
All dinner meats
GFS Restaurant Supply
Dehydrated Potatoes ( Hash Browns & Scalloped)
Bulk Butter / Cream
Boxed Goods (Crackers etc)
In Season Fruits & Veggies
Now you will notice that stuff like cleaning products, personal hygiene, and paper products are not included in this list. Like our food choices, we have simplified greatly these areas and also done away with the need for like cling wrap and paper napkins, etc. But we still use toilet paper, shampoos and that sort of thing. Once a month I head to our local owned Dollar Store and stock up on deals for that sort of thing. And we really watch that we’re not overdoing it with too many lotions and potions and such. We are exploring some new options for some of these things, like organic toothpaste and using way less foil and fancy cleaning products.
When something runs out, say, flour. It gets marked on the list. When I notice it, I will do two things. One, consider my schedule to see when I can stop at the store on a errand run and then I check the levels of all the other things on that store’s list. If I’m low on brown sugar and also bagels, then I check those as well.
When my errand matches that store, then I stop in. I don’t get anything but what’s on the list. And I get the most I can afford and reasonably store. I’ll get the big 10 pound bag of flour and the 3 pound bag of brown sugar and 6 packages of bagels (they keep great in the freezer) and I’ll walk out of there with a bill for less than $20.
What I’ve noticed right away is that buying like this really bulks up the pantry fast. At first I was making a few stops a week at the various stores. Now, I go to maybe one store a week, if that. Generally it’s the fresh fruit/veggie store. And that is usually only because we like salads and fruit and they don’t last as long. I’ve noticed that I’ve saved a ton, because these small pantry filling missions don’t allow me to wander about and find stuff that we really don’t need or want.
Now every so often, a store will have a sale that is too hard to pass up. Like our butcher shop always has one or two items that are dirt cheap to draw people in. It might be steaks or marinated chicken breasts and the price will be super low. When that happens I really stock up. I’ll spend $50 or more and get many packages of whatever is really good priced. And into the freezer they go. Of course, I try not to go overboard because they tend to have something on sale every week and it rotates around. But by doing this and stockpiling sales of products specifically on my store lists, we save even more.
And we take advantage of seasonal deals. LIke strawberries and blueberries for example. When our u-pick-it places are in the height of their season, I’ll go and get a good amount of that produce. Strawberries for example, become a year of jam and also several big quart bags of frozen berries for one low price. We still have blueberries for pancakes and muffins from last year! Just about the time they are available again, we’ll be out.
I plan to learn to freeze and can more this year. Last year was my first try and I did the simple things, a couple jams and a jelly cooking, frozen veggies, tomato sauce and stewed tomatoes and garlic new pickles. (The pickles did not last long at all, they were gone in oh, a month or two! I definitely need to make more pickles this year!)
I’m hoping to freeze green beans, carrots and peas this year, as well as can peppers and tomatoes in various ways. I want to make sure that I do things that I know we’ll eat through the year. Sweet corn… I’m thinking that in the height of summer when it’s like 10 ears for a dollar and super yummy, I’m going to give corn a try at both canning and freezing.
Of course, if I don’t put up enough to make it through the year, I won’t fret. It’s not like we live in the middle of nowhere and will die if we run out of food. But I like that we’re saving money, eating better, and have a pantry that’s full in case of any dire situations that arise. If we had some bad weather, or a slow couple weeks of sales, or even some political or social situation, we’d be in better shape then most of the country, I figure. We’ve got about 3 days worth of water stored, and I’d like that to be a bit more. But food, I’m sure that we’ve got a month or so on very careful rationing. That feels good. And it’s great too because we don’t have to go on some weekly task of drudgery, slogging through the food store and having sticker shock at the end. Usually, I can be in and out of a store within 15 or 20 minutes and with a bill that’s very reasonable.
I hope this system of food acquisition makes sense and I’ve laid out my plan well enough to adapt for your own family. If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line!Pin It