For the last year and a half I’ve only been grocery shopping once a month. It has changed my life and our finances. I found these things to be true:
- The more I shop, the more I spend. I am not a big extravagant spender, but all the little things like toothpaste, specials, batteries, cute seasonal products, and sales add up. It is just better for me to never have to step foot into a store. Since that isn’t a reality, I try and go as little as possible.
- I’m a better steward of our food when I actually make it through our pantry. At the end of the month we may be eating Saltines instead of granola bars, but at least they’re getting eaten and not replaced with something more appealing. At times I’ve gotten desperate (graham crackers and leftover icing anyone?), but this has taught me so much about not being wasteful.
- Meal times are simple times. Though I enjoy cooking, I don’t have time for it right now, so nothing fancy is served in our house. I vary the menu each month, but my meals are simple with few ingredients.
It may take a couple of months to get your once a month shopping list down, but once you do, your life will be so much simpler. Here are a few steps to help you get started.
FIRST, make a simple list of meals your family usually eats. Depending on how meticulous you are, you can be as specific as possible. I am not a meticulous person, so I usually do something extremely simple like this.
Monday: Chili or Tacos
Tuesday: Leftovers from Monday (Baked Potatoes and Chili or Taco Salad)
Wednesday: Ground Beef Meal (Casserole or Spaghetti)
Thursday: Chicken something or other
Friday: Pizza w/ Salad
2. Mac N Cheese
3. Tortilla Pizza
4. Tortilla Wraps
5. Hot Dogs
· Cereal (16/month)
· Oatmeal (8/month)
· Eggs (4/month)
Now, I might change this up a bit each month, but we usually eat pretty basic foods. If there is a sale on pork, I’ll have a couple of pork meals thrown in. If ham slices sound good, I’ll put that in the mix. Maybe we want chicken nuggets or pizza rolls for lunch because we’re tired of tortillas. I switch that up. Also, I might cook differently in the summer than the winter. Basically, you need a meal list to make your grocery list.
SECOND, start your grocery list. I start with dinners and write down how much of everything I’ll need for each meal. So… Ground Beef for Tacos and Chili and the ground beef meal – 1 pound each meal = 8 pounds. What do I need for chili? Seasoning Packets, green peppers, onions, beans. Tacos: lettuce, shells, tomatoes, cheese, Spanish rice. What casserole do I want to make and what goes into that? Spaghetti sauce needs tomatoes, basil, noodles, garlic bread, green beans. What kind of chicken am I going to make? Do I need cream of mushroom soup? What side dish? How many pizzas?
Then I move to lunches and breakfasts and snacks. It will take a bit of adjusting the first month, but keep track of how much cereal your family actually eats, approximately. I now know that I need to buy 6 boxes of oatmeal, 10 boxes of cereal, and 6 containers of sausage each month.
THIRD: think through OTHER STAPLES. I know that I always need to check other basics I like to have on hand that may not be evident in a meal. Flour, sugar, olive oil, dairy items (cheese, butter, eggs, sour cream), chocolate chips, carrots, apples, celery, pancake mix, bisquick, juice, toilet paper, salad dressing, etc. What foods do you always find yourself buying? Check your pantry to see if you are running low. Maybe you didn’t use your chocolate chips to make anything last month.
FOURTH: Go through your list and see if you already have items on your list and cross them off. I find it’s good to list everything and then go through my pantry to see if I already have 3 jars of spaghetti sauce.
FIFTH: Before shopping, organize your list based on store and location. You might do it by hand, but I use Excel. I type out my list and have 4 columns. Item, Location in store (like freezer, veggie, pantry), store, and quantity. I always keep everything on my list and do not delete. If I don’t need something, I make the quantity zero. Then I sort by quantity and move all the zero items to the bottom of the list. Then I can sort the rest by the store and location to make my shopping trip a breeze. Plus, I can copy and paste this list for the next month and skim through it to see if I forgot anything.
SIXTH: Go shopping! It’s a good time to clean out your pantry and fridge… you’ll need the space, so eat leftovers and throw away expired items. If it's pretty empty, wipe off the shelves.
Now print out your list of meals and put it on the fridge so you don’t have to think about dinners. Personally, I don’t follow my own schedule because I’m a rebel that way, and if I want to make tacos on Spaghetti night, well then I will. And if I want to make Spaghetti pie instead of plain old spaghetti, I do. But this way, I know what I have to make.
The first month is the hardest, and as you run to the store to get things you need that you forgot, write them on your master list so you don’t forget them next month. Like toothpaste or Q-Tips or Shampoo or Body Wash. However, if at all possible, try to wait until next month. Can you use some sample lotions you have in your linen closet until next month?
Also, for most of these items, keep an extra on hand and when you open the last one, jot down that you need to get another next month. This is a life saver and keeps me out of the store. I just have scrap of paper on the fridge to do this.
As your list grows, you’ll get a feel for what your family eats and consumes each month.
- PERISHABLES: We buy milk and bread from CVS an extra time each month. Yes, it might cost us a dollar more, but the money we save in not stepping into “stuff mart” more than makes up for the dollar. Plus, it’s across the street from us, so there’s a gas savings there too, not to mention time.
Then, we get our produce delivered from Farm Fresh Delivery two other times a month. If this is not an option for you, then send the person least likely to impulse shop to the store or famers market for the 6-7 items you’ll need. Apples, Grapes, Broccoli, Green Beans, and Mushrooms. Nothing else. Eat what you have. Get creative if necessary.
- WEEKENDS/SPECIAL OCCASIONS: You’ll see that I don’t plan for weekends. This is for two reasons. I usually have enough food around or leftovers to get by on Saturday, and we don’t eat at home on Sundays.
If you have a special occasion coming up, like a few nights you won’t be home or something you know about, plan for less meals. If you usually entertain, add in an “entertainment meal” or two and get the necessary ingredients to avoid an extra trip to the store. I always keep a box of brownies on hand just in case I need a quick dessert. Who doesn’t love brownies?
Think about birthdays before you go and get the presents for the month while you’re out on your trip. Get creative if the kids are in the cart with you. I’ve distracted them in a different aisle and used a baby blanket to cover the items. Whatever works.
- QUALITY/COUPONS/COST: I’ve done this plan when I’ve been trying to live as cheaply as possibly and we ate hot dogs, grilled cheese, and spaghetti each week. I’ve done it when I felt a little more health conscience and it was all whole grain wheat, organic produce, and no high fructose corn syrup. I’ve done it with coupons (which was crazy and took a few hours of planning, but pretty worth it thanks to sites like www.moneysavingmom.com). I’ve done it by simply shopping at Aldi and only Aldi.
Overall, regardless of your situation or pantry space or lack thereof, if you want more time at home and less running to the store, you can do it. Give it a try. It doesn’t hurt, and I think it just might help. It did for me.