(Let me preface this post by saying I hate money. Or rather, the lack thereof. I’m no expert in finance, and I know my lifestyle isn't going to be the same as yours - it might not even be close. But I hope by sharing my approaches to grocery trips & menu planning that someone can save a little moola here and there. And that’s always a good thing.)
Consolidate trips. We try to limit our grocery shopping to once a week, though occasionally (okay, a lot) I forget an item or two and have to go back to the store. If you can reduce the amount of times you drive to the store, you save fuel, which saves money...you get the idea.
Don’t go shopping when you’re hungry – you’ll be far more tempted to pick up items that you otherwise wouldn’t buy because you're thinking with your stomach.
I always make a grocery list. Wandering around the aisles is not my favorite pastime, and it causes me to pick up items I don’t really need.
Before I make the grocery list, I need to know what we’re having that week for dinner (duh!). I usually only make a plan for dinners, because our lunches tend to be fairly similar throughout the week, either sandwiches or leftovers. Breakfast foods are pretty basic for us – my toddler loves oatmeal & fruit in the morning, and I’m happy with bagels & cream cheese. Due to my husband’s work schedule, dinner is the only meal that he really gets to share with us, so I try to be creative with it.
Here’s our dinner menu for this week:
1) Pork chops w/orange sauce, rice, zucchini
2) Beef stew/yeast rolls
3) Potato soup & Panini sandwiches
4) Chicken parmesan hoagies w/homemade fries
5) Homemade pizza
6)Teriyaki chicken, fried rice w/veggies
Now, I’m lazy & write it out on a piece of notebook paper and post it on the fridge, but you could definitely one-up me and make a cute menu board: http://www.makeandtakes.com/wipe-off-weekly-menu-board
My menu isn’t set in stone. In fact, we’ll probably have enough leftovers from the beef stew & potato soup that we could easily use them for dinner the following nights. That “saves” another meal option for a later time. I also didn’t assign a day to each meal – let’s face it, sometimes you don’t want to eat what you’ve planned for dinner, so I avoid that altogether and just have everything on hand to make whichever meal from the menu we want that night. Unless it’s a meal that requires all day to cook, like a crock pot meal, this method works for us.
If your meals can “share” some ingredients, it helps save $$. One thing I try to do when planning a menu is to get the most out of the required ingredients. For example, in my menu, we’re having chicken parm hoagies and homemade pizza. These two meals I scheduled close to each other, primarily because the marinara sauce is used in both recipes and I don’t want to forget about the sauce and find it two weeks later in the back of the fridge with fuzz growing on it. (That was gross, but that’s real life for ya!)
They also share shredded cheese, so that means I only had to buy one ingredient, but it worked for two meals. Possibly three, if I decide to toss some cheese into the potato soup for extra yumminess.
Buy bulk ONLY if it’s cheaper. Lots of people think if it’s a bigger package, it must cost less. It’s not always true, so check the labels. It should break the cost down by ounce or whatever unit. However, keep your needs in mind. For example, when I buy a package of chicken breasts, I don’t care how much it weighs and what the cost is per pound. I need to know how many pieces are in the package because that tells me how many meals and/or servings it will provide. Just be aware of what specifically you need from your food items, and make it work.
Clip coupons ONLY if works for your grocery needs. I know some people save tons of money by using coupons. If you do, awesome! For me, coupons aren’t really something I use for two reasons. One, most of the time coupons are for items that I don’t purchase normally, and have no need to try. Secondly, I can often find the item advertised in the coupon cheaper as a generic brand. Which leads me to the next thing…
Try the generic brand. Really. Most of the time, it’s the same product in different packaging. Don’t be a brand snob. Well, maybe you can be about some things. I know some products actually do taste better if it’s a brand name – I feel that way about Duke’s mayonnaise and Pepsi. Just don’t miss out on some good deals simply because it doesn’t say Kraft, Pet, or Colgate.
So, that’s the basics.
Questions? Any other tips you can add? Go for it. :)