I was blessed when it came to growing up apparently. I grew up watching my mother cut coupons and make grocery lists. When I got older I even did some of the shopping. However, apparently not everyone was as privileged as I was. Time after time, I find women who don’t know how to frugally grocery shop, do not meal plan, who don’t make grocery lists, and who spend way too much at the grocery store.
I used to spend $300 per month on groceries for a family of 6. I now have a family of 7 and thanks to a budget increase, I spend closer to $700/month. I still get shocked that I spend $700 on groceries. That amount seems huge to me but I know for most of America $100 per person is still considered a small grocery budget. I know many of you might freak out at how little I spend. I’ve heard what most families spend on groceries and I simply can’t fathom where all that money goes! Granted I’d love to have tons of money to spend on groceries but that’s not the point; the point is that groceries do not need to cost as much as your rent!
I’ve tried to break down my “secrets” to frugally grocery shopping. Hopefully, these will help you in trying to shop frugally or at the very least shop more sufficiently.
This is how I determine what “roll over” meals will be on the next grocery list. For instance, if I see that I have pasta still in my pantry, I will not let that pasta just sit there. It will be on the next meal plan as a night or two of spaghetti or some other pasta dish. “Roll over” ingredients and thus meals are what will dramatically decrease your spending.
Make a List
If you don’t want to just mindlessly throw items in your cart or forget half your items; make a list! Start out small with a grocery list for a week; 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, and 7 dinners. After you’ve become successful with a week long list, try stretching it to 2 weeks and perhaps go for a month! I grocery shop once a month with a trip in the middle of the month for items that just don’t last a month such as produce. (I’ll give an example of my grocery list below)
Determine Where to Buy
I shop at 3 locations. Costco – for some of my produce and bigger bulk items like organic brown rice, my local grocery store – mainly for dairy now because our Costco doesn’t sell “the good stuff”, and Vitacost – for most of my personal products, vitamins, and some other dry goods. I don’t encourage looking through adds and going to every single store in town just to get stuff that’s on sale. However, picking one “wholesale” store and one “regular” store might be a good choice; particularly if your wholesale store has a good organic selection.
The In’s and Out’s of making a list:
Here is how I make my grocery list. Everyone of course, has their own slight variations but this will give you the general idea. Note: This example is for a month of groceries but of course, you can make a grocery list for just 1 or 2 weeks instead.
How Many Dinners are Needed?
This varies as we have dinners at our parent’s house, church dinners, dinners out with friends, etc. Even though I’m planning for a month’s worth of groceries, I’m usually only planning for 12-20 dinners. It just works out that way for us.
How many “Roll Over” Meals Do You Have ?
Here’s where I go through my pantry, fridge, and freezer and see what I already have on hand. Chicken in the freezer? It’s chicken and rice for a few dinners next month. Leftover mozzarella? Pizza it is! I then write these “roll over” dinners in my “Dinners” column on my list, including how many dinners it will count for. (See photo below)
Fill in the Remaining Meals
This can get difficult or monotonous, as I tend to do the same meals over and over again. Some ways to avoid this are to try a new recipe once a week/month or have themed dinners. Themed dinners make it easier to determine what to plan. So if you have “Soup Sunday” you know that you need some type of soup for Sunday’s dinner. Examples of themes are: Salad, Soup, Mexican, Crockpot, Italian, Pizza, BBQ, Leftovers, and Meatless. Add these remaining dinners to the “Dinners” column.
How Many Breakfasts and Lunches?
This will vary on how your family runs. For us, it means I add in fruit and veggies. I never really plan out meals, I just know that my boys will be having yogurt and fruit for breakfast this month. Now there’s some variation in that…sometimes it’s turned into a smoothie, sometimes it’s just yogurt and a banana, and sometimes the fruit varies but for us, having the simplicity of the same basic breakfast works. Since I don’t really plan breakfasts and lunches I do not have columns for these. I just add the ingredients to the “Items to Buy” section. However, if you plan your breakfasts and lunches, then make specific columns for them like you did with “Dinners”
List Ingredients Per Meal
For example, if you have spaghetti one the list and you have the sauce already then all you need is the pasta. Add each ingredient that you need to the “Items to Buy” section.
Determine Non-meal Items
This includes things like toilet paper, toothpaste, etc.
After you fill out your meal columns and your “Items to Buy” column, you will then need to separate your “Items to Buy” column into the different grocery stores. For example in my photo below, I have “Costco”, “Local Store” and “Vitacost” column.
Note: In this photo, I generalize my meals. For example chicken and rice. In my head, I know it’s not plain chicken and rice. It’s got a recipe but it’s such a basic meal for us that I usually have on hand the ingredients to make a sauce or compliment for the recipe. That is just what I do. The proper way would be to write down each meal individually. Do as your told, not as I do.
Also note that since my grocery list is for a month, I add a section for my “Mid-Month” purchases, such as more produce and dairy.