Sunday, January 19, 2014

How Monthly Grocery Shopping is Changing Our Lives

I wrote a post recently about how for awhile now we've been embracing weekly menu planning and grocery shopping, and how it's really made things easier for us (read all about it here). While it was a great idea, I still found that meal planning and shopping every Sunday was eating up a lot of our day, and we would buy a lot of items we didn't need just because they were on sale that week. And for newlyweds and new homeowners on a budget, that wasn't a good idea.

I remembered something I had seen online before about living on a budget, and how going shopping only once a month helped a lot. At the time I thought these women were crazy, but I was finally beginning to see the light...

But how in the world did I manage to plan for, and shop for, all our groceries for the entire month? It was a challenge, but here's how I was able to do it:

1. Make a list (or print out a calendar) of every day of that month to write meals on. This way there's no memory required! It's nice if life is hectic enough without trying to remember 30 ish meals and what order you want to eat them in.

2. Plan to Repeat Some Meals. When planning your meals, be sure to choose some your family could stand having more than once that month. I generally like to have 2-3 meals per week that'll repeat throughout the month (that's 4-6 recipes total), and space them out as evenly as I can. This makes planning (and buying) much more simple than if every meal was different!

3. Utilize make-ahead (freezer) meals. If you know a certain night of the week is always busy, it's a great idea to plan to have meals ready that you can just pop into the oven or crock pot with little to no prep (I'll post some of my favorites soon!).

4. Know Your Numbers. I can't emphasize how important it is to know what prices are good and bad before going to the store. For most products it's best to know the price per ounce, or for meat the price per pound. That way you'll know if you're getting a good deal or if you should wait on the item.

*A perfect example: We shop at Costco and Meijer. At Costco, a lot of their prices are great. Their chicken was priced when we went at $2.59/lb. However, the Meijer sale price of chicken is only $1.99/lb. For a month's worth of chicken, that's almost a $10 savings! Luckily I knew that ahead of time, or I would have bought the chicken at the higher price without blinking an eye.

5. Set Aside a Whole Day for Shopping and Prepping. Make sure the kitchen is cleared out and cleaned, have a good breakfast, and wear some comfy clothes, because you'll be cooking and prepping a lot of the day! Shopping normally takes us a few hours, and cooking takes most of the evening. Make sure to have some great music or an audiobook on hand to entertain you as you go.

6. Gather your Recipes Ahead of Time. I made the mistake of not keeping my recipes organized, and wasted a lot of time in the past looking for them whenever I went to cook. Print them all out, or have a note on your computer with all the links and what they are, and you'll have a much smoother time.

7. Find Recipes with Common Ingredients. The more meals you have that use the same ingredients (spices, sauces, veggies, meats, etc), the easier it will be to buy in bulk and get the most out of your dollar. For example, if you have a recipe that requires whole milk, try finding a second recipe that will use the rest of the milk so it doesn't go to waste.

8. Set a Budget and Stick to it...with Cash. To stick to a budget, it really works to have that dollar  amount in your wallet in the form of cash. Once it's gone it's gone, so you'll be more aware of how much you're spending. It really helps curb impulse spending!

Note: While we did buy many of our groceries in one day, we did set aside some money for things we knew we would need to restock on throughout the month, such as some veggies, milk, eggs, and lunch meat.

And the conclusion...was it worth it? Will we be trying this again?

Heck Yes!

One day of shopping and cooking at the beginning of the month, and now we have a relatively easy month. No need to plan each weekend or worry about sales or going to the store in horrible winter weather, and hubby and I get some great meals without having gone overboard on our spending. It really has been a wonderful decision, and I'm sure we'll be tweaking it in the coming months to make it an even better one!

So what do you think? Is monthly grocery shopping and planning for you? Give it a try, or post your experiences. I'd love to hear all about it!

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