Hilary saves time and money on groceries by making just one monthly grocery trip, rather than shopping every week. Here’s her system!
By Hilary, Contributing Writer
I have a confession to make: I am absolutely terrible when it comes to meal planning. I know I should do it. Often I want to. I’ve tried it plenty of times. Yet somehow it’s a practice that hasn’t become one of my habits.
Just because I don’t plan out exact meals on exact days doesn’t mean that I don’t have a system for meals in my home. Nourishing my family with real food is my first priority, and sticking to our grocery budget is essential.
I’ve attempted different ways to keep my house stocked with food:
- I gave up couponing the same time I gave up processed foods. (In my newlywed days I regularly filled my grocery cart with boxes and boxes of cheap, double-couponed processed meals. It might have been good for our meager budget, but it was terrible for our health.)
- I tried menu planning and shopping each week for ingredients. This approach ended up being the priciest grocery experience for me. I made stops at a couple stores and was spending the most money and time grocery shopping – especially when I always seemed to accidentally forget one or two key ingredients and needed to make another trip to the store. Two or three trips to the grocery store in one week was just too much.
- Buying in bulk never has been a viable option for my family because of a lack of space. After living in a couple apartments and houses with little storage space, I simply don’t have room to store massive quantities of food – even if I could buy it at a fraction of the typical cost. Plus, I’ve never lived close to wholesale stores and making a special trip never crosses my radar.
A few years ago I noticed I was shopping a particular way – and I liked it. It saved me both time and money.
Image by ronnieb
My stores of choice
First I realized that I had a few favorite discount grocery stores.
One is a scratch-and-dent store that sells a wide variety of food at amazingly low prices. (For example, my family’s pasta dinner last night was made with 30 ounces of fresh ricotta cheese that I bought for $1.69.) Some of the containers may not look so great, and some of the food is close to expiration, so I do have to be careful in my shopping. But most of the food is excellent. I just never know what will be at the store.
The other discount store is a grocery store with a large variety of products and more affordable prices than a typical grocery store. It’s not quite as affordable as Aldi, but close.
I buy all of our fresh fruits and vegetables for a fraction of the typical cost at a local, year-round produce market. Usually I can buy two bulging-full bags of fresh fruit and veggies for $10. It may not be organic, but it’s fresh.
And every few months, my family buys meat from a local butcher. (Yay for reasonable prices on local, grass-fed beef!)
Image by kconnors
My shopping method
Once I decided to stick to my four favorite stores, I plan my shopping trips strategically. I always start with a trip to the scratch-and-dent store. The butcher shop is a block away, so I bundle those trips together when needed.
The other discount store and produce market are in a different town, but very close to each other, so I group those trips together, too.
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About once a month I make my trip to the scratch-and-dent store and buy all the staples we need, but keep my eyes peeled for good deals. I never know what I may find, and I’ve learned to grab the bargains when I spy them. I may score some amazingly cheap meat or dairy products or who knows what.
Once I’ve filled my cart, I know I’m ready to head to the other discount store – either in the same day, if I’m feeling energetic, or the next day. I buy whatever I couldn’t find at the scratch-and-dent store. And then, finally, I buy fresh produce at the market.
Image by Alvimann
The rest of the month
Typically, what I buy on this kind of a shopping trip lasts my family for a month – maybe even a little longer. When mealtime rolls around, I have a good selection of frozen meats; pantry staples like rice, pasta, and beans; spices; plenty of frozen veggies; and fresh cheeses and eggs for a wide variety of choices. (Even though I don’t have a set menu, a monthly shopping trip would work for meal planners — as long as your menu was planned a month in advance.)
Every couple weeks my husband or I run into the discount store to buy more milk, cheese and fresh produce. But these trips for fresh food are super fast … and pretty cheap. As for regular grocery stores? I might step foot in one every several months.
I’m much happier when I don’t have to set aside time for grocery shopping each and every week – I spend less money than when I made my weekly trips, and my cupboards seem to stay fuller longer.
Image by DodgertonSkillhause
Get more encouragement and tips for saving money on real food in these posts!