So, I went out to do grocery shopping last night - the night before we were supposed to get more snow. Yes, ok, that was a little odd, but WE didn't *need* bread, milk, eggs, toilet paper, *WE* needed the monthly supply of groceries.
Yes, I said "monthly supply" as in, I do one major shopping trip a month, and fill in with swing by stops when we are running out of milk. While I actually like grocery shopping (especially if I can go by myself and actually take my time), I have figured out that shopping once a week, or even every 2 weeks, still makes the groceries a larger par of our budget than they need to be.
At one point, we were spending well over $1000 EVERY month in groceries, and a lot of that was ending up in the trash because nobody wanted to eat leftovers or else we forgot what exactly was in each storage container. So, I started meal planning. I wasn't exactly new at this...back when hubby and I were living in NY with our newborn son (2000) we were living of less money, but still had a mortgage and a car payment to worry about, not to mention the bills for the utilities, medical expenses, etc. How to cut costs....lowest cable service we could get and actually have more than 3 channels, lowest phone service that still gave us long distance since we had no family living nearby, and planning every single meal possible!!!
So, flash forward and we now have 2 children, both in elementary school, I'm still at home taking care of the family and running a small business that really feeds my creative needs. Hubby is still making more money, but as anyone with kids knows....as children get older, they seem to get more expensive as well. Now, besides the mortgage, a car payment, bills for utilities, etc. we also have expenses for each child to have one outside-of-school-activity. Cut down on gas by having them take lessons at the same place (one does boxing and one does karate). Oh, and because we took a rather long break from being conscientious about our spending and the current house needed some serious repairs, we also have a home equity loan hanging over our heads.
It's now 2010 and I have been back to meal planning for about a year now. I am really only planning our dinners, but the cost in expense is astounding! On this most recent trip, I went to 2 stores (the 2 that had the most on my list for the best prices) and completely forgot to take my coupons (whoops!). After the 2 stores, my total for the groceries was $266 - and that's for a family of 4 with 2 cats and a dog!!!! Yes, I still need to pick up some seafood items, but they are at a different store and at 9pm, I was pretty much tired of the people who were freaking out over the storm and acting like morons to everyone else that was shopping, so I came home.
Since the last store is close to the elementary school, I will head there Monday morning and pick up the last few items (including cat food, which means that this weekend, the cats get dry food)...I still don't see going over $300.
Now, the title is because people (friends and family) can't seem to figure out HOW I do this and seem to think I'm rather odd because I do my shopping this way.....am I *really* that strange for wanting to save the family money AND have a good variety of healthy meals??? I don't think so.
How do I do this?? That's the question that *everyone* (and yes, that means family I haven't seen in years as well as friends that I see regularly) keeps asking me. In reality, the first month is the hardest, and each successive month gets easier and easier.
First month of meal planning: TAKE INVENTORY!!!! Of your freezer, your pantry, and your cabinets. Since hubby is totally on board with me shopping like this, our anniversary present to each other was a deep freezer, which is housed in the garage. Now, I know some of you can't do this, but there's a great book available (I bought a copy from amazon.com after I had marked so many pages in the library copy that I wanted....it ended up being cheaper to just buy my own copy. The book is called "Don't worry, dinner's in the freezer" and is by Jill Bond). I say this is the hardest month because of the time you have to put into it. In order to save money, you NEED to know what you already have....and don't be too upset if you find that you have 3 bottles of vegetable oil, 1 of olive oil, or multiples of other items.
Ok, once you have your inventory, it's time to start your shopping list. ALWAYS make your shopping list before you make your meal plans!! Make a note of what is on sale at the grocery store(s) from the Sunday circulars. I usually have a couple of notebook pages: meat, seafood, produce, frozen, misc. and write what is on sale with a notation for which store (M for Martin's, K for Kroger, etc.). That is your main shopping list because that will save you the most money. If you meal plan BEFORE you shop the circulars, you will always spend more money - pork roast isn't on sale this week, but you already planned a meal for it....can increase your total bill significantly.
Ok, so now you have your main list and you know what you already have on hand. In my family, eggs are the big thing these days. My son had a severe egg allergy for years and only recently tested negative, so eggs are always here: omlettes, pancakes, cookies, etc.....they all require eggs. Buy eggs in the 1.5 dozen packs and you don't have to add them to every single list....or whatever your family goes through on a regular basis.
Next step is actually planning the meals. As I said, I only do this for dinners and I use our family schedule to dictate the complexity of the meal and the cooking time. There are 2 nights that we know will be late dinner nights (we typically eat around 5 or 530, late nights mean dinner is at 6 or a little later). You want to have a good variety of foods or else you and your family will get bored, so try to buy red meat, poultry, seafood, pork, even do some vegetarian meals. Oh, and do NOT throw out your leftovers!!
More in the next post..............