I have shopped for groceries in many ways. I have shopped weekly. I have shopped every other week. I have shopped twice a month, and I have shopped once a month. I have also shopped every couple days when we need something.
Over the many years usually my shopping habits change when my income changes. If we only get paid once a month then I do a big shopping trip when I get paid and then just a few little ones to pick up fresh produce, milk, eggs, and bread later in the month when we need them. If we are getting paid every week then I find I shop just for that week until the next payday. If I am getting paid twice a month ..... well you get the idea.
Over the many years I have found that I can save money if I shop sales and stock up. This is the most ideal way to shop for our family. This also requires a nice sized storage area for dry foods as well as a large freezer to stock up on freezer foods. When I have to shop weekly it becomes harder to shop the sales, particularly if the weekly ad for the grocery stores don't coincide with my shopping day. For example the grocery store I shop mostly in runs their sales Wednesday through the following Tuesday. If I am shopping on Wednesday I can't get a flyer until Wednesday making my planning hard.
Recently with our diminished income and extremely tight budget we have found ourselves in need of financial assistance. This is temporary, but necessary for us. We applied and have been receiving assistance from our state in the form of "food stamps". It is a debit card nowadays and easy to use. I was extremely embarrassed about it in the beginning because we had never accepted or applied for assistance in the past even though I am pretty sure we qualified for it. I look at it as an "insurance" that I paid into for years and years through my taxes and now am in need and using it. When we are no longer in need we won't use it any longer. Anyway, this benefit comes once a month. My card gets loaded with our food benefits on the 5th of every month. The first couple months we continued to shop weekly as we had in months before but I found that I wasn't saving as much money that way. I then switched to making a couple bigger trips to the grocery store when they had a sale but I would run out of things we needed later.
Last month I set out to make our benefits stretch as far as I could. March would be a long month so I needed it to go further. I was also getting bored with our regular meals. I wanted to get creative again.
In the days leading up to my big shopping trip I planned out menus for the next three weeks. The kids helped add their favorite dishes to our meal plan. I began making a list of the things we would need to make the meals on the plan. The list became longer and longer. I scanned the ads at two major grocery stores and split my list up between the stores to maximize our savings. I clipped a few coupons, but not many. I am not a coupon clipper as we tend to not eat what the coupons are.
On the day of our big shopping trip I did the unthinkable! I cancelled school for that day. We all went out shopping! Armed with three kids to help with the shopping, lists for three places, and our grocery bags we were off.
The first stop was Sam's Club. I find that they have the best, freshest meats for the most reasonable prices. The hamburger is fresher. The chicken I can get in bulk already frozen, and this time I picked up a pork shoulder. BBQ was on our menu. The pork shoulder came in a "two pack" and was the same price as what I would have spent in the regular grocery store buying only one shoulder. We also bought produce, butter, cheese, and some frozen foods there. A big bag of pancake mix will last us the month as well as a two pack of syrup. Actually a majority of our shopping was done at Sam's Club.
Next stops were at the regular grocery stores buying their sales items, deli meats, and other produce. We eat mainly frozen veggies so we stocked up on those as well.
When the day was all said and done, I had spent nearly all but about $65 of our benefits. Scary. Now to see how long it would all last. With three teenagers in the house all the time eating three meals a day, food can disappear in a flash!
Each day we would look at our menu and choose what we would make for dinner. It was fun making new and different meals. Some we will have again. Others we will wait a while. I also got creative with our leftovers. Our menu was not set in stone. It was more a list of meals that we had all the ingredients for. We crossed off the ones we made and chose from those left of the menu.
Yesterday, I scanned our freezer. I still have half a pork shoulder, three chicken breasts, some chicken patties, and some pork chops left. This will actually make 4 hearty meals with left overs for lunches the next day. I have spaghetti sauce and pasta in the pantry for a meat-free meal and we can always do "breakfast for dinner" (or as we call it in our house, backwards night). This will make 6 more meals.
We did eat out once or twice this month but most all our meals came from this big shopping trip. Throughout the month we ran to the grocery for this or that, mainly eggs, breads, milk, etc. No more big shopping trips though.
A few things I learned this month:
1. While we have always meal planned in the past, making a list of dinners and creating variety has helped us stay excited to eat at home.
2. I am so glad I planned a couple crock pot meals. These are so easy to throw in the crock pot in the morning and not think about it again until dinner.
3. I hit some good sales this month and felt excited that I could stock up on some things for later. (I have 10 cans of chicken stock and beef stock that I grabbed for 29 cents last week!)
4. Getting the meats bought early in the month helped tremendously in my budget. I didn't have to buy them later in the month when we didn't have as much money.
5. We need to budget for more fresh produce as the summer arrives. We love fresh veggies in our house and I will need to work on setting aside more money to buy fresh produce throughout the month.
6. Big box Warehouses like Sam's Club and Costco will save you money if you know what to buy and how to store it before it goes bad. I stick with items I know we will eat within its freshness time. But honestly, rarely anything goes bad in this house!
7. I shopped the sales in the grocery stores and did well. I also held back a bit of money for staples that need replenishing during the month and when a great sale pops up.
For April, I am already compiling a list of meals for our menu and adding items that we have run out of. Next I will go back through the list of meals and add ingredients for those meals to our list. I will then use the weekly flyers from our grocery stores to begin to sort out the list, add sale items and organize our shopping trip. I may not cancel school again, but do the shopping over two days.