Budget Life // Monthly Grocery Shopping

>> Monday, February 6, 2017

I shared over the weekend that I did my very first monthly grocery shopping trip. Phew. It took me two hours total -- which included driving from place to place -- so, it was definitely time-consuming. In the end, I think I really like this approach. I am going to need to see how it pans out for our meals this month (and for time savings overall). But this is the fun in sharing along the way.

Today I wanted to just cover some of the planning I did. I think I'll also do a video about the foods and meals we're making, but today I have a pretty bad cold. Nobody wants to watch me talk, sneeze, and sniffle, I assure you.

Money matters:

For those of you who are really interested, I have budgeted $500 a month for food total. I'd like to cut this lower, maybe to $400, but I thought I'd first see how it goes. The $350 goes to the month shop. And the remaining $150 is split up into $35 per week (this is on average throughout the year) for things that spoil.

Step zero: Clean your pantry and refrigerator.

I took out all the spoiled and expired foods and tossed, recycled what needed to go. I also spent a great deal of time organizing my pantry to see what foods we DID already have to put toward meal planning this month. Taking stock like this will help you avoid over-buying and purchasing duplicates.

Here's my current food situation after the shop. I hope to do a quick post on how I organized my pantry by spending a mere $9 at the Dollar Store. (And, no. This isn't looking good for our less waste goal.)

Step one: Plan meals. Loosely.

And I really mean loosely. February has just 28 days in the month. So, I wrote out a menu that would give us breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for four straight weeks. I kept the recipes familiar for this first month. Things that we normally cook and enjoy, where I know the ingredients almost by heart. Some meals are on repeat during the week or month. Others are more free flowing.

I plan to share more about my meal-planning approach when I do my video!

Oh, and I uncovered this older post where I go through and share my favorite 18 vegetarian pantry essentials at Aldi. It's definitely worth reading if you're new to the store or just want to know some of the items I like to buy most every time I shop there.

Step two: Write down all the food you need. 

And it can be dizzying. I discovered that we may actually eat close to 96 eggs a month! That's insane to me (Stephen eats 12 per week, I do about 8 and Ada does about 4)! 60 slices of bread. 8 cups of mozzarella. I mean, it's really just tallying up everything that goes into your recipes and snack and making a gigantic list.

I then organized my list (after this one) by store and by section. It just helped me go through the aisles faster.

(BTW: I mean bucatini noodles down there!)

Step three: Price it out.

Now, here's where I failed this month -- but it wasn't totally my fault. I intend to shop at several different stores to get the best prices on my food. I do know that some of the stuff we like is only at Wegmans. And with some of the family pack foods, they have good prices on larger quantities of things like frozen fruit. Wegmans has a handy app where I had planned to price out my food ahead of time, but for whatever reason, it wasn't working the day I needed to use it.

Alright, but what do you do for stores that don't offer an app? Take scrupulous notes.

I jotted down some prices at Aldi during my shopping trip so I can consult them before next month's trip. It's going to be a lot of trial and error. But the important thing with pricing out stuff ahead of time is so it jibes with the cash system. I don't want to get to the register and suddenly realize I don't have enough money and -- gasp -- have to use my card.

Step four: Go to the store prepared.

One of my Instagram followers promptly pointed out that I didn't bring enough reusable grocery bags on my trip. My bad. Yes. In the very days after posting our desire to be a less wasteful family, I brought home a bunch of plastic grocery bags.

The thing is, I didn't plan ahead. I've never done monthly shopping, though, so I can't be too hard on myself. Now that I do think I enjoy this process, I hopped on to Amazon and picked up this set of mesh grocery bags and some more bulk produce bags to take on my trips. Stephen also accidentally ran over my favorite folding market basket in the garage. So I may need to get another one of those.

Lesson learned.

Step five: Dive in!

I just went for it. I was kind of nervous about how this whole shopping once a month would go. I don't feel like I did my planning perfectly. I worried maybe I wouldn't get enough food. Or maybe I'd buy too much. But I ultimately decided that this was my first time. I was bound to have some successes and some failures. If I didn't try, though, I'd be annoyed.

Also: If you can, try to do this shopping trip alone. I asked Stephen to watch the kids because I wanted to concentrate and get things right. I think if I was wearing Eloise or having to tend to Ada, I may have gotten off track. Our Wegmans has a great kids space with free babysitting I may use in the future if Eloise is napping and Ada wants to come along for some of the ride.

Final notes:

I spent a grand total of $298 of my $350 monthly food budget this weekend. And actually $20 of this was on food for our Weekend Fund, so I still have just about $70 left of the monthly budget along with all of the $150 for the weekly stuff I divide up. I hope to not spend all of this and maybe pitch more to paying off our debt.

I'll be back with more thoughts and a video about the shopping experience -- as well as my review of the new cash envelope system I purchased on Etsy.

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