This is an article I wrote back in 2000. It’s kind of interesting to read it and see what has changed, but most hasn’t. We were a family of six in 2000, with my youngest son being less than a year old. Now there are only four of us, and he’s 10½! Smaller changes are the we don’t eat the same thing for breakfast or lunch every day anymore, and I avoid buying pre-made anything (if I can’t pronounce an ingredient, I don’t want to serve it to my family).
A lot of it still holds true, though, so I thought I’d post it.
Grocery shopping on a budget
Mar 08 ’00
I can usually buy two weeks of groceries for my family for $80-90 a week. A friend asked me how I do it.
Making a Menu Plan
First off, I sit down and make a list. I start with a menu for the next two weeks. It’s very key to me to try to go shopping as infrequently as possible, since I’m very susceptible to impulse buying. So I do two weeks at a time (shop once per payday). I make my menu plan by thinking about what sounds good, asking the kids what they want to eat (Doodle *always* says “Chicken nuggets!”), and looking over a list I keep of simple/quick/cheap meals. I also look at the store sale flyer if I have one, so I can take advantage of store specials. I could buy stuff to make everything from scratch and in theory save more money, but I’ll end up not cooking and buying fast food, which with a family of 6 is NOT cheap at all. I usually only do this for dinners, as we have basically the same thing for breakfast and lunch each day (cereal and milk for breakfast, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit and chips for lunch).
Making a Grocery List
After making a menu plan, I make my grocery list. I group everything according to location in the store. I go through the menu and list everything I need to make the meals. I do this relatively quickly and not too neatly, as it’s really a rough draft of my grocery list. Then I go through the cupboards and cross out anything on my grocery list that I already have, and add staples that I need, as well as breakfast and lunch items. Once I’ve done this, I make my “final copy” grocery list. I again keep things grouped according to store location, and include a copy of the menu on the list, so that if the store is out of an item I can remove all the associated foods from my cart, too.
I make sure I don’t go to the store hungry, and I make sure I’m not rushed. I don’t bring the kids. I do bring my list and a pen of a different color to mark off items as I put them in my cart. I have to do this, because if I forget, say, tomato sauce, when I go back later in the week to buy tomato sauce, I’ll also buy a magazine, a bag of cookies, a baby toy and a hair brush. I said I was susceptible to impulse buying! <g>
While at the store, if I see a great buy on something I use a lot, I’ll stock up if the money’s there. Part of this is being aware what really is and what isn’t a good deal. I have an extra fridge on my enclosed porch, so now I can stock up on cold and frozen food, too, which helps a lot.
I used to estimate each item’s cost and get a total estimate before leaving for the store. I still do this sometimes when I’m really on a tight budget. Then while shopping, I’ll keep two boxes on the list, one for “less than estimated” and one for “more than estimated” – so I can keep track of how close to estimated I am. If I get way over, I’ll cut back further. If I’m way under, I can allow myself a treat or buy a little more of some staple.
I do buy store brand for some items, but not for others. You just basically have to experiment and see what works for you. I hate generic dish detergent, but I buy a store brand laundry detergent that is $2.50 for a big bottle, and it gets our clothes clean with no fragrances (which is very important to me – laundry fragrances make me ill). I buy store brand medicines a lot, after comparing ingredients. I won’t buy store brand toilet paper. I’ll buy store brand canned veggies for a casserole, and use name brand for serving as a side dish.
I’ll stop at Walmart and Sam’s Club to see what they’ve got before going to the grocery store. A lot of times Walmart’s little food area has a lot of the canned food I want for about half the price of what they have at the grocery store. The bulk sizes at Sam’s Club are fine for my family, so I don’t have a problem buying there, but if your family is smaller, you might end up wasting more than you use. Walmart usually has much better prices on non-food items such as dish soap, toilet paper, etc. than the grocery stores.
I have friends who shop at several different grocery stores to hit all the sales, and that seems to work for them, but for me it doesn’t pay for my time. When I’ve tried that, I’ve usually spent an extra couple of hours to save a couple of bucks.
If I’m careful and don’t impulse-buy, I can grocery shop for my family of 6 for $80-90 a paycheck (2 weeks). We eat well, and don’t feel deprived, and I’d rather spend the money I save on other fun stuff.