A few years ago, we would do a once a month grocery shopping trip. It was great. I would plan out the menu for the entire month and write out the grocery list accordingly. Life happened and we got out of that habit. I am amazed at how our grocery bill has risen since that time. Not only have prices gone up, but I was not as well planned as I needed to be in order to get the best use from our budget.
We are going back to that method of shopping. In part to lower our grocery costs, but also to save me the extra trips to the city. The closest grocery store is 10 miles away and over-priced. Being the only grocery store within 20 miles of their location, the store can pretty much charge whatever they want and people are stuck paying it. The produce quality is the topic of a long running joke. Its quality is what most stores would be weeding out of their displays, yet this store charges full price. We learned quickly to buy only fresh produce if we planned to use it that day. If you wait much longer than the day of purchase and you will run a high risk of the produce spoiling. To get good quality produce, we have to travel about 45 miles or more from home. If we want good deals on the prices we pay for our groceries, we have to go to the larger cities 80 miles from home. Needless to say, making a monthly shopping run is much more cost effective than weekly trips.
The first step in setting the shopping trip up is to write out a menu. Some people like to make a monthly menu but I prefer to write up weekly menus. I plan up to 8 menus for each season (warm and cold weather) which I can choose from. For any given month, I simply pick out 4 weekly menus and put them in the order I want to use them. For your convenience, I have a printable Weekly Menu Planner with the shopping list form for free download.
As I write up each menu, I keep a list of the ingredients needed for each meal. I write each ingredient on a sheet of notebook paper and keep a tally of each item. I don’t record each individual seasoning or spice unless it is a seldom used one that I would need to purchase. Once I have tallied all the ingredients for the menu, I write the grocery list for that week on the weekly menu grocery list form. I keep the menu with its shopping list in a sheet protector in my household binder. Recipes that are in cookbooks are noted on the menu with the cookbook name and page number. Recipe cards for my own recipes are placed in the sheet protectors as well. This keeps it all well-organized for me later on.
When I am ready to plan a monthly menu, I choose 4 of the weekly menus. Each is placed in the order in which I plan to use them. I then write up a monthly grocery list by copying the grocery lists on the back of the weekly menus. I add up how much of each item is needed. This gives me an idea of what bulk size package to buy. For example, instead of buying a couple packs of boneless chicken breasts, I would buy a large bag of frozen boneless chicken breasts and break it down into the amounts needed once I got it home.
Now, you may be wondering how I manage buying bulk packages of meat when we don’t use a freezer. I home can the meat once I get it home. Let’s say I needed 4 meals with chicken. I would buy 2 bags of frozen boneless chicken breasts. From that, I can parboil the bags of chicken until nearly done and slightly pink in the center. I would cut or shred up some of the chicken and pack meal size portions into canning jars. You could also place whole boneless chicken breasts into quart size canning jars. I love to cut up a chicken breast into a canning jar and pour the broth over it. This makes a great soup base. Another idea is to shred some chicken and mix with BBQ sauce before canning.
For ground beef, I have browned it until nearly done before draining and rinsing the meat to remove the fats. I spoon the ground meat into canning jars and fill to about ¾ full. Add sautéed diced bell peppers, onion, and minced garlic for a great meal starter. Often, I will can the meat up plain so that I can use it in any recipe. For beef stew meat, I brown it well, then place into canning jars. You can use broth over the meat or not. It all depends on how you plan to use the meat later.
If you have access to a freezer, you would simply break down your packages of meat into meal size portions, wrap well, and freeze. The main idea is that through purchasing the bulk packages, you save money over the month.
One of the blessings of shopping this way is that we make less trips into the city. Not only is it costly for fuel, but it always ends up being an all-day event. Shopping alone with two young children, especially when one is a special needs child who cannot walk the distance of the store, can be a real challenge. We plan the shopping trips for when my husband is home. We go as a family and load up the back of our vehicle with groceries. By going together, we have plenty of hands to help make the shopping easier. I can push our son in his medical stroller/wheelchair while my husband handles the shopping cart.
The only drawback to our way of shopping is that it requires self-discipline. You can’t go into the pantry and make anything you want, whenever you want it. For example, a package of tortilla chips may look like a fun snack, but if eaten as a snack, you now don’t have any for that Nachos dinner later on.
I always plan out snacks as well as the meals. The kids have learned that they have a free shelf in the pantry. Anything placed on that shelf is for them to eat whenever they need a snack. Items there usually include granola bars, trail mix, popcorn for me to help them pop on the stove, or some type of sweet like a fruit filled breakfast bar or cookies. I buy the large boxes of granola bars from Sam’s Club and then place only a few on their shelf at a time. Trail mix is measured out into snack size baggies. This limits the amount they get out at a time. Like many kids, if given their choice, they would pick their favorite items out of the trail mix and leave the rest. By making up the little bags for them, they are limited. The small packages are great for a grab-n-go snack when we are going on an outing or they are going outdoors to play.
Overall, by using this planning method, we end up saving at least 50% each month off of our grocery costs. I estimate the cost of each week’s menu and we budget accordingly each week. The money is set aside in a bank account until it is time to go shopping.
The hardest month to do this is always the first one. Luckily, I have always been good about keeping a somewhat well-stocked pantry. Even at its worst levels, I have had a month’s supply of food. We may be eating a lot of dried beans and lentils through that month, but we eat well. Once we start buying for the monthly menu, the pantry can begin being built back up again. I simply budget an extra $25 or more a month to be used strictly for building the pantry.
Some food items bought for the monthly menu may carry over into subsequent months. One good example is dry active yeast. I buy it from Sam’s Club for about $4.00 for a twin pack of 1 pound bags. Those 2-pounds of dry active yeast will last the average family about a year if they bake all of their own breads, rolls, pizza crusts, etc. Just a quick note: I did a price comparison 4 years ago of what it would cost for that same volume of yeast if I had bought the little jars or packets from the grocery store. The savings added up to $196 for a year’s supply through buying at Sam’s Club. Other purchases that will likely carry over from one month to another are corn meal, sea salt and seasonings, rice, pasta, and dried beans & lentils.
I hope that this helps to explain the monthly shopping a bit better. It takes a little practice, but the time spent is well worth the effort. Allow your family to get involved. Have each person think of some of their favorite meals and include those on the menus. Maybe have a theme night menu. If you have a night that is especially busy each week, consider always having a crockpot meal that night. One fun tradition we have had is homemade pizza & family game night on Fridays. If you enjoy the once a month cooking style of meals, this shopping method lends itself to that as well.
If you do bulk meal planning and shopping, I would love to read your ideas and thoughts. Feel free to leave a comment. If you have blogged about this topic and how you implement it in your family, share the link in the comments as well.