Budgeting Groceries Part 2 – Shop Less Spend Less

This is part 2 in a series on budgeting groceries, part 1 covered the truth about extreme couponing.

With food costs going up the way they are, I had to do a little revamping this year as I was budgeting groceries. As you may have read in my previous post, I have been doing a little couponing over the years and that has helped a little. What really made a big difference, oddly enough, was when I decided to only go shopping every two weeks. I was astonished at how much I saved, because initially I only did it to save on the rising fuel prices. I live in a very small town with no gas station, store, or anything, and my grocery store is 15 miles away. So I decided I would figure out a way to buy enough groceries to last for two weeks, and only shop on the weekends when my husband’s commuter car was available (as opposed to my gas-hog truck).

Surprisingly enough, it started to really make a dent in the food cost itself, not just gas. Where before I was spending roughly $100/week, I am now spending between $135-$150 every two weeks. It turned out that when I was shopping more, I’d buy some things more frequently which would then go to waste (or into the compost, or chicken coop) but when I’d buy food once every 2 weeks, I tended to budget it a little better. Not only that, but I think we all tend to pick up little extras here and there when we go to the store, right? Shopping less simply gives you less opportunity to do that. The other bonus is that it kinda forces you to plan your meals out better, which in itself tends to save a lot of money.

Want To Shop Less? Hold On Just a Minute!

There’s a little bit of a process involved in reducing your shopping. Now, if you shop several times a week right now, you may be able to cut it back fairly easily, but if you go from once a week to once every 2 weeks, then there’s a little bit of an adjustment. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Keep Track of the Basics. You first need to watch your consumption to determine which things are your basics. You may already have a pretty good idea of it, but track it anyway – the first couple times I did this, we ran short of milk and some other basics and we stuck to our plan of not shopping more, which made it a little unpleasant. So watch and see how much you go through of those items you buy every week.
  2. Make a Meal List. Before I made the transition, I took a notebook and wrote down all of the meals I could think of that I make on a regular basis. Included in this was what we like to have for breakfast and lunch as well, though I tend to be more repetitive with those than I do with dinners. Once you get a decent sized list going, simply choose enough meals for two weeks. In our case, I usually choose about 10-12 dinners, and the same standard things for breakfasts and lunches. We do eat leftovers and so I try to accommodate those as well so we don’t end up overbuying. I keep a running list, and as I experiment and think of new things, I just add it to the list whether it’s something I make frequently or not. If you don’t know where to start, try looking online at food blogs. I get tons of inspiration for new meals and things I want to try from reading food blogs.
    Tip: I am really nerdy and coded all of my meals for the ones that are healthier, the ones that are cheaper, quick meals, and the ones that are a bit more indulgent. This helps me in making sure I have a variety of different types of meals and not 7 days of casseroles, you know what I mean?
  3. Make a Shopping List. So you have your list of meals for the next couple weeks. Go through the list item by item and make note of anything you might need for that meal but don’t already have. I like to capitalize on “like items.” For instance, we like Mexican food so I might plan on making enchiladas, tacos and burritos all in the same shopping trip. This helps save even more because a lot of the ingredients are the same, and you can often recycle leftovers into yet another similar meal (like leftover taco meat and toppings into burritos or enchiladas). Or make a rice & vegetable stir-fry one night, make a bunch of extra rice, and two days later you can use that rice to make homemade fried rice. Naturally you also want to include all of the other things in your list like the milk, juice, fruit, and any other snacks or non-meal related items that you use every week as well.
  4. Budget Your Food. Once you buy all this food, there can be a temptation to just really chow down that first day. So if you find yourself in that trap, and then running short at the end of the “food period,” just revamp a little in what you shop. You can either buy more of that item or consume less. In our house, I tend to lean towards consuming less, since we probably eat more than we need to anyways. We’ve set rules for certain things, mostly pertaining to our kids, which limit the amount of milk, juice, and healthy snacks they can have. You’d be surprised how much this can save – I have a daughter who loves milk so much she could literally drink two or more gallons a week all by herself if I let her. Milk is great, but not in excess – so the kids are limited to one cup a day and they know that it’s all they will get.

Tips For Perishables

When I first started doing this I was a little concerned about the perishable foods I was buying – dairy and produce tend to be the biggest portion of budgeting groceries in our household and those don’t always last as long as the 2-week period. We’ve just learned which can last and which don’t, so here’s a few things I keep in mind:

  • I buy the freshest milk available and I’ve found that it lasts several weeks with no problem.
  • There are some produce items that simply won’t last that long – but I just try to use those up first. Right now it’s strawberry season, so I buy strawberries along with the other fruits but the strawberries get eaten first because they don’t last as long as apples or oranges.
  • When I buy bananas, I try to find the greenest ones I can as well as ripe ones – I store all the fruit in a cool place outside and so by the time we’ve eaten the ripe bananas, the green ones are just getting ready.
  • Using a mini fridge – 2 weeks worth of milk for us is about 4-5 gallons, and that takes up too much room in our fridge. I have a little mini-fridge that I put all the excess dairy in (milk, yogurt and extra half ‘n half for coffee) and so they take up less space in the main fridge, while staying even colder because the mini fridge is not opened very much.

I know this all might sound weird. I didn’t really think I had much food waste before I started doing this, but it really did make a big difference. Shopping once every two weeks and using the other tips listed above has made the biggest impact on our budget. Give it a try and see what happens! At the very least, you’ll cut your gas use significantly.

I have done a few other things that have made a difference, as well. Mainly, buying local, and buying basics like wheat, oats, beans, sugar, flour, etc. in bulk. Buying basics in bulk makes a huge difference and the bonus is you’ll always have food on hand in case of emergencies. (Visit the Marketplace page to find staples you can purchase in bulk.)

With food prices rising alongside gas prices, we all need to be more vigilant about budgeting groceries. I don’t think I’ve talked to anyone who didn’t want to reduce their spending, and this is another great way to cut back.

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Bethany is a stay-home mom of two (with one on the way!) who lives in the shadow of Mt Rainier, WA. She operates a personal blog at Uncle Dutch Farms and likes to write lengthy reviews on her favorite kitchen tools at The Homesteader Kitchen. She loves to write, garden, spend time in the kitchen (except for the doing dishes part), and thinks that all little girls should be able to ride around in a tractor.

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Comments

  1. This is a GREAT article. I have similarly been planning out my shopping trips for a while now and have saved a ton. I too didn’t do it initially to save on groceries, I started doing it because I detest grocery shopping, but the savings is a welcomed side effect, as is having a menu ready of dinner ideas so I don’t have to sit and wonder what to make for dinner all afternoon! Thanks for laying the process out so easily, Bethany, you added a few pointers I hadn’t thought of too!

  2. Oh Heather thank you for your kind words! Sounds like we are kindred spirits – I detest shopping of any sort, I always have. The menu is really especially great – I don’t really break it all down myself I just make my meal list on a little slip of paper and then when I’m done making the shopping list I put the meal list on the fridge with a magnet – that way I can look through the list each day and decide what I want to make. It’s made a big difference and is especially helpful now that I’m pregnant and constantly exhausted.

    I just wish I had a neighbor with a milk cow so I could get away with going only once a month… lol

  3. Hi there. Thanks for the great article. I love getting all DIY emails! I also make one large shopping trip every two weeks but find I still have to go for a few things in between. This inspires me to try and plan better! Since you prefer to eat healthy, I would love for you to share where you are getting your favorite “healthy” recipes and/or share some with us sometime!

    Also, for those that do not have a mini fridge, you might be interested in knowing that you can freeze milk and yogurt too. I called Stoneyfield and asked them about it b/c we have a large freezer but not an extra fridge.

    Thanks again for the great tips. Teresa

    • Hi Teresa,

      Sounds like you are already mostly there! Thanks for the tip on freezing milk – I did forget to mention that, though someone had told me that years ago.

      As far as shopping I think in my situation it makes it easy because I know how much it costs me in gas to go to the store – it isn’t cheap! So, if I run out of milk, I can’t usually bring myself to pay $6 extra for a gallon of milk, you know what I mean? I’m way too cheap for that. So we just do without. I think a few weeks at the beginning of doing this, dealing with shortages and having to be very creative got me to a place where I’m pretty good at predicting what we’ll need. I will also sometimes buy extra just to give us a buffer, things that will last a while like yogurt or something. So maybe you just need to make a decision and stick with it and tell yourself you will NOT go to the store and kind of force yourself to be creative. It teaches you pretty quick!

      As far as my healthy eating, I will say that my cooking isn’t what many consider healthy! Here’s my cooking philosophy – all food is good, taken in moderation. I don’t exclude any foods and I don’t focus on any one in particular. What I do focus on is eating it as close to natural and unprocessed as possible. For instance, we do have pizza once a week – but I make it at home and it is wonderful, and healthy made with whole wheat. The way I feed my family does take extra time – I was not able to do it this way when I was working outside the home – but it is worth it if you have the time. It’s a lot cheaper, too!

      So as far as recipes, I will tell you my #1 go-to source is allrecipes.com. I also look a lot online for recipes for things I want to make, although I generally go with allrecipes. I do have some of my recipes posted on my blog at http://www.uncledutchfarms.com, but in general I just try to make nearly everything from scratch. I’m also working towards growing a lot of food myself, though I won’t do much with that until next year.

    • Hi Teresa, Betsy and I are planning to release an ebook sometime this summer that has all our recipes in it! I will also publish several on the blog over the summer. God bless!

  4. Thank you so much for all these ideas. I made my home detergent and home cleaning and i love them. I am going to try the homemade granola because this is the only cereal that I eat. Thank you so much may God bless you all. I still plan to buy the book for more. Good Job Matt!

  5. I bought My DIY book from Amazon, it is amazing . Thank you Matt and Betsy. I used to make only whatever I receive on my e-mail . Now I am ready for everything. It is like everything is already here just make them.

    • Awesome Bernadette, congrats on going against the culture and choosing a more sustainable path – I’m sure you’re already an encouragement to so many in your sphere of influence. God bless and thanks for your support!

  6. I’m a newlywed of one year who is having a bit of trouble learning how to buy groceries for two…on a budget! I’ve always wondered about produce and dairy, and here you have answered that for me! We have less space, so buying in bulk isn’t really an option, but I am going to try your tips of cutting back weekly trips! I live across the street from Target, so for me it’s good to skip that extra visit! I’m adding your blog to my bookmarks and am excited to learn more from you. Thanks!!