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:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
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.