January 24, 2012

Sharing the Wealth: Getting control of grocery shopping

One significant change we have made is the difference to our grocery budget. I have always done my best to keep my grocery bill to a minimum, mostly by always trying to avoid buying unnecessary items and sticking to the store brand. And compared to many people, this is a decent effort. But, what I have learned in the past several months is that I can do much better than that! To demonstrate this, let me walk you through the ridiculousness that goes into planning my weekly menu and grocery list.

The Menu
Speaking of the menu, I think this is actually the key to my budget cutting success. I firmly believe that, if you do nothing else to lower your grocery budget, this is the one thing to do that can make a significant difference. Currently, we only menu plan for dinners. However, once I am staying at home, it is the plan that I will plan out lunches and breakfasts since we will be providing all of the meals.

First, planning your menu will help you avoid buying unnecessary items. Rather than looking in your cupboard and refrigerator to see what you are out of, you can figure out what you are actually going to need for the week. Yes, you are out of ground beef, but if you aren't planning to use ground beef in the next week, why buy more and risk it going bad? Instead, you can focus on just buying what you need.

Also, it will make it more likely that you will eat at home. If you have a plan for what you are going to eat every night and you know that what you need to make it is waiting for you at home, you will be much more likely to actually go home a make it. Just eating at home for most meals make a HUGE difference to a grocery budget.

The free grocery store- your cupboards
One thing I have learned that really helps in meal planning is attempting to make as many meals as possible based on what you already have. For example, when planning my last menu, I knew we already had chicken and noodles, ham and cheese pockets, lots of ham, chicken and pork chops that I got on sale awhile back, sloppy joes and pizza crust in the freezer. I also had sweet potatoes, rice, shredded cheese and eggs. Right there, I was able to put together all but about four meals (out of the 2 1/2 weeks that I was planning). Because I already had these items that I had purchased on sale (see below) or made in a previous week (watch for a future posting), I had the majority of my grocery list "bought" from my own kitchen without taking anything out of my grocery budget for the week.

The Buy Ahead Principle
Now, as much as I wish it were the case, those items wouldn't be in my cupboards and freezer if I didn't buy them in the first place. This leads me to the next step of my grocery list making- stocking up. This is all about using the Buy Ahead Principle (I am pretty sure I stole this term from www.moneysavingmom.com. You should really check out this link for a much better explanation than I can provide).

In simple terms, this means that I attempt to stock up enough when there is a good sale that I won't have to buy them again until the next sale. In a nutshell, I just don't ever pay full price if it can be avoided! To do this, I have "Buy at" prices. For example, I don't pay more that $1 a box for cereal. So, when I am able, between sales and coupons, to buy cereal for $1 or less, I buy as many as I can (based on store limits, the number of coupons I have, and the amount I can afford out of our budget). The goal is that we won't need cereal again until another deal is going on that allows me to stock up again.

Just to be clear, Buying ahead doesn't always involve coupons. This is especially true with meat and dairy. While I rarely have coupons for these items, I always buy ahead when there is a good sale. With meat especially, I rarely buy cuts of meat unless it is on clearance. Stores will clearance meat cuts a day or two before their expiration dates. When I find these deals, I buy as much as I can on my budget and stick them in the freezer. By doing this, I have a freezer full of porkchops that I paid a little over a $1 a pound for.

Planning produce purchases based on the weekly ads
As I said before, when something goes on sale, I typically buy enough to hold me to the next sale. However, when it comes to things like produce, this really isn't possible. Most produce doesn't really last much over a week, making stocking up something that doesn't work (unless it is something that I can freeze). To get around this problem, I plan what produce I am going to buy around the weekly ads. To sum it up- if it isn't a good deal that week we won't be buying that fruit or veggie.

Every week, I look at the ads, particularly from Aldi since their prices are so much lower (I know some have mixed feelings about produce quality from Aldi, but I generally find them to be just as good as other grocery stores) and determine what we are going to purchase based on this ad. This will not only determine which fruits and veggies we will have on hand for snacking that week, but it also may decide a meal or two. For example, Shaun generally knows that broccoli on sale when we have steak put away in the freezer means he will get his much loved meal of Beef and Broccoli.

Speaking of my favorite store in the world
Okay, so Aldi might not be my favorite store in the world, but it is up there. I love Aldi. Even though I can find some items for cheaper using coupons, Aldi is awesome for milk, ground turkey, produce and other items that tend to not go on awesome sales. I save a ton on my grocery list with this stop which makes it well worth my time.

The finished product
When it is all said and done, these are the items that get added to my grocery list:

1. The "staples".
     These are the small number of items that will be added to my list whether or not there is a good sale- milk, yogurt, frequently used spices that have run out, etc. These are the items that your family must not be without that generally don't go on sale and/or don't have a very long shelf life. Though I may try to stock up on these items when there is a sale, I know these are going to be on the grocery list regardless of any deals available because I consider them to be worth the purchase.

2. Stock up items
      With my weekly store ads, coupons, and favorite money saving blogs handy (see my list below), I come up with items that I need to stock up on for the week. So, if paper towels, dish soap, canned soup, and cheese are what is on an awesome sale that week, that will be what will fill up my cart that week!

3. The produce
      It is super important to me that we always have fresh fruits and veggies available in the house, so I am always very concerned about how to get the best deal on these. They are a MUST on our grocery list and the part that I am most willing to pay a little more for.

For an example, here is what the grocery list looked like last week (staples are green, stock up is blue, and produce is purple. The few items left were random items I needed for recipes.):

Aldi                                          Dillons                                               Hyvee
Vanilla extract                           Softsoap hand soap                          4 bags chicken 
Salt                                           3 Pasta                                             Sour cream
Pineapple                                  2 Aussie Shampoo                            5 boxes kleenex
Apples                                      2 Tide                                               
Garlic croutons                          Pop Secret (free)
Dried beans                               Powerade (free)
Tomato Paste                            Skinny cow candy bar (free)
Graham crackers
Granola bars
5 rolls ground turkey

So, as you can see, we end up with quite a random list. And although I bought a lot of  chicken none of the it is being used in meals this week (I am still using up what I have in the freezer from the last sale).

The cliffhanger
Now, it was my original intention to explain the details of how I use my coupons and how I choose meals that are easier on the budget. However, since this has turned into quite a lengthy post, I have decided to put these off until another post so that I can give them a fair amount of time. Sorry! :)

But, here are my fave money saving blogs:


  1. I'm very impressed with your organization and motivation! I'm finding it really hard to keep up the motivation to keep couponing enough to make a significant difference. We've also (mostly) stopped eating processed foods, which are the majority of available coupons. I know I could still save some with coupons for things like dairy products and rarely for produce, but my motivation just isn't there. So again, I'm very impressed!

    1. We are also eating very little processed foods. I cook most of our meals from scratch. I get the most out of coupons with non food items. For example, on this last shopping trip, all but the pasta at Dillons and the Kleenex at Hyvee were all bought with coupons. I rely heavily on stocking up at sales and Aldi for our food.

    2. That's why I'm even more impressed that you still make it work (really really well) at the point where I just get frustrated and don't want to do it anymore.

  2. Brandy- Im loving all your recent posts!! I KNOW I need to put forth more of an effort to cut down our grocery bill(you dont even want to know)... with your help, I think its possible so THANK YOU!!

    I really appreciate all your advice and think its amazing what you and shaun have done for you to stay at home. APPLAUSE to you both!!!

    1. That is so sweet Amber! I am so happy to hear that my posts are helping. I am by no means and expert, but I felt like I have learned so much that I wish I would have known a long time ago and wanted to share!

  3. This is great! It helps me out some more. You are really driven. :-) we had to really work on our grocery budget. You would come to TN and hit me if you knew how much I spent on food a week a year ago! Lol. I spend about half now. There are two things I had to keep on my grocery list though : almond or coconut milk (whichever is on sale ) and organic eggs (which are always on sale). I rarely buy meat, but when I do I buy the cheapest organic or lean meat I can find. I need to learn your couponing ways. Lol. I hate spending more time in the grocery store than I have too, so that has been a struggle. I'm curious to know your weekly budget for food. :-) ours is usually about $60-70 per week.I'm loving the blog! :-)

    1. I'm glad it is helping! $60-$70 a week is a really good budget, I think, considering that you eat a lot of organic! My grocery budget is $100 a week, which includes household expenses (cleaning supplies, hygiene items, paper products, diapers, and all our food- pretty much anything you can you buy in the grocery store I qualify as "grocery")