Plan Your Grocery Shopping for a Month to Save Money

This month I went into ultra-frugal mode. After blowing my eating out budget again, and again, and again, I decided I’ve had enough. It’s time to buckle down, plan a little better, and actually stay within my budget for once. When planning my budget, I found myself faced with a few problems. The first is that our take-home income went down. We’re paying for insurance now, and that’s taken a chunk out of the paycheck.

The second problem is that I’m trying to eat a lot healthier. Specifically, I’m trying to stay away from hormones in milk, eggs, and meat, partially hydrogenated anything, and pesticides. Avoiding these things gets expensive.

Finally, the cost of gas is above $4 a gallon here, so driving all over to find deals isn’t worth it anymore.

My new plan had to take all of these things into account. Here’s what I did.

Menu Plan for a Month

I hashed out a menu plan for breakfasts and dinners for a month. Lunch is always sandwiches, tortilla wraps, or leftovers, so I didn’t have to plan lunch.

I cut out a lot of expensive foods. My menu this month is largely based on dried beans. Snacks consist of fruits and veggies, nuts, and homemade granola bars. I didn’t buy any cold cereal, which up until now has been a staple in our house.

That left me with some extra money to treat my family to wild fish once a week, pesticide free produce, and hormone free milk and eggs.

The Shopping Day

Since my son is out of preschool, I had to take him along. I’m proud of him. He hates shopping, but he hung in there with me all morning. I let him take one of his beloved toy cars with him to keep him busy. It worked.

  • We stopped at Walmart first to buy toilet paper and supplies for making laundry detergent. Since I’ve made a pact to stop using paper towels and paper napkins, I didn’t have to buy any of those.
  • Then we headed to Winco to do the bulk of my shopping. And bulk is the right word. My cart was filled with purchases from the bulk bins: flours, beans, grains, oatmeal, and a couple of spices I needed. I picked up a few canned foods and some cheese, as well.
  • We then headed across the street to Fred Meyer, which has a pretty nice health food section. We picked up our milk (on sale), some eggs (marked down…that was a GREAT find!), and some Garden of Eatin’ Tortilla Chips (on sale). We also picked up some laundry supplies that aren’t available at Walmart.
  • We stopped home to unload the groceries and have a quick snack. Then we headed south to the Farmer’s Market in Ashland. Even though it was raining, the market was busy. We bought some fresh strawberries, a big jar of local honey, fresh tomatoes (and they taste SO much better than store bought tomatoes), and some lettuce.
  • Our final stop was the Ashland Food Co-op, which is expensive, but sells all the natural ingredient items I was after. I picked up the rest of the produce I needed, and also some natural soap and hair care products. I’m trying to avoid chemicals in soaps and shampoos, too. I don’t know if I’ll be able to afford that for long, because it’s expensive. Maybe I’ll try to find recipes for making my own shampoo.

By doing all of my shopping in one day, I made one trip into Medford. I’ll have to go back to Ashland for more produce and milk throughout the month, but it’s closer than heading into Medford. Other than once a week trips into Ashland, I plan on staying close to home.

My grocery budget for the month was $445. On Tuesday I spent $313.27, leaving me with $131.73 for the rest of the month. I think I can make that work.

How I Cut Costs

Like I said, most of our meals are based around dried beans this month. It can be a hassle to prepare dried beans, but I’ll just make extra every time I make them and freeze the rest for use later in the month.

Instead of buying boxed cereal, I made a huge batch of homemade granola. That should last the month, since I’m planning on making breakfast most mornings. My husband is the only one who’s dependent on cereal for breakfast. I’m not getting up at 3 a.m. to make breakfast for him, as much as I love him. :)

Whole grain bread without high fructose corn syrup is expensive. So are tortillas without partially hydrogenated oil. So instead of spending the money on ready made products, I bought wheat bread flour at 47 cents a pound and whole wheat pastry flour at 49 cents a pound and made my own. The bread tastes great, and so do the tortillas (though they aren’t as pretty as the store-bought version).

A little planning can go a long way in saving money. Making a list, making things from scratch, and only making one trip to the grocery store will help save money and fuel. And if it keeps me from eating out, it will save my waistline, as well!

How often do you grocery shop? Does it work for you? Do you shop with a list? Menu plan?



Author

By , on Jun 6, 2008
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.

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{36 Comments}

  1. Kathy:

    I would like to see a recipie list also! Way to go…thank you for inspiring me once again.
    With four children, three of whom are teens, my grocery bill is just insane……..we have to get it under control.

  2. Anita:

    I agree that trying to eat healthy definitely makes food costs bulk up. Some tricks that my roommate and I use, as well as my sister and her family, is to buy our milk and eggs from the amish. They provide grass-fed cows milk at a reasonable price, considering it’s the healthiest thing for you, and their eggs are the best!! You can check out a website that has a link from the Weston A. Price Foundation website to see if there is a drop-site anywhere in your area. You’d be surprised…I live in Northern VA, and once a week the farmer comes down from Pennsylvania and makes deliveries. We also use a farmers market for all our produce. As far as meats go, we also use the amish for that, although that requires a lengthy drive, it’s worth it to go every few months and stock up on the best beef around.

  3. Bonnie:

    Meat freezes really well. Buying that when it’s on sale really saves me a bundle. I actually cook it up when it’s fresh and then freeze it in portions. Then I can unfreeze just the number of portions I need. I had some unexpected dinner guests last week, and was able to serve fresh green beans, sliced top sirloin, mashed potatoes, and a big salad. Everyone complimented the dinner but especially the sirloin. It had been frozen for 2 months and I had gotten it at 2.99/lb and bought the limit. I cooked it and sliced it, and froze it in 3 oz portions. I still have plenty left.

  4. Bonnie:

    I recommend the Internet for the best prices on organic shampoos and other household items.

    I used to eat breakfast cereal but actually switched to something that is better all around. It’s going to sound strange but it really works.

    I take 4oz cup beet, carrot, celery juice (that I juice myself) or in a pinch, I buy a product called Vruit, and I mix in 2 tablespoons of fiber (organic), and then once I drink that I follow it up with 16oz of water and that’s breakfast. It has 80 calories, 1/2 the fiber you need for the day, and 140% the Vitamin C (plus a lot of other great nutrients). You fill very full, it takes all of 5 min to (if you juice in advance, or buy juice).

  5. Mandi:

    The More-With-Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre is a great resource for nutritionally sound, frugal, and, most importantly, tasty meals.

  6. Would you consider sharing your tortilla recipe? I never thought to make them and you are right, so many of them have “hydrogenated” in the ingredients. What do you do about running out of fresh vegetables and fruits before the month is out?

  7. Kellie:

    I’d love to have your homemade granola receipe. Thanks.

  8. Marie Press:

    Great post. There are actually cookbooks out there that are once-a-month cooking. You shop for the whole month on one day and then cook for the month on the next, freezing your meals. Of course, most of these recipes are casseroles based on cheese, and creamed soup type stuff and I can’t eat dairy but I have tried it a long time ago. I didn’t have as much success in the once a month cooking thing as we tended to eat our favorite meals first and then the not so favorite was left. I ended up doing the cooking for a 2 week period and it worked much better.
    As for granola, go to allrecipes.com and type in chewy granola bars. I found a great recipe there and everyone loves it!

  9. Looby:

    I menu plan for a week on Thursdays and grocery shop after work on Friday evenings, it’s usually pretty quiet.
    Most weeks the majority of items are the fresh produce, with whatever regular items we need or are on sale, like pasta and rice.
    We can’t stockpile very much as we have a really small apartment with no storage space.
    My favourite part of menu planning is that you don’t have to figure out what to make when you get home from work!

  10. Nicole Van Proyen:

    We eat bread like it’s going out of style. I’d love to try some on my own. Can we get your recipe?

  11. Mandi:

    P.S. Try switching to powdered milk, at least for cooking if your family won’t make the switch. NIDO is a powdered whole milk that you can find in international food stores. My fiance will tolerate it, as a devotee of whole milk.

  12. Mandi:

    I like to shop for the best price I can find at the local discount grocery store (meaning scratch and dent, but still fabulous) and just buy things that are at a low price, regardless of what it is. Then I plan my meals out of the pantry. I shop about once a month, excluding the visits to the farmer’s market for veggies (though once the garden starts producing, I won’t even have to do that). The Complete Tightwad Gazette explores the “pantry principle” in a few articles. I strongly suggest that book for inspiration in frugality.

  13. When we lived in the country, I used to shop once a month. Now that we are in town with several grocery stores within 5 miles of home, I shop weekly, simply out of convenience (easier to carry in a week’s worth instead of a month’s worth…LOL!). But I still plan menus a month at a time and keep my eyes open for sales at the beginning of the month for things I’ll need later.

    Great post!

  14. shuchong:

    I really admire people who can actually plan so far ahead as to make a monthly shopping plan work! (I’m just one person, with no family to feed, so in theory it should be easy for me, but I’ve never managed to plan out a week’s worth of meals, let alone a month’s).

    I do base a lot of my meals around beans though. My best discovery in that department was lentils, especially red lentils. They’re tiny, so you usually don’t even have to soak them before putting them into soups, sauces etc. That takes a lot of the planning out of cooking with beans:)

  15. Sounds like you’ve got a good plan.

    I usually shop for groceries on a weekly basis. I plan the meals for the week, make my list, look for coupons/sales, and then go shopping. I’m only cooking for 2, so I’m sure that does make a difference.

  16. Bellen:

    When first married, 40 years ago, my husband was in the Navy and paid on the 1st & 15th – required me to shop just twice monthly. I’ve done that ever since. It has helped that I have a BS in Home Economics and had coursed in personal finance (or how to make a penny work like a dollar :)

    Now that we participate in the SHARE program, I plan my monthly meals accordingly and shop twice a month to pick up the extra stuff.

    I do stockpile when I can, and if a weekly special is too good to pass up, I will buy just that item.

    One of the places that I shop to stockpile is Amazon – I check my price book, weekly ads and if the price is better and shipping FREE, I’ll buy. I’ve found canned crab, vital wheat gluten (for our homemade bread), Celestial Seasonings tea, and Kiss my Face shave cream at much lower prices.

  17. Jessica:

    My family is a notorious over-spender at the store. We love having a full pantry and plenty of variety. For that reason, I can definitely see the benefit of building a menu so that you don’t spend money on food that you a) don’t need and b) isn’t part of a meal plan (who needs more tempting snacks around the house? not me!). Since we’re about to go grocery shopping this morning, I am going to try out the meal plan for the week and see how we do at the checkout line. Thanks as always for the tips!

  18. Jen:

    Great post with some excellent ideas I think most of us really can put to use quickly!

    Care to share your homemade granola recipe? And your meal plan for the month?

  19. I’d love your granola recipe and an idea of what you are making with the beans. I had stopped buying cold cereal and my mom was like “here’s $20, buy yourself some cereal”. I think it’s all about what you want to do… eating oatmeal is fine with me! :)

  20. What about fresh veggies and fruits? That’s what I tend to run out of that we eat a lot of!!!

  21. I have decided to do something similar. I will shop once every pay period, which will be every 2 weeks. My day is going to be tomorrow and I am frantically trying to make sure I have an accurate menu and list to go by. I too am hoping that these changes will save me money. Chasing the deals each week is too expensive and I hate dragging the kids along with me. I hope you have success!

  22. Sara:

    Winco’s bulk foods section is the best! I love that I can get the exact amount I need (whether it’s a ton or a tiny bit), and I don’t have to deal with tons of packaging to throw away. And they really do have pretty good deals there.

  23. You know, it is funny because things like bread and fruits and vegetables are the only thing that keep us from once-a-month shopping trips, and those extra trips to the store wind up costing us more money.

    I’d be interested to hear your bread recipe.

  24. Leanne:

    ATM I’m shopping weekly, with a menu plan and list. I’m saving an average of $70/week over my previous no menu plan, no list shopping sprees. I’m trying to start stockpiling, using any excess in my grocery budget each week. The idea being, at some stage I’ll be able to “go shopping” at home and reduce the regular grocery bill even more.

  25. I just decided this week that I am going to start making my own bread!

    This is a great post full of good, real-life suggestions for cutting costs but still being reasonable about your family’s needs!

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