Monday, August 27, 2012

Thoughts and Suggestions for Once-a-Month Shopping?

One of my best character traits is that I'm an all-or-nothing person.  One of my more terrible character traits is that I'm an all-or-nothing person.  If I can't do something 100%, then I probably won't do it all.  However, I find that I really need to learn how to do a bit and make it work.

I'm thinking about all of this because of grocery shopping.  I've tried once-a-month cooking in huge swoops where I spend 12 hours in the kitchen.  I've tried subsisting on cereal or sandwiches for dinner.  I've tried giant once-a-month shopping trips and gave up when I realized it didn't work for me to buy 80% of a month's food in one shopping trip.  And now, my once a week shopping just isn't working.

Here Is what I currently do:
  • I spend roughly $140-$160 a week on groceries (this includes all toiletries and diapers).
  • This totals to about $640 a month. 
  • I shop once a week at Publix.  I am a hardcore Publix fan.
  • I coupon.
  • I spend my Friday night planning meals for the upcoming week.

Here are the problems with my current system:
  • Our grocery expense is our third largest expense.  Rent is first, then daycare, and then grocery.
  • Our rent is cheap for a three bedroom, two bath house.  Daycare is discounted since it is through my employer.  This means if I really want to significantly trim my budget, I need to cut grocery spending.
  • We will have less money very soon.  My maternity leave at work is very generous.  I get 12 weeks paid maternity leave, but because so many employees took the full twelve weeks of paid leave and then never came back, the university had to alter the policy.  When I go on leave in February, I will get 70% of my pay and then when I return to work I will get the remaining 30%.  This means we will be living on a reduced budget while I'm on leave as Sam and I contribute equally to our household income.  Also, beginning in May, daycare will shoot up to be our most expensive bill.  Yikes.  I need to start living on the cheap (or cheaper than I already am) now.
  • I'm really tired of spending two+ hours every week combing through coupons and cookbooks, constructing meals that suit our busy work days, and trying to figure out how to save us money.  I'd rather spend my Friday nights reading.
  • The above weekly system will certainly not work with a newborn infant.  I'll be unable to drive for four weeks after the c-section and then taking a baby on a long shopping trip every week is not exactly fun and I don't want to have to pump just to go to the store.
A Goal:
  • My goal is to reduce us down to spending $500 a month total on groceries, diapers, cleaning supplies, and toiletries.  This will save us up to $1,800 a year which works out to 12 weeks of daycare for one child or six weeks of daycare for the two littlest Ropers. 
 A Possible Answer?
  • Once a Month shopping seems to be an answer.  I get the groceries in one trip.  I plan the meals for the month.  Voila!
Okay, Maybe Not a Complete Answer?  A Few Issues: 
  • When I was a single mama, I was able to stock up.  Once I bought 12 boxes of Cheerios for less than $7 total thanks to a rad Publix sale and couponing.  That cereal last me and a 7-year-old Hope six months.  Now that I'm married to a Hagrid-sized man, I find that if it is available it gets eaten. Sam pours his cereal into a giant mixing bowl (God help us when Atticus is a teen!) and a bag of Lays or a 1/2 gallon of Edy's is a snack.  He is a large, powerful man with a physically demanding day job and now that we have one car he bikes everywhere.  I . cannot. get. him. full.  Hope is a picky tweenager and her only food groups (if she had her way) would be carbs and ketchup.  My having less "fun food" she may actually have to eat a non-starchy veggie.
  • Sam and I get paid weekly, which works out pretty well.  However it is really difficult  to plan and save for a $500 grocery trip.  Seriously.
  • Practicality.  As much as I would like to, I'm not going to prepare seven home-cooked lovely dinners a week.  I will probably make four home-cooked meals a week with the remaining three being leftovers or sandwiches or a frozen pizza.  I not only need items for meals, but things that are easy for Sam to make when I'm at work or for those days when we really don't want to do very many dishes.
  • Space.  I'm cool with my pantry, but I only have my refrigerator freezer.  Stuffing it with a month's worth of meat, frozen veggies, and a few convenience items will quickly fill it up.  Keep in mind, I also have to allot for gobs of breast milk next year!

Here is my issue!  I've hit on it.  I've been trying to do Once a Week Shopping vs. Once a Month Shopping.  One or the other.... one or the other... How about a little of both?  Why do I feel the need to do all or nothing?

The Plan:
  •  I have planned meals for the month of September:  four meals a week with three "wildcard" meals which means sandwiches, leftovers, a frozen pizza, dinner out, etc....
  • My experimental budget is $350 for the first week, with $50 allotted each week for the rest of the month.  This will usually total to $500 a month.
  • The first week I will shop at Sam's (a bulk shopping center) and buy meat, cheese, pasta, beans, and other basics for meals.  I will also buy toiletries, pet items, baking supplies, diapering needs, and cleaning materials.  I will pick up just enough milk, chips, cereal, and produce for the week.
  • Each week after I will take $50 and pick up milk, on sale cereal and bread, chips and other lunch bag items, and produce.
  • I've informed Sam and the kids that mama is no longer buying ice cream, cookies, and cakes with grocery money.  I get those things on sale and with coupons, but they aren't part of a meal and they tend to be obliterated in the space of a few days.  If we want those treats we need to use our spending money.  I don't know about you, but I rather buy books than a gallon of ice cream!
  • Instead of quick treats, I am going to try to make a dessert one night a week or a batch of cookies for lunches for the week.  I can make those things cheaply and I actually know what goes in the items I bake; they aren't chock full of additives and in unnecessary packaging.
  • I'm also experimenting with making some homemade cleaners and baby wipes.  That should save me some cash.  
The Answer?: 

We'll have to see how this goes, but I think I've hit on a good plan.  I've got the best of both worlds.  I'm buying those more expensive items like meat and diapers in bulk, which will reduce their cost.  I'm avoiding the family gorging on a month's worth of cereal, but I'm keeping fresh produce and milk on the table so to speak. 

I'm certainly open to hints, suggestions, or your stories about once-a-month-shopping or grocery budgets in general. 

Wish me luck!


christina said...

Geez Amanda, I think that you're amazing you spend the $160-$180 on groceries a week with your family. Di and I usually spend that weekly and it's just us. Well, and four cats. The four cats add at least $30 for weekly food and kitty litter. I'm DYING to hear what you purchase and make for a month so I can steal ideas. Like you, I love to cook, but I don't want to spend MY Friday planning out meals (which I do). Nor am I always ready to come home and cook dinner at 7PM at night. I'd like simple meals. Sometimes I get so up in the clouds with my goals, I can't make it all.

Please, please, PLEASE post a month of your food life!! :)

Catherine said... may be helpful for you too - she assumes everyone is making about the same amount of homemade meals as you, filled in with frozen pizza, whatever. and she gives multiple menus for specific diets as well. i've been wanting to move to this sort of cooking, but until things stabilize i'll just be going to trader joes.

Anna said...

I know you said daycare wouldn't use cloth, but even cloth diapering part time (evenings, weekends) will save you money, especially with the new one on the way. If you're interested, let me know and I can help you navigate it all. If you aren't just tell me to shut my pie hole :).

Her Royal Orangeness said...

Do you have an Aldi in your area? (You can check here for locations: It is seriously the cheapest place for food....everything costs about half what it does at a standard supermarket. And the selection is great and the food is quality.

For food planning, you might want to look into something like Ziplist ( It has a database of recipes and you can input your own, and then you can create a shopping list of ingredients based on the recipes. And you can sort by recipe, so you can, for example, find 12 recipes that use chicken, and then include those recipes in a monthly plan.

Daphne said...

My least favorite household duty is going to the grocery store! Good luck - I'll be curious to hear how it works out :)

Bree said...

Good luck. I'm never had the desire or gumption to put that much effort into grocery shopping or meal planning. You're a good woman!

Thomas at My Porch said...

I would think that once a month shopping has the potential to lead to increase waste. I have a hard enough time not wasting food from week to week. My eyes and ambition are much bigger at the start of the week.

What if you just took cash to the supermarket and only got as much as your cash would get you on a weekly basis?

By accident I have become much more frugal since we moved to a neighborhood that is further away from the grocery store. Hating to leave home once I get here, I have become really good at making dinner from a seemingly empty cupboard/fridge.

I also think you should separate diapers and toiletries from your grocery line item. They must be expensive as (no pun intended) s**t. That way you can have a much clearer idea of what you are actually spending on food.

Where does Starbucks land on your budget? :) (I know I shouldn't say that as a non-coffee drinker myself. Them's fightin' words.)

Chris said...

Good luck with everything Amanda!! I feel your pain :/ I've been trying to stretch our money too. I've started making our own laundry detergent and it actually works REALLY well and I love it! Here's the recipe if you want it : It's super easy, all natural, and cleans well :) And its ONE CENT PER LOAD!

Jenny V said...

Meal planning! Your hybrid once-a-month plan is very clever. I'm impressed.

If you're looking for some time-saving cooking tips, try Stay at Stove Dad. He works a lot, and super late, but does most of the cooking for his family. He has some great stand-by recipes that are either easy to prep ahead of time (and freeze) or fast to pull together. Search for roast chicken, black beans, and bolognese sauce in particular. (Umm, and if you find some kale on sale and want to fall over in shock at how heavenly it can taste [kale?!?], try this:

Also, have you tried making your own chicken stock? I find that whole chickens are typically cheaper/on sale more than chicken pieces. You start by roasting the chicken, which yields lots of chicken for meals, plus lots of REALLY rich broth. (NB: One of my favorite soup recipes calls for 2 quarts of chicken stock. I add 6 oz of the homemade stuff, then make up the difference with water, and it's still SO delicious.) If you have a slow cooker, it's the easiest thing ever.
First, take the bag of innards out of the chicken cavity (I usually keep these in the fridge then throw them into the stock the next day because I'm still too grossed out to try eating them, but I want their nutrients; yes, I am a wimp). Rinse the chicken; I don't dry it, but others suggest you should. Set the chicken in a slow cooker (I always forget whether the breast goes up or down ... I think I've done it both ways). Sprinkle with salt and pepper (I add garlic powder, too). Put the lid on (that's right, you don't add any liquid at all -- it will make its own), then cook it for 4-6 hours. You'll want to check on it the first time or two to figure out whether to use high or low, and to figure out how long to leave it in. Your house will smell delicious. When the chicken's done, you can finish the stock recipe here: (this is my favorite method, but Google is your friend for finding slow-cooker chicken stock recipes). You can also do this in the oven then on the stove top if you don't have a slow cooker.

Good luck! I hope you are able to reduce your stress as well as your budget. :)