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.
- 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.
- Once a Month shopping seems to be an answer. I get the groceries in one trip. I plan the meals for the month. Voila!
- 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?
- 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.
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!