How to Plan a Grocery Trip

Usually on Saturday morning I do laundry and go grocery shopping. My Saturday morning has been halted a little bit by a combo of D having my keys (which let me into the laundry room and into my car) and my mother letting me know she’s not sure what I’ll be bringing for Thanksgiving dinner.

So I decided I’d use to the time to plan both my weekly and my monthly grocery trip.

A Little Background

I didn’t start doing grocery shopping this way until about a year ago. When I lived in Florida, I went once a week, bought what I needed and went home. Often I ended up going more than once a week because I forgot things. Typically I spent somewhere between $40-$80, depending on the week and if I needed shampoo, cleaning supplies, etc.

About a year ago, though, I noticed my grocery bill was through the roof and I couldn’t figure out why. So I did a very rough audit of my grocery shopping. I had started eating meat occasionally when I moved back to South Florida. And I often told D there was “more than enough” for him to have dinner with me, not accounting for how often I saved money by eating leftovers for lunch.

Plate / Glass Container / Bowl

So we talked about it. And decided that, once a month, he would buy meats and pantry/freezer items, and once a week I would buy perishables. We’ve found that this a) keeps us on budget because the desire to keep our relationship balanced forces us to look at the number and b) means that my dread for grocery shopping is turned into 20 minutes once a week, and 1-2 fun hours with him once a month.

How I Plan It

I talked a little bit in this post about using the sale ads and coupons to determine my groceries. That’s more true for the monthly list than the weekly. Week-to-week, there are certain things I know are going to be consumed: milk, fruit, vegetables, cheese and crackers. So, I’m more likely to just go to the produce section and look at the prices than to look at the ads. My baseline of what I get is so low (usually about $30) that if I decide to splurge on a super exciting dinner or need to buy both wet and dry cat food it doesn’t really break the bank.

But the monthly trip is a much more involved process.

Planning Essentials

It doesn’t really take many items to plan the monthly shop. There are certain things I know we’re going to buy: meat, potatoes, frozen vegetables, pop and quick freezer meals. That usually brings the cost close to half. So the other half is spent on “special” items (chips, cookies, spices, etc.). It’s the other half that’s hard to figure out.

Planner & Pen

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When I first started trying to figure out how to feed myself, I lived by the Meal Plan Printable made by Jen over at iHeartOrganizing. I still use it when I know I’m going to have a super busy week. But, typically, I just write a meal on a sticky note and put it in my planner. Since I’m just one person (with a plus one), I’ve found this to be a better method.

There are some standard meals I know I’ll make each month, but I try to add in two or three new ones. I know that doesn’t sound like much but I only cook 2-3 times a week. My standard meals are…

  • Tacos
  • Chicken Noodle Soup Casserole
  • Cheesy Chicken and Rice
  • Shake n’ Bake Chicken & Salad
  • Baked Pork Chops, Mashed Potatoes, Salad
  • Shepherds Pie
  • Taco Pasta
  • Steak, Green Beans, Mashed Potatoes
  • Breakfast for dinner

My main goal is to spend no more than 30 minutes standing in the kitchen, which is how these made the cut. I will work on actually writing down the step-by-step for each of these because who doesn’t need more 30 minute meals?

Slippers (similar here)

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I actually do a lot of walking while I’m trying to figure out the groceries. Okay, not like, a lot, but I’m back and forth between the kitchen table and the pantry probably 20 times.

But that’s really only half of why I wear these.

I’m what you’d call an emotional dresser. My clothes make me feel a certain way and certain clothes make me feel different than others. Slippers automatically mean home to me. I don’t often wear them anywhere else (except maybe at a family members house). So I wear them while I’m making the grocery list because it makes it feel more like a cozy activity and less like homework.

I decided a long time ago that whatever I can do to make this process more relaxing and less task-feeling, I’m going to do.

Notepads & Pen

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You could probably just use one notepad. I don’t though. I like to have one for the monthly shop and one for the things I know I’ll end up writing down that are actually for the weekly trip. I like to use this size of sticky note because it’s long enough to accommodate most of what I need, but it’s also small enough that I don’t get carried away. Also, the sticky part lets me prop it up on the cart baby-basket-thing.

Knowledge Base

There are some things you have to know and ways you have to mentally prep yourself if you’re going to plan out a month worth of groceries, at least, that’s how it is for me.

  • How much money do you have? I run my budget before starting this list. And I rank the list in order of expense so that if the cap is hit, the things that aren’t bought are easy to pick up if there’s extra at the end of a weekly shop.
  • How much meat are you (& whomever else you’re shopping for) going to eat? In this house, if D is eating, I make a pound of meat. I probably eat 1/6th of that, he eats about 3/4 (per the doctor), and the rest is my lunch for the next day. If he’s not, there probably won’t be meat. So, having a good idea about your schedule is key.
  • On average how much are you going to cook? This one is my achilles heel. Some weeks, I cook every night. Other weeks, not at all. I’ve found that, on average, I cook 2-3 times a week; D cooks about the same. So we’re eating a meal at home almost every night of the week. Before we were together, my answer was twice a month. So what I brought in groceries was a lot different.
    • If you don’t know how to figure that out, audit your grocery list. I think I’ll make a post about that.
  • Be prepared to list more things than you think you need. Every single month when I sit down to write this list, I find myself overwhelmed by how many things are written down. Then I remember that it’s for the whole month and it calms me down a little bit.
  • It’s okay to write vague ideas. Last shopping trip, I wrote down “frozen snacks.” What does that mean? It means snacks that are frozen – pizza rolls, tater tots, french fries, etc. I don’t need to list all of them out. I wasn’t going to get all of them. I just think it’s good to have a frozen snack on hand and when I got to the store, I bought the “frozen snacks” that were on sale.
  • You’re the only one that knows what you need. I once wrote “26lb. Granola” on a shopping list and judged myself really hard for it. Who the heck needs that much granola? Well, two people who eat it every day for a month need that much. It happens every week that I write something down and I’m like, “What is my life???” and then I remember, it’s mine. Then I keep going.

Where Are You Gonna Put It?

I don’t actually recommend doing a big monthly shop for non-perishables if you don’t have storage space for it. Prior to getting a bakers rack, if I had more than one box of pasta in the house, I was just annoyed every time I walked into my kitchen.

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Write your list anyway. You may find that many things can be frozen, or at you’re willing to find spots for your favorite cereal that went on sale. I day dream about having a beautiful pantry with beautiful containers holding all the sweet food items. But I live in an apartment and have student loans. So, for now, I’m making do with what I’ve got.

Shop the Sale Ads and Coupons

I’m not a couponer. I will never be one. But, you know that little coupon flyer that comes in the mail? Usually there’s a coupon for dish soap and batteries. I clip that. I always need dish soap and I don’t often need batteries but when I do I find their price overwhelming.

The Sale Ads are really where it’s at. Your grocery store probably puts theirs online (most do). Flip through it. What kind of long-lasting tubers and legumes are on sale? Cereal? Pasta? Chips? Don’t write it down if it’s something you don’t like. But if it’s something you do like that last a long time, write it down.

I usually start with the sale ad, then go through the pantry to see what’s missing, and then I use my grocery stores app to clip coupons for what I already wrote down.

It seems counterintuitive to clip coupons last. I know. What I found is that if I clip them first, I buy stuff I don’t like. Or I see the actual price of the stuff the coupon is for and I don’t buy it and I end up with a million expired coupons floating around my life.

That’s it

Use your planner/calendar/agenda book.
Make it a relaxing activity.
Try a fun meal every now and then.
Trust what you know about yourself.
Clip coupons last.

Here’s a little example of what a monthly grocery shopping list looks like for me:

Grocery List

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2 thoughts on “How to Plan a Grocery Trip

  1. Pingback: Let’s Talk About Meat | Intricate

  2. Pingback: Apartment Tour & Dreams | Intricate

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