A few months ago on Facebook I made the big mistake of bragging that I only spend $200 a month on groceries. Since then I’ve had a number of people ask me how I manage this. I’ve put off writing about this largely because it can be one of the most boring topics on earth.
There are 1,384 ways of being a frugal grocery shopper. What works is very much dependent on many unique family variables, and ultimately you have to work out for yourself what works in your situation. But the public must have what the public wants so here we go.
Shop Once a Month – I found an interested statistic on Get Rich Slowly that said 25 percent of grocery store purchases were impulse purchases. I started paying more attention to what I was putting in my cart when I made a quick trip to the store for one or two items and realized that was true for me as well.
Plan a Monthly Menu – When I was working fulltime and a new mother, I made a weekly dinner menu because it made my life 800 times easier to come home, look at a list, and start cooking. After I realized that each grocery trip I made ended up with my spending more, I expanded this concept from one week of meals to a month of meals.
Basically, the way this works is I make a list of about 22 dinners, a list of breakfast items, a list of lunch and snack items, and a list of “special event” items such as whatever we need for Cooking Club that month or the items John is required to bring for his snack day at preschool.
One of the nice things about this is it allows me to see easily what items share ingredients so I can get the best price for something like sour cream while not getting too much (and letting it spoil) or too little (and having to go back for more).
Finally, at the beginning of the week, I look at my monthly menu list and pick the meals I want to cook that coming week. It allows me to look at my calendar and determine how much time I had to cook on a particular day, and it gives me a degree of flexibility.
This was challenging the first month or two. In the beginning I didn’t realize how many boxes of crackers we go through in a month and I had trouble coming up with meal ideas until I started bookmarking random recipes I would come across during the month.
Shop Around – My monthly shopping day looks like this: I start at Aldi and buy things like dairy products, meat, canned goods and dried fruit. Aldi doesn’t always have the same items consistently, so it’s helpful to start here. From there I hit WalMart as they tend to have the best prices on staple items like flour and sugar. Finally, I go to Kroger on the first Wednesday of the month to buy the remaining items on my list where I use my Dad’s Kroger Plus card to get his 10 percent senior discount.
Cook From Scratch – When we lived in Denmark I was forced to start cooking from scratch because the Danes have very little prepared food and it is extremely expensive and not very good. I started doing things like making my own marinara sauce, which I quickly learned is really easy and tastes so much better. Doing this you also have the added advantage of eating more healthily (no added salt, sugar or corn syrup) and being more environmentally friendly (prepared food tends to have a lot of packaging).
Eat Less Meat – Again, another something we started doing in Denmark where a pound of ground beef costs $12. With few exceptions I tend to use meat merely to flavor meals now. Where I once used a pound of ground beef in my spaghetti sauce, I use 1/3 a pound. I also cook with a lot more beans and vegetables.
Cut Back on the “Fun Food” – We all have our vices and we should still indulge them a little or this kind of thing will never work. Each month I lay in a supply of six $1 bags of chips of various kinds from Aldi, I hunt until I find Coke and Diet Coke for around $3 for a 12-pack, and I buy 12 bottles of good beer. Two of those are my own personal vices.
WIC, Baby – This is really the secret to our only spending $200 a month. We buy everything at the beginning of the month, then go back each week use only our WIC checks. They provide us with our perishable items like milk and bread, and give us about $100 a month in groceries. God bless America.