Confession: We fell -- hard -- off the wagon with regard to budgeting for food. We were doing better than we thought financially through the last half of 2012, so we didn't feel the pressure to pinch pennies. We were also busy with the holidays + traveling, so stuffing our faces with whatever tasted good was just . . . easy and comforting.
I'd say we were spending around $90 a week at the store.
Still "good" by most definitions. But now that we have to buy a new-to-us car , I'm back on the budget wagon. I have allotted $100 a week for groceries/entertainment with $65 going toward food and $35 otherwise. But, of course, these numbers can flex as necessary. Things are tight, but that doesn't mean we can't eat healthy, filling foods -- and even be creative with them!
It's taken me quite some time to put some of the grocery savings techniques you guys/gals gave me into practice. But now that I have some experience, I thought I'd tell the world: Shopping two weeks at a time is where it's AT for saving with grocery budget and wasting less food.
It's a trial I had been meaning to test myself with for months years . . . and finally got around to it in the last month, month + a half. And now I'm a convert and would like to try shopping for an entire month in the near future!
Shopping two weeks at a time (and possibly for longer periods) can be tricky, though. It requires meal-planning, awareness (to avoid wastefulness), and some serious practice. It's well worth the effort. Not only do we save money this way -- our last weekly bill figured to be $60 -- meal preparation is so much easier!
Some examples of items we buy in 2-week quantity . . .
Vegetable stock, 32 ounce carton x 2 -- sale
Plain low-fat yogurt, the 32 ounce container x 2 -- sale
Whole tomatoes, 28 ounce can x 2
Apples (comes in a gigantic 8 pound bag)
Carrots (another gigantic bag)
Onions (yup -- big bag)
Potatoes + sweet potatoes (same thing)
Almond milk x 2 cartons
Shredded mozzarella x 2 packages -- sale
Tofu x 2 packages -- sale
Peanut butter, 2 pack (lasts us longer than 2 weeks)
Bag wheat flour
Bag bread flour
Frozen peas, bulk bag
Frozen strawberries, bulk bag
Beans, lots of beans
There are several items we do like to buy fresh each week. Bananas, for example, get pretty funky after a week in my experience -- but they are a staple for us year round. Spinach, kale, and other salad greens are also difficult to store for long periods of time.
And no matter how many eggs we buy, we always seem to be running out.
Here's where it gets confusing: Shopping two weeks at a time doesn't
necessarily mean we won't go to the grocery store again next weekend. I know that sounds like it's defeating the purpose, but I assure you -- it isn't. It's just our happy compromise.
We go back armed with ONE of those baskets versus a cart and stick to the list. I also write down how much we have "left over" from the budget so I don't feel tempted to buy extras. Sometimes I write it in gigantic numbers colored in with bright markers. Whatever works, right?
Having meals prepped ahead of time is the key here -- because when I go back to the aisles, I have our stores fresh in my mind. I know, for instance, that I have some awesome pizza dough + everything we need to make it great already at home.
So, I keep walking past the temptations.
To make shopping every other week work for you
Make your list. Identify which foods you normally buy and which ones would work with this method. Canned foods and dry goods are an obvious choice; produce can take some experimentation.
Simplify your shopping list in the process. Which foods are nutritional necessities and which are bonus?
Get creative. Try to find a multitude of ways to use the same foods. If you buy 8 pounds of apples, for example, you need to know how you're going to use them ahead of time. I'll be covering more about this in my next post either tomorrow or early next week.
Remember your budget. Buying times two can save a lot -- that's for sure. But if you're not careful, you might over-buy or buy the wrong things. The worst is when you just can't use up everything -- but that doesn't typically happen if you have a plan and cook ahead of time.
Make a 2-week meal plan + consider designating specific cook days . (That terminology makes me think of Breaking Bad.) I'll be writing more about this in my next post, too, but you could even go ahead as far as a whole month if you have the freezer space.
Shop around. Consider checking out bulk stores, but don't obsess. In my experience, the prices at Sam's club/BJs/etc. aren't dramatically better on the whole -- for some things, yes, but for others certainly not.
Keep your eyes open. Instead, keep your eye on the sales at your grocery store. Often they have 2-for-less type deals, which is when we bulk up. Even better, figure out seasonal sales. My MIL recently scored a gazillion beans for us on the super cheap with a can sale.
And be flexible. Sometimes we go with a list, but end up seeing something else is on sale -- a similar ingredient or one that I could easily swap, like chickpeas for kidney beans.
Buying two weeks at a time has allowed me to spend just $60/week on food. Not only that, we have spent far less time scrambling around every night for dinner. Lunches are grab-and-go -- which is especially helpful with a half-the-time-hungry pre-toddler running around the house.
In my next post on this topic, I'll give you a sample of my two-week meal plan, as well as a specific shopping list, to show you how it all works. I'll even link to some of my favorite recipes. It may seem overwhelming, but meal prepping on the weekend is awesome.
Do you shop every other week? Or even less frequently? How do you make it work?