Kitchen Keeping Tips #3 -- Shopping Wisely

So I lied.

I'm not doing pantry stuff next. As I was putting the pantry post together, I thought, "Where are you getting this stuff? There has to be some shopping involved FIRST!" So here goes:

There are two general philosophies, if you will, of meal planning and grocery shopping, each with strengths and weaknesses.

First is to plan specific meals and buy only the items necessary for those meals. Simplicity is this shopping style's major advantage: it's a no-brainer to buzz through the grocery store looking for a very specific list of stuff. The main disadvantage? Inflexibility. When you're chained to a list, you run the risk of overspending because you don't have the freedom to buy chicken if it's on sale or get the produce that's on manager's special or to buy seasonally.

The other method is the "no-plan" plan. In this method (or... um, non-method), you go up and down every aisle putting into your cart everything that a) is on sale, b) looks good, or c) you think you might use in some dinner this week. The benefit of this method, if there is one, is that you are free to buy what looks good in the produce department, what's on sale, etc. Wastefulness keeps this from being a tenable long-term method, however. Inevitably you'll end up with fresh food in the trash because you don't have a plan to use what you buy. Overspending is another obvious danger, of course.

The best strategy for meal planning and grocery shopping, in my experience, is somewehre in the middle. It involves three very simple steps:

1. Make your meal plans "flex plans." Plan in advance generally what you'll have for weeknight dinners (like meatless Monday, pasta Tuesday, soup Wednesday, crock-pot Thursday, pizza Friday).
2. Shop with an eye out for sales. Learn what is a reasonable price to pay for the items you buy regularly, and develop a mental "high number" that you won't go over (like, "I won't pay more than $1.29/lb for apples"). Never, EVER buy meat that isn't on sale. There is always something on sale that you can incorporate into your flexible meal planning strategy.
3. Plan to eat from both pantry and fresh food storage during the week, with a specific plan to eat or freeze (and, again, plan to eat later) all leftovers before your next trip to the grocery store. Planning is key here!

As I said in the first installment of Kitchen Keeping, the biggest hurdle in frugal cooking is a mental one! The actual steps are simple, once you change the way you think about your kitchen!

Just as a side note, let me answer the question that may be nagging at your mind right now: Why bother? Let's say that you and your spouse spend $500 per month on groceries. If you could save $200 per month by implementing these strategies, that is $2400 in your pocket (or bank account, or toward your mortgage) by this time next year. So we're not talking about working hard, feeling deprived, and ending up with not much to show for it. That is real money, people! It's worth it.


JodieMo said...

This is great advice. I have been shopping like this for a while and I have found that it is the best way to keep the grocery bill low. Throw some well used coupons, store brands, and a very handy freezer in and watch the grocery bill drop.

Toni said...

I'll add one suggestion, if you don't mind. :D I keep a "Dinner List", basically a list of all the types of dinners I make (even seasonal recipes or ones we make infrequently because they are high in calories. Right now I have almost 50 different choices and try to add at least one new meal each month. How does the list help? Well, if chicken is on sale, I just go to my list and look up chicken meals. Saves alot of time trying to figure out what to do with the Sale of the Week ingredient.

Research shows that without planning we eat the same ten meals 80% of the time! So, keeping a dinner list also adds varity to your family's diet.

Laura said...

Toni, thanks a bunch! What a great idea! I've already shared it with a few friends and they think it's a great idea too. Thanks for commenting.