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One of the biggest things my fellow Mamas I complain to each other about is … grocery shopping. No one likes doing it, and everyone feels like they spend way too much money when they do. Almost all of us feel stressed, overwhelmed, and unprepared when we head into the grocery store, and the result is too often a cart full of stuff we don’t need – and a huge bill at the register. Sound familiar? If you’re fed up (hee hee) with an out of hand grocery bill, read on. These easy to implement tips will help you save time, reduce stress, and cut your grocery bill today – without clipping coupons!
Avoid Impulse Purchases
Impulse purchases are always budget killers, and grocery stores are no exception. You can easily – and immediately – put an end to ending up with things you don’t need (and automatically save money) by following a few simple rules.
- Never shop hungry. Shopping when you’re hungry is a great way to end up with lots of ‘impulse buys’ in your grocery cart. Impulse buys often add up to BIG money at the checkout, and can quickly push your grocery tab into triple digits when you only budgeted for double. Next time you grocery shop, do it after a meal, or have a snack before going. Make sure your stomach isn’t grumbling, or your budget will be.
- Shop Alone. While I know this isn’t always an option, shopping alone is better for your grocery budget. Fewer people contributing to the shopping cart makes it easier to stick to a list, making for a happier tally at the register. Also, fighting, discontented kids or other distractions can quickly make you feel overwhelmed and/or frustrated. This invariably leads to rushing through the store, throwing items in your cart just so you can get. the. heck. out. Don’t feel bad – I have been there myself. Our kids certainly don’t mean to be a distraction, but they can’t help it. Remember, grocery shopping is no one’s favorite task, and that includes your kids – they find it just as tedious and boring as you do. Probably more so, especially when Mama continues to say ‘No’ to all the items they ask for! Shop alone when you can, and count it as ‘Mama time’. *NOTE: If you can’t shop alone, make sure everyone going in the store is snacked beforehand or take snacks along.
- Know Your Store. Most of us shop at the same store each week. Over time, you will become very familiar with the layout, which is super helpful. You’ll be able to make a better list, and shop smarter – saving money and time. My grocery lists are ordered around how I walk through my store. I can check off items as I go and not have to skip around on the list, which makes me less likely to miss items and less likely to impulse shop. Knowing the layout of your favorite grocery store allows you to avoid ‘trigger’ aisles (for me, that’s the snack & candy aisle) that lead to unnecessary purchases
- Shop Only Once a Week. Whatever your budget, you should only be grocery shopping once a week. It might appear that making several ‘smaller’ trips to the store each week will save money, but the truth is, the more often you go to the store, the more danger of picking up those ‘impulse buys’ (are you seeing a theme here? lol) and spending a LOT more than you want. Keep your trips to the store limited to once a week and watch your grocery budget shrink. If you forget something you meant to buy, do not run back to the store! Get creative and change up your plan, or substitute an item you have on hand. Some of our favorite recipes have been created because Mom forgot something!
Make a (Quick & Simple) Meal Plan
I know what you’re thinking … ‘She said she wasn’t going to give me a complicated, time-consuming tip, but here it is – the menu!’ I totally understand how overwhelming the idea of planning meals for weeks or months in advance can be – which is why that is NOT what I’m suggesting you do! A simple meal plan for the week can come together very quickly, with minimal time and effort – IF you follow these steps.
- Make a Master Meal List. Okay – this is not as complicated as it sounds. Take just a few minutes (we all can find a few minutes while we’re waiting to pick up our kid from football practice, when we’re watching TV in the evening, or even while we’re waiting for rice to cook!) and make a list of all the meals your family likes to eat. Jot it down on a piece of paper, use your computer, or your smartphone. I use the Memo feature on my phone to make all sorts of lists. This isn’t a menu – it’s just a list of what your family eats. You should shoot for 15 to 30 meals, but I bet once you get started, you’ll find you end up with far more.
- Check Your Pantry & Freezer. Again, this is not a complicated inventory – it’s just a quick look to see what you have on hand. Ground beef? Chicken breasts? Frozen vegetables? Canned beans? This quick peek in your pantry and freezer gives you a head start on menu planning for the week, by setting the framework for what you’ll cook. It will save you money in two ways: A) Using what you have means you will need to buy less at the store and B) The habit of checking pantry and freezer weekly guarantees items will be used – less waste means more savings! I generally ask one of my kids to make a quick list of what’s in the freezer (particularly meat items and frozen leftovers), which leads to the next tip.
- Enlist Your Family’s Help. Your family should have a say in what’s being served each week! Ask them to contribute meal ideas to the master meal list. Request copies of their school or social calendars so you know what their schedule is — planning meals around extra-curricular activities is a key part of efficient menu planning. Encouraging your kids to help plan meal ideas is a great way to start teaching them crucial life skills, and it makes less stress & work for you. Remember the saying, ‘Many hands make light work’. Including your family in this process benefits everyone and when kids feel like they’re contributing, meal time becomes more interesting and exciting.
- Make a Weekly Meal List. Once you have your list of the meals your family likes, and the quick inventory of your freezer and pantry in hand, you can quickly jot down a week’s worth of meals on a piece of paper or in a notebook. We homeschool and my husband works from home, so I plan to cook two meals a day, seven days a week. Knowing there will be a few meals made up of leftovers, I pull 12-14 meals from my ‘master meal list’ (Step 1) to make my weekly meal list. Depending on your situation, you may use more or fewer of those ‘master meals’ in a given week. It’s an easy way to customize every week, and be able to plan easily around holidays, school vacations, etc.
- Make Your Weekly Menu. What’s the difference from Step 4? In this step, you’ll be assigning specific meals onto specific days, based on the schedule and meal list you made in Step 4. I start by filling in our ‘regularly scheduled’ meals, like Friday or Saturday night is pizza night at our house. If I know I’m going to have to be out of the house on a particular morning, I will go ahead and write ‘Leftovers’ on that day’s lunch slot because I won’t be there to cook. Then, I just keep plugging in the meals from my weekly meal list (Step 4) into the days of the week I need to cook until the week is complete.
Make a Grocery List
Here is where the beauty of the planning is totally revealed! Using your weekly menu and your pantry/freezer notes, write down everything you need from the store for the upcoming week’s meals. I go meal by meal, adding items I do not already have to my list. Once I have all the items I know I need for specific meals, I add the other items I need to my list. (Salt, Milk, Butter, Toilet Paper, Deodorant, etc.) And finally, I look through the sale fliers available for my store and add any items I want to stock – fruits and veggies in season, meat on special, etc..
Saving Time Is As Important As Saving Money
I bet you’re thinking that this process seems really complicated and that it probably takes several hours, if not days. Wrong! From the time I sit down to make my menu plan for the week, to the time I finish with the grocery list, I spend less than 30 minutes. Taking the little bit of time to make your master meal list will save you loads of time and work, I promise. I will tell my family what day I plan to do the weekly shopping and that I want their contributions for the week’s meals by noon the day before. If they don’t bring their requests, they aren’t allowed to complain about what’s being served. (wink, wink)
Will You Be Able to Cut Your Grocery Budget at Any Store?
Yes, these tips will save you money on your grocery bill no matter where you shop … because the savings do not come from the store itself, but from your organized meal plan and savvy grocery shopping skills. It is a beautiful thing, my friends, to know that you can save a ton of money without clipping coupons.
Another beautiful result of implementing these tips is reduced stress. I cannot tell you how much of a relief it is to know what I’m going to be fixing for meal time every day of the week. I don’t look at the clock at 4:00 and worry about what I’m going to do for supper. All I have to do is look at the weekly menu hanging on the wall and plan accordingly. It is so very nice.
Saving Money Does Not Have To Be Complicated
In most things, simpler is better, and managing your grocery budget is no different. I went into a lot of detail explaining each of my money and time saving tips, but when you look at each of them, you’ll see that they are simple and easy to implement right now – today. And you won’t need multiple newspaper inserts, a special binder, or any special tools to begin.
Saving Money Should Be Rewarding – Not Stressful
I have gone the coupon route. I saved some money. But I was spending hours – hours – each week clipping, sorting, price-checking, and gathering, in preparation for my grocery shop. It was exhausting, stressful, time-consuming. And in the end, I found that I was not saving that much on the things I would normally buy for my family. I was using coupons as an excuse to buy pre-packaged or frozen meals, unhealthy processed treats, and other items I wouldn’t have purchased if not for the coupons.
I have used these tips for a long time and with them, I’ve kept my grocery budget in check … 90% of the time. Which brings me to the last tip I have …
Give Yourself Grace
Raising a family, running a household, keeping up with all the things we have to manage in our day is tough. It’s okay to splurge once in a while — go off the list and throw that quart of Chunky Monkey in the cart! If your kids have been amazing about keeping up with their chores, it is absolutely acceptable to give in to their pleas for sugary cereal, or donuts. Unless you have moral objections to such things. Personally, I have an almost religious relationship with Cocoa Puffs, so I am not here to judge. My point is, don’t feel like you’re failing if you’re not sticking to the plan 100% of the time.
Be flexible. If a meal planned for a certain day doesn’t sound appealing, switch it with another meal later in the week. You’ll have the ingredients for everything so it’s not a problem to do that. If you end up with more leftover based meals in a week and don’t use all your planned meals, use them on next week’s menu. Boom! You’ve saved even more work for yourself! I want you to feel empowered by your menu plan – not shackled to it.
With a minimal investment of time and the cooperation of your family, these tips will help you gain control of your budget and your grocery shopping stress.
Do you have any special secrets for maintaining a stress free grocery budget? I’d love to hear them!
Love & Blessings,
That Farm Mama