Friday, January 30, 2009

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 somewhere 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.

Mom2fur said...

I believe in the flexible menu plan, too! I shop at two stores, but some weeks I don't make it to store 2. So I just adapt whatever I'd planned for dinner based on what I already have at home. With a well-stocked pantry, fridge and freezer, it is easy to mix and match. Just because a recipe calls for tortillas doesn't mean you can't put everything on top of pasta, LOL!

Brooke said...

i stockpile when i have coupons - occasionally i'll get $5 off $45 purchase at kroger. i use that opporotunity to buy staples (i normally don't spend $45 at the grocery store per week.

Laura said...

Mom2fur -- I'm the same way. I'm a Whole Foods and Kroger shopper, but I can make do with one if I don't have time for the other.

This all reminds me that I need to get my chicken stock... um... restocked.

Brooke -- thanks for the comment! I admire folks who have the patience for coupons. I just feel like I never find coupons for things I already use.

Prudent Homemaker said...

If you use a price book, you can KNOW what the absolute lowest price is for meats (and where) and everything else, and you can know when it's best to stock up. For example, some stores may run ads for $1.99 a pound for chicken, but then about every 12 weeks have it for $1.49 a pound. Knowing that, you can just buy chicken and put it in your freezer to last you until the next sale.