How to Shop for Food Once a Month and Save Big

By Ashley Marcin on 1 May 2017 0 comments

I've changed my grocery shopping habits quite dramatically, and it's really paid off. First, I've saved several hundred dollars on food in a single month. And beyond that, I've saved a ton of time. What exactly did I do? Well, I started shopping for the majority of my groceries on just one day each month. It may sound overwhelming, but it's definitely doable, and has worked well for my family.

Here's how you can try this method, too.

Take stock

Before I even began meal planning or thinking about shopping, I took a look around my pantry and refrigerator shelves. We actually did a "use-it-up" meal week before the big shop. We ate the remaining pasta, cooked all the beans, and snacked on that rogue pudding cup in the back of the fridge. You know, just so we'd be down to basically nothing.

You don't have to clear out all your food to get planning. Still, it's a good idea to take stock of what you have before you start making grocery lists. That way you'll avoid buying duplicates. Heck, you may also realize that you mindlessly pick up a can of salsa or jar of jam every week even though you don't need them.

Begin meal planning

After you've assessed your situation, you can get to meal planning. This part of the process is the most important. It may even be the most time consuming. Taking time to plan your meals, though, is the key to success. You don't want to buy a mega load of groceries and then not know what to do with them.

What I do is sort of old school. I have a regular notebook and I write down the number of weekdays and weekends for that month. From there, I'll start planning the dinners. I write out how many we'll cook at home and how many nights we might eat out (or be out of town, in meetings, etc.).

Last month, I ended up with a total of 23 dinners at home.

Breakfasts, lunches, and snacks are a bit different. We tend to fall into habits with those. I'll eat oatmeal every day, my daughter likes cereal, and my husband noshes on eggs and toast for breakfast. On weekends, we may do something like pancakes.

Lunches are pretty much the same: PBJ, pretzels, and applesauce for my daughter. My husband packs salads and big Greek yogurt creations. I usually eat leftovers. The baby eats bits of what we eat since she only just started eating solid foods.

How to plan your meals

So, how exactly can you plan meals efficiently? We have a running list of the dinners that have been hits in our house. I'd say there are 15-20 meals on this list. When I'm meal planning, I choose maybe six of these meals to incorporate into our month.

For example, we may do something like this for our 23 dinners:

  • Breakfast for dinner x 4 nights
  • Slow cooker chili x 4 nights
  • Homemade pizza x 4 nights
  • Sloppy lentil sandwiches x 4 nights
  • Tofu stir-fry x 4 nights
  • Slow cooker chickpea curry x 3 nights

From there, I go through the recipes (they may be in my head or on a website, but it's helpful to actually look at them) and write down the ingredients I'll need for each. It can be helpful to pick recipes that use similar ingredients, so you can take advantage of bulk pricing, if available. (See also: 10 Fruits and Veggies That Stay Good a Month or Longer)

Pick a day and a store

Choose a day for your big shop when you have plenty of time and energy. For some, this may be the weekend. I am able to do my big shop during the week, so I avoid the crowds. I also try to leave my kids at home if I can.

You may not want to go to just one grocery store for this shop, either. I hit up Aldi and Wegmans and sometimes a bulk place like Sam's or BJ's. Where I go has a lot to do with what's on our meal plan and my knowledge of prices. Aldi wins out on most items. I've seen their eggs as low as 70 cents for a dozen. Their Greek yogurt prices can't be beat and I buy six tubs of it at a time. They also carry avocados for a fraction of the price I can find them anywhere else. I can't say enough wonderful things about Aldi.

But there are some things, like our favorite huge jars of organic peanut butter, that I like to buy at Wegmans. Tofu isn't an item I've seen at Aldi, so I buy a three-pack of that at Wegmans, as well. They also have certain bulk items, like lentils, beans, etc.

Find the best prices in your area and choose where you'll go from there. (See also: 10 Affordable Alternatives to the Grocery Store)

Set aside funds

For our monthly shop, we set aside $350 for our family of two adults, one kid, and one baby. We also set aside $150 each month for grocery trips throughout the month, when needed. That's to buy things that spoil more easily, like milk or certain produce (berries come to mind). Because we do the big monthly shop, these trips to the grocery store are extremely quick and easy, since we only buy a few items from the fresh sections of the store.

That means that we are spending $500 total on food for the month — a little over $100 a week. But as I got used to shopping this way, we've started spending less than the allocation. We were spending $800 a month on food before. This process has cut our monthly food spend by almost half.

Cook, cook, and cook some more

The other critical piece that makes this way of shopping work is to cook. Cook all the meals you have planned. You may feel like you're on food-overload when you first come home and put everything away. But if you stick to your list, you'll be using everything by the month's end. Stick with your plan and you'll be fine.

If you have the space and the time, I have found it incredibly helpful to batch cook and use our freezer space to make things ahead. For example, I make my daughter homemade Uncrustable sandwiches for each school day and store them in the freezer. I have even started experimenting with freezer dump meals where you do all the prep, put everything in pre-portioned freezer bags, and then cook in the slow cooker the day of your planned meal.

I also buy more frozen foods that won't spoil and can carry over into the next month if we don't use everything. (See also: Save Time and Money With a Monthly Assembly Cooking Weekend)

What about meat?

You may have gathered that I'm a vegetarian. Meat eaters can totally follow this type of shopping, too, though. Freeze your meat and thaw the night before in your refrigerator. If you don't have the freezer space, simply figure in how much meat will cost and add it to your small weekly shop.

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