Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Grocery Shopping, Anyone?

Love it or hate it, grocery shopping is part of the American culture. Unless you live on a completely self-sustaining farm, you have to get out once in a while to get groceries. I am not Amish, but I'm pretty sure even the Amish have to go in to town every so often to get needed supplies that they can't produce on their own farms.  For many of us, this task falls to the woman in a marriage. I do have friends whose husbands do the grocery shopping, but offhand, I can only think of one. She is blessed.   If you are also blessed by a husband who prefers to do the majority of the grocery shopping, you can probably stop reading right now. Otherwise, I have finally found a system that works for me and you might find it useful.

As with other things we talk about on this blog (I am sensing a developing a theme here) intentionality is key. When I was first married, I went to the grocery store without a plan and often I took my husband along for company. This resulted in a lot of frozen pizzas, snacks, and few meal options. As a result, and partly because I had a job that required me to work odd hours, we ate out a lot. This was not good for our budget or our health. I don't recommend it.
I finally hit on a plan that worked for a while when I had 3 very small children and couldn't get out much during the week to get groceries. I was homeschooling my oldest and my youngest was still napping twice a day. This made grocery shopping during the week pretty near impossible. However, I was determined to save money, especially when my husband told me I could use any money left over from the grocery budget at the end of each week for whatever I wanted! WhooHoo! That was incentive, let me tell you. At this time we also lived in a small town with numerous grocery stores relatively close by. So, I scoured the ads and made meal plans around the sales ads for the week. I spent every Saturday running to two or three different grocery stores in order to get the most for my dollar. This is not a new tactic, and if you have the time and inclination to do this, it's a great money saver and a good way to meal plan. However, it can cost more in time and gas than it's worth. And if you are just running around hitting sales without a good plan in place, it's not necessarily helpful either. I think it was a good place for me to start. I would run to the grocery store that had pork chops on sale, but I didn't necessarily have a plan for those pork chops, so in the middle of the week I might find myself wondering what in the world I had to serve with them or even how exactly to prepare them with the ingredients I already had on hand. Not really a plan at all, was it?

I know this isn't really new news, but I was not taught this, dear daughter. My mother did not teach me to meal plan or grocery shop. So I hope this is helpful to you. Make a menu. Every week before you go to the grocery store, make a menu. If you are newly married and you are only shopping for you and your husband for the week, make a menu. Make a menu so you and your husband aren't eating lunch out every day. Make a menu so your husband can start dinner if you're late getting home from work one night. Make a menu so that you can plan on leftovers for lunches during the week.
If you have small children and you are all home together during the day, make menus for lunches and breakfasts as well as dinners. This all seems so obvious and almost silly to blog about, but it wasn't obvious to me and so, dear daughter, I am hoping you can take something from this that will be helpful.

ignore my Christmas note pad. It was a dollar at Target. :)

Make sure, especially if you have children in activities outside the home, that you have some quick go-to meals that can be prepared quickly. This will save you great amounts of money eating out. When  my middle daughter was playing softball at least twice a week and my husband was coaching her team, family meals were difficult and if we did sit down together, it had to be fast. But you know, I found out quickly that buying ingredients for submarine sandwiches was much cheaper, and healthier, than going to a fast food restaurant for the same sandwiches on game night.
Another tip that has been especially helpful for me as my children have gotten older is to have a whiteboard in the kitchen where they could write things down that they would like me to buy or that we are running low on. I don't eat ketchup on anything, really. But my kids do. So, if we're running low on ketchup, chances are I won't find out until we're eating hamburgers and one of my family members complains that we're out of ketchup. So, the rule is, if you find something like that is running low, put it on the whiteboard. If you don't, you can't complain when we run out. Before heading out to the grocery store, I write those things down on my list so I don't forget to buy them.
So, in conclusion, dear daughter, if you want to save time and money on groceries, make a menu before heading out. It's time consuming and sometimes I feel like I am beating my head against a brick wall trying to come with new ideas. But it beats the alternative. Once the menu is made and I have my list, it doesn't necessarily matter which day we eat what, as long as I can go to the list and know I have all the ingredients on hand to make whatever is on the menu. 

I realize there are much more high tech ways to do these things these days. If you are using a menu planning software and you keep all of that information on your smart phone, that is wonderful. But if you are more low-tech, like me, this is simple and it works. And by the way, if you have a menu planning app on your smart phone and you don't use it, you probably aren't saving any money. In fact, if you paid for that app and you aren't using it, you are losing money in the long run.

One book that really helped me in this area in the early years of marriage and parenting is Miserly Moms by Jonni McCoy. Also, DaveRamsey has so many great budgeting tips on his web-site, you can make worksheets and spreadsheets for everything. So, if you need help even coming up with a grocery budget, this might be a great place to start. 

Happy shopping, dear daughter. I've learned to enjoy my weekly trip to the store, even if I don't love the prep work. I hope you can find some enjoyment in planning and preparing healthy, delicious meals for your family.


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