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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Grocery Shopping for less

Kristen place a comment on my blog yesterday, and it's something I've been meaning to post on. Since I didn't find any interesting deals today, AND I just went through my shopping prep time, I thought I would share with you a routine I'm forming that seems to be working well.

We allow $400 a month for groceries. There are 4 people in our family, I cook 2 meals a week (at least) where a college student joins us for a meal, and I have one in diapers and one in over night pull ups. Our "grocery" money includes diapers, cleaning supplies, water filters, air filters, vacuum filters and toiletries along with food.

This budget can present quite a challenge on certain days, and here's why:

My obstacles:
1) We live in a SMALL town with 1 that's right folks 1 grocery store. Super Walmart and Aldi are about 20-35 minutes away, and there is no Kroger or store that doubles coupons in sight.

2) My boys both have a milk intolerance.

3) We don't eat red meat (accept my husband who loves Trader Joe's buffalo burgers).

Side Note: I realize you are thinking what kind of a town has Trader Joes but not Walmart, well, not ours. I drive at least an hour each way to go to Trader Joes. We have a deep freeze basement in our freezer and I STOCK up when I go.

Monthly cooking goals:
1) As little sugar as possible
2) As few repeats (accept Pizza) as possible
3) Weight Watcher's Points friendly meals
4) Variety

Here's what my shopping plan looks like:

Once a month I with draw $400 from our checking account and place it in an envelope labeled "food".

I go through the pantry and freezer and see what I have "in stock". I then create as many meals as I can with what is leftover. This month because of a sale on chicken late in the month I was able to create 10 days worth of meals before needing to buy anything.

Once a calendar is created for the month with "in stock" food, I then fill in the rest of the month with a recipe plan. I use Springpad for this. I'm in process of adding all my recipes to my MacGourmet program as well.

I try to create my meal plan by seeing what is on sale, what I can stack coupons with, and what we haven't had in awhile.

Then, I create my list. I start by writing everything down as I think of it. I leave a list posted for a few days and ask my husband to add to it as well. I have a pre-made list from Springpad that we can just check things off of.

Then, the day before I go shopping I go to BeCentsable and check out the grocery gathering. I generally check out STL Mommy because her listings are closest to what my Walmart sales are. Prices and sales vary by region.

As I go through the list and see what I have that is on sale or is close to free I may change a recipe here or there and I may change some purchase ideas.

As I finalize this list I then create 2-4 lists. This weeks I did 4.

1) Walgreens
2) CVS
3) Walmart
4) Aldi

I paper clip my coupons to the lists and get ready to shop.

Shopping day:
I will start at Aldi. I shop all my staples at Aldi. Here is a list that has helped me in the past with prices.

Here are the perks to Aldi:
1) it's less expensive
2) they don't take coupons, so you don't have to think so much, just read a label and grab.
3) it's smaller so you feel like you can get through quickly
4) there aren't 100 things your kids are going to ask for.

Then, I go to Walmart.

I get everything I couldn't find at Aldi, and whatever is on my Walmart list.

note: I do check the Walmart list in Aldi since they sometimes have extra items in stock.

Then, I will go to Walgreens.

Then, usually on a different day, I will go to CVS. I check for upcoming sales and keep a running list by the week as to what I can get at CVS. We have one in our town, so that is easy. Walgreens I do RARELY, and only if they have an awesome deal like the soft scrub soap this week.

Now, I really try to do this with out my kids. This week it is necessary to do it with them, SO, we'll stop at Md's playland for lunch. We have an envelope marked for Family Entertainment, and that is where this money will come from.

On weeks where I don't take my kids Walmart is replaced with a trip to Trader Joe's or Dierbergs. Here I can get soy yogart, healthier breads, and other "staples" that are probably just staples in our house.

On this initial shopping trip I will spend around $300 of that budget. The final $100 is reserved for a great sale, things I forget, and of course, things that come up as the month goes on. This month, my initial trip should be closer to $200.

I am planning a stop at Trader Joe's at the end of the month, and I really want to reserve funds for it. One thing that is helping me out is that CVS just gave out their quarterly money, and with a gift card for filling a new perscription I have over $35 to spend there. I'll use it to stock up on needs like paper towels, tp, and diapers.

Here are my rules (that I do break occasionally)

1) $400 is our limit, so if I'm out of money, I do without an ingredient or find a recipe that I have stuff for.

2) I will not pay less if it compromises my family's health. For example. Applesauce that has High Fructose Corn Syrup as ingredient #2 is much cheaper then all natural applesauce from Walmart or Trader Joes. I don't care. I want the All Natural.

3) If I can make it from scratch cheaper, I do. My favorite example of this is sweet and sour sauce. It takes 10 minutes to make and pennies to do so, but at our local grocery store can cost over $2 a bottle for half the amount. Also, whenever I can, I make my own yogart, dinner rolls/pizza dough, pancake mix, trail mix snacks, etc.

4) My family will have fresh fruit and fresh or frozen veggies offered with every meal.

What else helps me out:
1) We're on Wic, so my kids Lactaid milk and cheese and cereal is free. This saves us at least $30 a week. Lactaid milk in town is $4.45 for a half gallon. The boys go through a half gallon in about 2 days. I also use this milk to make their yogart.

2) My kids are able to process cheese in smaller quantities and although they can picky sometimes are at an age where they finally understand (usually) that if they don't eat dinner, then that's it, no snacks.

3) The internet and sites like and and $5

4) Buying Bulk

Although we recently gave up our Sam's Club membership my friend Meredith (love you!) has been able to get me occasional items. Also, I can shop at CostCo. when at my parent's house. Whole Foods has a great price on bulk flours such as whole wheat pastry flour and rices like Basmati Rice (a staple in our house). When I go to Trader Joe's I also try to get to Whole Foods. I also purchase some of my personal staples (I'm doing weight watchers points) in bulk online.

This process sounds overwhelming I'm sure. The prep now takes me about 45 minutes.

The shopping can take 3 hours with kids. But, it's only once to twice a month, and the money are saving allows for me to take them to Md's for lunch.

Here's what I've learned since I've really started trying this process:

1) You have to do what works for you.

2) You have to work with what you have.

3) You need to try to be flexible.

4) You can't beat yourself up for every sale you miss. There will probably be a different one in a few weeks.

5) You can't be product loyal on everything. Go where the coupons lead.

6) You need to remember the end result: healthy, inexpensive meals for people you love.

I'm hoping to have kiddo #2 potty trained by August, and that should give me a little wiggle room in the budget. I'm also contemplating dropping the budget by $50 when #2 is out of diapers. We'll see!


  1. What a great post. I dont know what I would do without my Dierbergs! Its sad I am 5 minutes from a Trader Joes and have never been.

  2. Thanks so much for posting this! Great Info!