Once A Month Grocery Shopping - Getting Prepared

We are planning to start moving towards once a month grocery shopping for a few reasons. Numerous trips each month to various grocery stores for this or that inevitably leads to additional expenses and purchases that weren't intended and ultimately are unnecessary. We have two mortgages while we wait for our house in Hiram to sell, so are working to be more conscientious about expenses we have some control over, such as our monthly grocery bill.

There seem to be a few ways to do this, depending on what works best for your family. Some literally ONLY shop one time a month. Others allow for a once a week or bi-weekly trip for produce and / or milk but nothing else.

I have been combing the web for ideas and compiling them all to create our own method for monthly grocery shopping. Here are some of the resources I found (there is a TON of information out there):
Several sites I read mentioned America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money by Steve and Annette Economides. I have not read this book yet, but am going to see if I can borrow a copy from the library if they have it.

Primary Tips I gathered:
  • Plan your meals monthly and shop from your prepared list (meal planning is a key element to be able to successfully shop only once a month for most - while others prepare to shop what's on sale, and eat based on their purchases).
  • Buy staple items in bulk if you have storage space such as flours, sugar, rice, dry beans, commonly used seasonings and condiments, vinegar, canned goods, etc. (We try to buy anything we use regularly at Sam's Club.)
  • Only buy enough fresh produce that you can use before it goes bad, and / or plan to prep and freeze some items for later use (such as onions / peppers which can be frozen and used in soups, stews, sauces, casseroles, etc. and fruit which can be cut, frozen and used later for smoothies, pies, etc.)
  • Stock up on frozen fruits and vegetables when on sale to use when fresh produce runs low during the month long cycle.
  • Try to find meat in bulk at reduced prices, or on sale, and break into 1 or 2-lb packages (depending on how much you will use at a time) and freeze as needed.
  • Have an organized pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. KNOW what you have and where to find it. Group like items (canned, baking goods, pastas, etc.)
  • Take a month to track your food consumption for items like milk, eggs, cereal, yogurt, etc. so that you can make sure to purchase the right amount for your monthly shopping trip.
  • Take inventory of what you have and note what you need versus what you have prior to your shopping trip each month.
  • Make your own when you can (such as loaf bread, rolls, breadcrumbs, croutons, seasoning mixes, broth, muffins, granola, cookies, cleaning products, etc.)
  • Try to limit the number of stores you go shopping at - if you can get everything at one or two stores try to. (Our plan is to shop at Sam's Club for everything we can buy there, and Kroger for everything else and our master grocery list will be marked by the store we intend to purchase at.)
  • Grow your own if you can - do some gardening! Herbs, produce, fruit - rewarding and nothing beats fresh from the backyard. Kenneth and I are actually working on planning over very first spring garden right now. I'm super excited and can't wait to see if I can successfully grow some of our own produce this coming year.
  • Canning - buy that fresh produce at the grocery store that's on clearance or at the farmer's market in bulk for a great price and can what you can't eat fresh right away (or of course can your own extra produce that you've grown in the garden like tomatoes, beans, etc. too) and enjoy the bounty anytime of year. Great for things like jams and jellies too - you know exactly what is in your food and there are many that don't even require pectin.
  • Utilize a deep freezer if you have the space for it - buy in bulk (meat, frozen fruits / veggies, etc.) when on sale and in larger quantities for better prices and freeze.
  • Do not waste food. Freeze produce or use it if it's getting to the point where it might go bad. Eat your leftovers for lunch, or once a week dinners, take them to work / school, re-imagine them into a new meal.
  • Shop without your younger kids whenever possible (this saves both time and can save money too).
  • When you shop - take your reusable bags, insulated bags, and coolers for packing the items in your vehicle and keeping frozen / refrigerated items cold if you're shopping at multiple stores. Make sure your trunk / back seat, etc. are CLEAR before heading out for shopping.
Currently we are shopping and cooking for a family of 4: 3 adults (well, practically - 2 adults and a 16 year old) and a 15-month old. My husband does the majority of the shopping and often shops at least once or twice a week to get out of the house (he stays home with Lindsey) and for an item here or there.

So for the month of January we spent some money over the weekend at Sam's Club for eggs, milk, bulk dry pinto beans, dry ranch dressing mix, some baby snacks, green bell peppers, bananas, bacon and a couple other items I'm blanking on now. We bought a LOT of groceries in the month of December - some items stocking up, others just miscellaneous grocery purchases (like a ham for New Years, brie and puff pastry for baked brie, and other Holiday related goodies that we don't typically buy). My freezer, pantry, and refrigerator are VERY well stocked right now as we've been moving more and more towards bulk purchases on anything we use regularly these past couple months in particular.

I did not do meal planning for the month of January, but my intent is to use what we have and not go grocery shopping except for organic milk for Lindsey in another week or so when needed (and another gallon of regular milk for us if needed - I'm not ready to buy milk in bulk and freeze it since we really don't use it that often other than for cooking / baking). Kenneth also wants to allow an additional produce purchase half way through the month - primarily for bananas and grapes which are staples for our 15 month old and don't keep much more than a week or so. We'll see how that plan goes. Things like lettuce, potatoes, green peppers, onions, apples, carrots, and celery will be on the once a month list - when we run out of fresh, we will use frozen and canned items.

I'm hoping to make this a monthly post - an update on meal plans (or what we ate the previous month), what I spent on groceries, what items I bought, and how the month went and if we were able to stick to the plan of only doing our shopping once a month! I would ideally like to get our grocery expenses down to a max of $300 a month for our family - ideally a little less, but that's my general budget guesstimate right now - we'll see what our food usage looks like this month and what it takes in February to restock everything.

The reasons people choose to shop once a month vary - from saving time to saving money, to living simpler. Shopping once a month for me is about all of the above. I want to have more control over my purchases and not come home with "impulse buys" every time I (or my husband) hits the grocery store for that "one thing" we need / forgot. If we don't have it, we don't need it and will eat something else. I have a LOT of items in my pantry that have been shoved to the back over time and not used - especially marinades, sauce mixes, jarred items like olives, etc. I want to be more conscientious about what we are using, and not be wasteful with purchases. I want to incorporate those items into our meals, and not make the mistake of buying them again. I want to save time and only spend time at the grocery store and then unpacking groceries once a month. Putting groceries away, and reorganizing the pantry and refrigerator to make things fit once a month is plenty often in my opinion! We have never actually budgeted our grocery shopping before and I know we have spent more than necessary / more than we should many months. I'm hoping once a month shopping will help us get a better handle on what we're actually spending, and help us be more thrifty with our purchases.

The master grocery shopping list I've created for our family is here (and you can find printables at most of the links above as well to get you started if you want to try to do your grocery shopping only once or twice a month too! My list is a work in progress. On the "Need" side I am trying to note what I want to have stocked in my pantry after I go shopping once a month. If that item is a bulk item (such as a 5-lb bag of brown sugar) my intent is to mark in the "Need" side that I need to buy one IF I am at less than half of the bag at the time of shopping - with things like the 50-lb bag of rice that won't need to be purchased again until it is almost completely gone. It isn't an exact science for the larger quantity items, but I'm hoping the list will work for me and I'm sure some of this will be trial and error. We also tend to buy our canned goods, when possible, at Sam's Club - such as our tomato paste, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, mushrooms, soups, and green beans, etc. For those items we'll buy a new 12-pk (or whatever quantity they come in) if we have less than the amount I've written on the "Want" side which is my guesstimate of how many we'll need during a month long period of time. I also know I will not need many of these items every single month (like lemon and lime juice, salsa, hot sauce, etc.) but they are on the list to remind me to check how much I have remaining on a monthly basis to ensure that I have enough for upcoming recipes and usage. The "Want" side will be adjusted as time goes on and I get a clearer picture of how much we're actually using of everything and what we need to have in the pantry / refrigerator each month.


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