My Grocery Routine Revisited

Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap  —  July 3, 2013 — 15 Comments

save money on groceries

A few months ago I posted about my system for meal planning and grocery shopping. I only started taking over the cooking around New Years’ and since my post in January I’ve made a few tweaks. For one, the structured meal plan was not really sustainable. We needed more flexibility and so now I just have maybe a dozen meals that we rotate through depending on what we’re in the mood for. They all use the same basic ingredients so it’s easy to shop without knowing exactly what I’ll be cooking that week. Here are our favorites:

  • Real Life Chicken Dinners–I shared three of our go-to meals in this post
  • Pasta with meat sauce–season and brown a pound of ground beef, add a jar of pasta sauce (Albertson’s has a tasty one in the dollar aisle), and serve over whole wheat pasta
  • Beans and rice–I’ll cook a pound of dry kidney or lima beans with some onion, garlic, and sausage and serve over rice
  • Grilled cheese with tomato soup–this is easy to keep on hand as a quick backup meal
  • Breakfast for dinner–french toast, pancakes, or scrambled eggs
  • Shrimp–I buy bags of frozen Gulf shrimp when it’s on sale. We’ve been really happy with both this recipe¬†(served with rice) and this one (using fresh tomatoes and basil from our yard)
  • Steak–I buy inexpensive steaks on sale and keep a few in the freezer at all times. I cook them up on the stovetop and serve them with in-season veggies

My cooking is not revolutionary. Where the magic actually happens is the grocery store. I usually spend between $50-$70 a week for our family of three (Jack eats as much as a big kid). I occasionally use coupons when I find one for something I actually need, but the biggest thing that helps me save is the simple step of planning my trip.

  • I only make groceries on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday. This is because sale ads come out on Wednesday. Friday is actually the best day at my grocery store because that’s when they restock the shelves, plus they often have 3-day sales that start on Friday and run through the weekend.
  • I check the sale ad online before I go. If you only take one piece of advice from this post, let it be this one. The best sale items are often not marked in my store, and sometimes they even hide stuff! I often have to go to employees to ask about items that were advertised at a deep discount. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they just¬†happen to not have any out on the shelves. Maybe they’re worried about their sales numbers or maybe the employees just want to stock up for themselves, I don’t know, but if you advertise extra large Gulf shrimp for $3/pound you can bet your britches I’m going to ask about it.
  • I only buy produce on sale. The sale ad makes this easy–it’s basically a visual guide to what produce is in season and available at your store. It doesn’t get any easier than that! The only exception to this rule are bananas and carrots, which are cheap all year and a favorite of Jack’s. Every week I buy bananas, maybe one or two other types of fruit and maybe one or two types of vegetables, just depending on what’s on sale, then work them into our meals throughout the week.
  • I freeze milk in small portions. If I can get milk on sale I buy extra and freeze it, but even If I can’t I usually pour half the gallon into a couple of glass jars and put them in the freezer. This saves us from having to buy a fresh gallon every week and from having milk go to waste because we don’t use it fast enough. I only buy milk maybe once or twice a month now but we always have it on hand for cereal and cooking.
  • I make a list before I go. I have a saved note on my phone of all the stuff I need to keep on hand. Every week I copy and paste it into a new note and stand in my kitchen deleting whatever we don’t need. Then I check the sale ad and type in anything that I want to buy on sale, including the advertised price so that if there’s a problem I know how much it’s supposed to cost without having to truck to the front of the store for a paper ad.

Here’s my comprehensive list:

Every week I buy:
Pasta
Beans
Cereal
Bananas
Fruits and veggies on sale
Ground beef

This is what I keep on hand and check before leaving:
Garbanzo beans (to make hummus)
Black beans
Olive oil
Garlic powder
Rice
Wheat shells
Bread
Peanut butter
Tomato soup
Pasta sauce
Sausage
Greek yogurt
Tortillas
American cheese
String cheese
Shredded cheddar
Parmesan cheese
Eggs
Butter
Onion
Carrots
Soy sauce
Worcester sauce
Milk
Frozen spinach (in a bag, not a box, so I can pull out a handful at a time to add to meals)
Frozen chicken/beef
Oatmeal
Check list on fridge (the dry erase board where I jot down anything I notice we’re out of)
Paper towels
Cat litter
Cat food
Dog food
Trash bags, laundry and dishwasher detergent
Toilet paper

That’s it! Notice that distinctly lacking from that list is junk food. It’s expensive and bad for you so we just don’t keep it around. Instead we find ourselves reaching for string cheese, fruit, or oatmeal if we’re craving a snack. Also, we pretty much only drink water at home. We only get cokes when we eat out.

Speaking of eating out, Nick and I have tried time and again to cut back with limited success. We always try to go cold turkey and fall off the wagon within a week. What we’ve finally found that works for us is telling ourselves we can only eat out once a week and to save it for the weekend. It’s easier to stick to this plan because we can look forward to where we’ll go on Saturday instead of lamenting that we’ll never eat out again! We’ll even start planning where to eat as early as Wednesday, even if it’s just our favorite taco shop. This is great for both our wallets and our waistlines.

So there you have it, the grocery shopping technique that’s been serving me well for the last few months! I shop at Albertson’s, so your mileage may vary depending on where you shop (Walmart may be less, Whole Foods may be more). We’re getting a Trader Joe’s later this year and maybe I’ll make the switch! I definitely like having a regular grocery store where I do all my shopping–I’m familiar with everything from what store brand items are the best to which cashiers are the nicest. Do you have any tips for saving money on groceries without veering into extreme couponing territory?

Original image from here

Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap

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15 responses to My Grocery Routine Revisited

  1. Albertsons also has a “build your own” six pack of beer option, where you can pick out six different beers for $8.99. Beer is fun, and it lets me try a few different beers. Albertsons also has pretty good deals. Target is my favorite but I often come home with clothes or sheets or a lampshade or something. And couponing is mostly at CVS cause I get off on stuff like that. PS – if you ever need toothpaste….just say the word. I’ve got more than a dentist’s office.

    • Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap July 3, 2013 at 11:19 am

      Haha I have a couple of coupons for toothpaste that I’m saving for when we run out. What is it with toothpaste and the coupons?

  2. Wheat shells?

    Sounds like good advice, I’ll have to give it a shot. Our grocery bill is ridiculous and I can’t seem to get it figured out. We don’t buy junk/convenience foods either, so I really can’t determine how we’re spending $90-$100/wk on two adults and a 15 month-old.

    Cutting back on meat has helped a lot — we do a meatless meal once or twice a week. I think it may be the sack lunches that are putting us over the top — sandwich meat is not cheap and it spoils so fast!

    Do you ever buy and roast whole chickens? It’s super easy and I can get three or four meals out of one. And when they’re on sale, I’ll buy two or three and put them all in the oven together. Picking and shredding them is a pain, but once that’s done, you can load up the freezer and be good to go for quite a while.

    • Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap July 3, 2013 at 11:22 am

      Oh haha I forgot I had wheat shells on the list. That’s a reference to pasta shells. I use them to make homemade shells and cheese when I’m feeling fancy.

      I have not tried roasting a whole chicken yet, but that’s a good idea! As for lunches, I finally gave up on lunch meat and started doing peanut butter sandwiches instead. Nick even keeps bread and peanut butter in his office now! A standard lunch for me is a PB sandwich, some fruit, and a piece of string cheese. In fact that’s what I’m eating at this very moment, haha.

  3. this is great advice, thanks! i love the idea of having a dozen good recipes to rotate. that definitely would relieve some stress about what to make for dinner.

    i’m a huge fan of costco, even for our small family of two adults and 14mo. getting things in bulk like olive oil, cheese, pasta, tomato sauce, and other stuff that keeps well in the pantry help me not spend extra when buying smaller portions. sometimes i find that if i buy things in bulk i don’t have to stock up on it for while, as long as it’s not perishable.

    another thing that helps is to make sure that when i cook dinner i make enough for lunch the next day, that way the hubby doesn’t have to go out for lunch and i don’t have to worry about making a lunch for him.

    we do an all cash system for everything except for bills. so we have cash for groceries, gas and personal spending (we each get our own monthly allowance). for this month we’re going to try splitting up the grocery cash so i’ll get half at the beginning of the month and the other half in the middle of the month. hopefully that’ll help me be more careful about how i spend at the store. i’ll let you know how it goes…

    • Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap July 3, 2013 at 1:29 pm

      COSTCO!!! We are supposed to be getting one in Baton Rouge sometime next year. I’m so excited because I’ve read a lot about how well they treat their employees. I love shopping somewhere I can feel good about! We do leftover for lunch a lot too, but I can never get Nick to remember to bring it with him, or to bring the tupperware back home, haha.

      • haha oh we have the same issue with tupperware here! if i ever wonder where all my plastic containers went i know i can find them in the hubby’s car- gross :/ on more than one occasion i’ve told him to just throw out the container and buy me new ones, i don’t even want to know what used to be in there haha!

        you will love costco! it makes a huge difference when shopping on a budget.

  4. Keep an eye on the sale papers for Roasted Chicken, when they’re on sale it’s cheaper than buying and cooking yourself. Winn Dixie usually runs that sale once a month.

    And I’m curious about freezing milk , what type of glass jar are you using? Do you leave room for expansion?

    • Oh, I am all over that, for sure! When they mark down the already-roasted chickens, it’s like my own personal Black Friday.

    • Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap July 3, 2013 at 2:06 pm

      For the milk I just use regular mason jars and leave room for expansion. Haven’t broken one yet! I really want to get some wide-mouthed jars so I can fill them up a little more.

  5. Roasted chicken is a deli item, in case you’re wondering where to find them in the store

  6. I am so excited for when Trader Joe’s opens up! I’ve heard nothing but good things about that store. Right now, I tend to shop more at Winn Dixie (just a personal preference), but their sales run the same as Albertsons.

    I would love to hear some of your favorite places to go for dining out in Baton Rouge!

  7. I finally found another person who recognises that pretty much all your habitual recipes use the same ingredients so meal planning’s pretty unnecessary!!! I keep my meat and breads in the freezer and my pantry stocked with a range of grains and carbs, so with a selection of produce and dairy you can cook anything.

    TJs is great, but depending on the competition their produce can be lacking and they don’t have pastured dairy.

    Crossing off your list is a great tip, I might try it, but with three stores a week, staggered, it may be less useful. You should try stocking up when a staple is on sale, like beans or pasta.

    • Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap July 6, 2013 at 6:57 pm

      I recently stocked up on pasta when it was on sale at another store across town whose ad I happened to check. A friend of kind was telling me she buys all her pasta and beans in bulk only once every couple of months!

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