This is part of the Saving Money on Groceries series.
Many people assume that smart shopping means writing a grocery list and then sticking to it. That’s only partially true. In my opinion, the best way to save money is to have a pantry stocked full of frugal ingredients, buy items that are always cheap or are on sale, and THEN make a menu plan for next few days or weeks. Trips to the store to be able to make a particular meal should be few and far between.
This post will cover the following:
- Stocking Your Pantry
- Making Smart Grocery Choices (with several ideas for inspiration)
- Planning Shopping Trips Strategically
- Stocking Your PantryOK, so I don’t have a pantry. But you get the point. Having a stocked pantry ensures that you’ll have most everything you need to make meals throughout the week. If you’re trying to save on groceries, it’s critical for those of us who struggle with menu planning or simply don’t want to do it.
Pioneer Thinking is a great site, and they have posted an example list of items to stock your pantry with. Your list will be a bit different depending on what you cook. For example, as you learn to make more things from scratch (or as you find items where the convenience version is better/cheaper), your list will change. Take this list and tweak it to make it your own. When you get ready to go shopping, it’s a big help to scan the list and breeze through your kitchen/pantry to see what you’re running low on.
- Making Smart Grocery ChoicesHow you shop will depend on your determination to save money, your time and resource limitations, and your family’s eating preferences, among other things. As with grocery budgeting, start with what you do now and then begin tweaking different areas to save money.
One of my absolute favorite resources for saving money on cooking and shopping is Hillbilly Housewife. Browse through these lists she’s made of Best Buys For Your Budget and Store Bought Convenience Foods that are Usually Good Buys. It will give you some good ideas for focusing your dollars on more frugal grocery items. But check out the rest of her information too. I continue to learn a lot about frugal shopping and cooking from her recipes and articles.
Here are a few things I learned that work for our family/budget:
- Meat: We eat a lot of chicken, so by buying whole chickens I can make at least 3 meals from one chicken as well as stock for soup or freezing. We’ll also get leg quarters on sale and frozen chicken breasts.
- Frozen Fruits/Veggies: Many times, frozen fruits and veggies are just as nutritious and even more fresh than they are in the produce aisle. Plus they’re almost always cheaper. Shop and compare. We found peas, broccoli florets, mixed veggies, and berries of all kinds to be cheaper. This is especially true if you’re buying organic.
- Produce Seasons: Produce is cheaper when it is mid-late season for that item. For example, in July, strawberries are the freshest and cheapest. Even more cheap in August as they go out of season. Search the Internet for “produce seasons” for your state or region and find a chart to help you see what will soon be in season. Here’s one for Oregon. Summer and Fall are also great times to shop farms, co-ops, and farmer’s markets, but watch those prices!
- Convenience Foods: We buy very few. We have a few on hand for what I call our “bachelor meals”. Mac and Cheese, top ramen, chicken nuggets, and crackers. That’s pretty much it. Some convenience foods are just too cheap and easy to consider making myself, like whole wheat pasta, spaghetti/pizza sauce, condensed soups for use in recipes, etc.
- Bulk Bins. Seriously… some good savings to be had there! Spend some time just getting familiar with what’s available in that section – you’d be surprised! Before you go to checkout, find the prepackaged version and do a price compare. I’ve rarely found the bulk bins more expensive, but sometimes they are pretty much the same. We get generic cold cereal in the bags instead of from the bins for that reason.
- The Internet is a Powerful Tool. If you’re out of an ingredient, check for substitutes. Just type in “substitutes for eggs” or whatever. I made chicken parmesan the other night and halfway into it realized I had no eggs. Mayo mixed with milk did the trick! Also, you can find some amazing recipes online. Do you have leftover chicken, spinach, and rice to use up? Search for recipes that use all of those items on food.com to find ideas.
- Planning Shopping Trips Strategically
- Take Stock: When getting ready to go shopping, first take stock of all the food you have in the pantry, cupboards, freezer, fridge, etc.
- Make a List of Meals: Trying to use up what you already have, make a list of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks. This can be just a list enough to fill 3 days to a couple of weeks, or a more formal meal plan.
- Write a Grocery List: Include basics you’re running low on, things you have great coupon deals for, and things you need to complete the meals in the list you just made.
- Go Prepared: Bring your list, your coupons, your calculator, and your price book or something to jot prices on. Eat before you go or on the way and bring drinks and snacks for the kids.
- Stick to Your List… Mostly: Shop your list and avoid impulse buys, but keep your eye out for good deals! Especially things like seasonal specials, produce sales, meat sales, clearance/discount bins, etc.
- Minimize the Number of Trips: Do one big shopping trip at the beginning of the month (or whenever makes sense for you). Then you only really need to go for miscellaneous items or things like milk and produce every week or two. The less you go shopping, the less likely you are to buy stuff you don’t need.
Next post in the series: Frugal Cooking – Simple Recipes From Scratch