Of all the work that needs to be done around the house, the ones related to eating (menu planning, grocery shopping, cooking, and kitchen clean-up) are the ones that demand constant, regular attention and can easily drag both our sanity and our budgets into chaos and disorder if we don’t stay on top of them. Those people in our families need to eat. Every day. Several times, in fact.
Many people feel like this is an area that needs improvement in their lives, but because it encompasses SO MANY significant areas (health, nutrition, family time, budget/finances, time management, organization) it’s hard to know where to start and can get really overwhelming. If you’re not sure where to begin, I encourage you to pick the one area that is most important to you and start there. Don’t adopt extreme couponing, clean eating, and freezer-meal cooking all in the same week. Pick ONE.
Here’s a glimpse into how I manage grocery shopping for my family – while staying within my budget. Maybe some of these things will work for you, maybe they won’t. But I think it’s always useful to peek into other people’s homes and see how they do things. In real life.
Stick With What You’re Good At
Since we’re being real, let me start by telling you what I DON’T do. I don’t spend time reading circulars or shopping the sales. I don’t do couponing or bulk purchasing. I know some people are excellent at it and can feed their families on something crazy like $40 a week but I just don’t have the time to make that happen. In fact, we rarely go to Costco. I’m just not good at it. We go probably twice a year. We end up spending like $600 on who knows what, then swear it off forever. Until the next time.
Keep It Simple
For the sake of my sanity and organization I keep it simple. I shop only at Fred Meyer. I’ve decided time and simplicity are bigger priorities for me than saving every penny that I can by store-hopping.
Save Money By Minimizing Waste
Since I’m not saving money by couponing, I find other ways to stretch my food budget. I take inventory of my fridge to see what might be close to going bad and I plan my meals around those things. I’ve gotten pretty good at finding creative ways to avoid food waste.
I also intentionally purchase less, knowing that we probably won’t go through it all. For example, I might purchase 8 apples instead of 10. Just this week the last taco on Taco Tuesday didn’t have lettuce because we ran out. The world did not end.
After I make my menu, I make a shopping list. I type it into a free app on my phone called Out of Milk. I can also enter the cost of each item so it gives me a projected bill total. This lets me know if I’m on target with my weekly budgeted amount or not. When I’m at the store, I stick pretty strictly to my list and don’t purchase extras.
Right before I head out the door I do a quick check of the Fred Meyer app for coupons and load them to my card if there is a product that’s on my list. It’s not going to cut my grocery bill in half, but it’s a super easy way for me to save a couple of bucks. I’ll take it.
The grocery budget category is strangely deceptive – it feels like it’s one we have so much control over because it’s a hundred teeny items that add up to one big bill, so we feel like we should easily be able to cut it. Sometimes that’s true, but sometimes it’s not. At the end of the day it IS how you feed your family, and your family’s values affect the cost. Families that value convenience/time savings over budget will have higher expenses. Families that have more time on their hands may be able to spend time couponing to slash their bill, but if you’ve got a bunch of other things on your plate it may or may not be feasible right now. That’s OK too.
Give Yourself Grace
While I don’t believe in comparing yourself to others, I also think context is valuable. There are so many stories of people who spend so little on groceries it makes us feel like we should be able to do that too and we’re not sure what “normal people” spend. Personally, we spend $140 per week for the 4 of us. For some families, that sounds ridiculously high. For others, it’s impossibly low (we don’t buy organic, for example). But that’s where we’ve settled. A few months ago I increased our budget by $20 because it seemed like I was always going over and it was stressful every week. I concluded that my expectations were just too high and my budget too low for the way that we prefer to eat.
We don’t eat cheap, but we do eat well. We all love food way too much to compromise the quality our meals. So within that context these are the things I do to feed our family in the most cost-effective, sanity-preserving way.
What else would you add? How do you manage grocery shopping for your family? What tips and tricks have you figured out? Or do you need to give yourself a little grace?