Monday, December 3, 2007

The once monthly grocery shopping trip

I do not enjoy going to the grocery store. I have to drive there, find a parking spot, search out the items I want (trying not to get too many things I do not need), check out and haul the load home, fighting people and cars to get out of the parking lot. Then I have to unload the car, put it all away, drop on the sofa and eat junk food to numb the pain. Okay, I have eased up on the last part, but the sentiment remains the same. My feelings did not always reflect such a dread. I used to even run to the store just to satisfy a junk food craving. Now I practice getting as many errands out of one trip as possible to conserve time and gasoline.

To balance out my need for food to feed myself and my less-than-enthusiastic response to grocery shopping, I came up with the once monthly grocery trip. As my current spending plan stands, I spend less than 4% of my gross monthly income (excluding those "extra"paychecks I receive twice a year) on groceries. There are four weapons in my arsenal: 1) meal planning for the entire month, 2) my calculator, 3) my grocery list, and 4) a large grocery store (great selection with warehouse prices). I do not have a price book and I rarely use coupons.

To facilitate my once-a-month trip, I learned that planning on meals that should get me through the entire month was the big key. I do not calculate the serving size and how many meals. That is likely to be a better method than my "that number seems right" sense, but as I am a single person feeding myself and I have done this for a few years, this works for me. I usually have three to four big recipes (e.g., beef parmigana), two or three quick recipes (e.g, fixings for a homemade pizza), a sweet treat or two and a new recipe I have not tried before. There are several recipes I really like on heavy rotation and it can get to the point I just get tired of them. Trying a new recipe expands my horizons and may add a new favorite to my lineup. Since I am feeding one person (me) and the recipes can be anywhere from three to ten servings, I have leftovers for lunches and dinners. Hence, a few recipes can go a long way.

With a frugal grocery budget, I have learned that making my own meals really does save money. I do purchase some convenience foods, but they are a treat, not a necessity. In fact, my purchase of a bread machine has really helped with my bread expenses as well as introducing me to pizza dough (a staple in my house) and a wide variety of breads I never would have experienced otherwise.

With the list set, I choose an evening after work to visit the large grocery store. My work is closer to the store so to minimize the gas usage, I plan a trip on a weekday evening. Following the list, I punch in the cost of each item into my calculator and cross the item off the list as it is added to the cart. For items where there is more than one size choice, I use the calculator to divide the size by the price to figure out which is the better deal. I use the store brands for some items (e.g., condensed soup), but there are not always generic choices or I decided I like the tast of the name brand better. My calculator not only makes sure I have the best deal on items, it also helps me keep on my budget. Especially at the end of the trip, I know whether I can get that last item or if I have to decide to put back an item or two to keep within my budget. As my pantry has become better stocked with staples like flour, sugar, various condensed soups (for casserole dishes) and pasta, my budget has more ease in it for treats like soda or chips.

While I do only one major trip a month to the grocery store, I usually make at least one more trip for milk or other items at the end of the month. I drink at least three gallons of milk a month and fitting more than four in the refrigerator is difficult. I do not eat a lot of fresh fruits or vegetables, but I am working on improving my diet and these items are perishable, likely needing a second trip to replenish my supply. Depending on the items I need, I may choose to visit Walgreens, which offers milk and snacks as well as cold remedies.

These practices have kept me within my grocery spending plan for over year. It took me some time to get it down and learning that the less I spent on convenience foods, the more ease there was in my budget so I did not run into the red. Consider planning your meals for a week and then shopping for those meals rather than grabbing a few items for dinner that night. You might find that it saves you money, time and aggravation. You might end up in the once monthly shopping plan as well! It simplified my life and I cannot say I have nothing to eat!

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