For my once monthly grocery trips, I consider more than just menu planning. The magnetic list on my refrigerator is an important part of planning my grocery trip as well.
Not only do I have a list of planned dinner and dessert items on my refrigerator, each of which get crossed out when made, but I also have a running list of items I use up or am running low on. For example, I did not plan my flour purchases well for the month of December and ran out of unbleached all-purpose flour. However, I did have plenty of bread flour which substituted well in cookies but not so well for sauce thickening. Therefore, I needed more all-purpose flour. I also used nearly all my cinnamon so I put that on my list of grocery items I needed to purchase.
This running list is important so I keep it in a location that is easy to access. The magnetic pad on my refrigerator is easy to find and I have a pen just a step away that I can note whichever item I need to purchase. The key to continually using an item: make it simple and easy to implement.
In addition to necessary items to stock and the planned menu foodstuffs, I need to keep under budget. This can be a challenge. In fact, my grocery trip for this month, January 2008, was barely under budget. Since I had run low on more items than I anticipated in December and the cumulative effect of trying three new recipes in one month, my purchases added up quickly.
However, I usually end up with more breathing room than $1.96. Therefore, I can add staples to my pantry. When I noticed that I was going through five pounds of bread flour a month, I started purchasing 10 pound bags. While the initial outlay of money was more, I lowered my overall costs (lower cost per pound of flour) and that left a bit more room in the budget. I have stocked various condensed soups, tomato paste, tomato sauce, canola oil and other staples I use regularly with the room left in my grocery money allocation. This helps decrease food costs as I have an item or two needed for a dish I want to make and do not have to purchase it the month I want to make the dish.
The best way I have found to keep on budget? My calculator. Each item I place in my grocery cart, I punch into my handy calculator. This tool is also useful for deciding between items of two different sizes and prices. I write down my current total on my grocery list and then divide the price by the unit size of the item I am considering. This ability helped me determine that the largest size of a box of powdered milk really was a better deal than the generic brand at the large or medium size. And it will take me a long time to go through 64oz of powdered milk.
Among my posts on my once monthly grocery shopping trip, I believe this covers the planning that goes into my trips. One final note: I used my eight hemp bags and they fell short by one bag on the trip. If you plan on reusing bags you have or are purchasing some reusable bags, bring or buy a few extra. It does not hurt and may give you a per unit break on the price of reusable bags. Let me know your thoughts and comment!