When I started this post series about creating a monthly meal plan (here), I mentioned that this wasn’t something we could do in a matter of days, and that we were going to take baby steps to simplifying this one area of our lives. I also said that “life won’t stop being crazy”. TRUTH! I think I underestimated this time of the year and how busy it is…for me, at least. End of school activities, graduations, birthdays, Mother’s Day, cleaning and gardening (ha!), vacation prep, and on and on it goes. So if you’re feeling like your meal plan isn’t “finished”, I’m giving you permission to relax, be ok with where you are, and pat yourself on the back for getting that much closer.
As for me, I have my list of meals. I still need to plug them into a calendar (see the 2nd post in this series here) but since life and our schedule won’t be “consistent” until mid to late May, I have that lower on the priority list for our family. In the meantime I am using up food that we have in the house (which is a good idea to do regularly so that food doesn’t go to waste…and it also helps the budget).
Today we’re going to talk about the next step. Once you have your list of meals for a month and have scheduled it into your calendar, you can use that time you’re saving on meal-planning to start saving some grocery money! Take your monthly list and the recipes for each meal, and write down or type up a grocery list. Since your meals won’t change much, this can be a reusable, standing list. Here are some tips for implementing your grocery list:
Making Your Grocery List
- Gather your recipes and start writing/typing the ingredients you need for each. At this point I see this being a general list for the month, not including specific quantities. This list will allow you to be able to watch ads and, at a glance, know what foods you need on hand. When something goes on sale, you can stock up. (You could do quantities if you want to avoid looking that info up later, but I think that will make this step more complicated than it needs to be. When you are ready to prep for the week coming up, you can pull recipe cards and make sure you have all the right quantities of everything and adjust your list for the store accordingly.)
- Categorize your list as you would find these items in your store: Meat, dairy, produce, frozen, pantry. You could further divide “pantry” by baking, canned, etc. Whatever makes it easiest to find the items on your list and search ads, savings apps (like Ibotta, Cartwheel and Ebates), and coupons. I’m going to try to avoid the center aisles of the store as much as possible (to avoid processed foods), and since some of my staples also come from the health food section of our store, I think for me “pantry” is the best way to categorize those.
- If you’re watching your grocery budget and trying to save money (aren’t we all??), this list would be a great place to note regular and rock-bottom prices of items you buy on a regular basis. Then you’ll know when something is a good savings, and when prices hit rock-bottom, you can stock up!
- As the seasons change and you decide to switch up recipes, this list may vary a bit, but having a core selection of recipes and a standing list should help to simplify things, even with changes.
- Decide if your weekly list for going to the store will be a hard copy or via an app on your phone. If you prefer a paper list, you can write it out or have printouts of your monthly list ready to go with checkboxes…simply mark the ones that you need that week and head to the store!
- I like to use Wunderlist on my phone so that I’m not at risk of leaving the list at home. It’s also handy because my husband can add things that we’ve run out of, and we can share the list. If I need him to stop at the store, it’s already on his phone, too. I like being able to check things off as I go through the store, as well. There are other grocery apps out there so figure out what works best for you, but Wunderlist works for me. I have several lists for shopping (so that when I go to Target, Costco, Hobby Lobby, wherever…I have a list of what I need ready to go) as well as lists for movies we want to see, home projects we need to do, etc. So for my weekly list, I’ll copy ingredients that we need from the recipe cards onto Wunderlist.
- Want to be sure to include the cleanest produce? Refer to the Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen list and note those on your monthly list. As you make your weekly list, be sure to identify which items should be organic. Over time you’ll just know!
How to Save on the Grocery Bill
An extreme couponer I am NOT, and I do struggle a bit with finding deals on the health food items that I prefer to buy. But even if you’re trying to avoid packaged, processed foods as I am, there are still savings to be had. (Just this week I got over $1 back for a bottle of Kombucha on Ibotta!) Now that we don’t have to spend as much time planning the menu and working on our list each week, we can spend more time watching for deals! There are so many ways you can save, so many apps, etc. that it can get overwhelming. I suggest starting with a few methods and then adding if you have time or find something that really saves you more money. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Check weekly ads for your store and other local stores. Check store policies for price-matching and take advantage of this. Clip store coupons for items you already planned to buy and avoid buying something just because there’s a coupon for it. (That applies to any of the methods below…if you buy just because there’s a deal you didn’t really save money, you spent it!)
- Utilize store apps for extra deals and digital coupons. My local grocery store has deals tied to my loyalty card, but you have to digitally “clip” them so that they’re added to the card and will come off of the total at the checkout. Don’t miss these deals! 😉 Likewise I try to never checkout at Target until I’ve checked Cartwheel for the items I am buying, either by searching categories or scanning the barcode on each item with the app. Check your favorite stores and see if they have deals on their apps!
- Use savings apps that consistently have items you buy. Despite my hectic schedule, one app that I’ve been really good about remembering to use is Ibotta. Recently they had an “any item” reward, so regardless of what I was buying I could get that $.25. They also often have non-brand specific produce and other food items, and I’m able to find health food brands regularly, too. To get the rebates you just have to check the items you want to get, scan the product barcode (when applicable), and take a photo of your receipt to upload. It’s all pretty quick and even though many rebates might just be a quarter, it adds up! I’m at $23.50 right now. 🙂 Eventually I’ll redeem it for a gift card! Others that I’ve downloaded and used are Checkout 51, store specific apps (like Cartwheel and Savings Catcher), as well as Berry Cart (for organic, gluten free, non-GMO, vegan and allergy-free foods) and Favado (which helps find the best deals on grocery and drugstore items). Now that I’m freeing up meal-planning time I plan to use these a lot more!
- Subscribe to a deal-finding website/blog like Krazy Koupon Lady or Coupon Mom. Those sites have search features so you can run your list through and see which stores have the best prices and if there’s an available coupon as well. Sometimes you can get things free or actually come out with a profit by combining deals! (Not usually on things I buy, but you never know…)
- Stock up when items are on sale. You now have a monthly rotation and know what foods you need and will eat each month. When food items that you commonly use drop significantly in price (that’s where that rock-bottom price list comes in handy), stock up, especially if they can be frozen or aren’t perishable.
This is just the tip of the iceberg! Share below how you have luck saving on groceries! In a few weeks we’ll do a part 4 to this series…snack ideas! In the meantime I’ll be taking a bit of a vacay, and have some other blog work planned. Summer is coming…whoo hoo!!!
Update: Link to part 4 is here!