Before I had my own family I was the worst for grocery shopping. When I worked in EMS and had to buy groceries for my four day tour, I would spend over $100 for four days, for just me and then end up throwing out half the food. I was a waster. I wasted SO much food, because I either forgot about it until it rotted away, or I bought too much and had to clean out my part of the fridge when I went home and was just too dang lazy to take it home with me.
To be fair it was a three hour drive home, and after working such long hours for four days straight I hardly had to energy to do anything that wasn’t the most absolutely vital to me getting home as fast as possible. But I digress. I didn’t have anyone else I needed to consider in those days, and I was still living at home technically. I say technically because I was living at the station more then I was at home, but either way I didn’t have bills beyond my phone, car and credit cards.
So when I moved in with my now husband, who was also in EMS when I met him and had the same bad habits, we continued to spend WAY too much on groceries. We honestly didn’t really consider what we were buying, we didn’t have a real budget and we didn’t care about being healthy. Like most people in their early 20’s without a lot of obligations, we just got whatever we wanted, whenever. Which is a big reason I gained so much weight because I just wasn’t paying attention AT ALL to what was going into my body.
When I got pregnant with EJ it was a giant slap in the face. I couldn’t just stuff myself with chinese food and pizza from the local restaurants. But it still wasn’t until after I had EJ that I started to pay more attention to what I was eating and to my family’s health. This is also the time we sat down and decided we needed to set a legitimate budget for our groceries, and actually pay attention to what we were buying.
A lot of our reasoning has to do with the fact that we live SO far away from grocery stores, so just running to pick something up isn’t practical and running out of something in the middle of the day was a hassle. I had to actually plan our meals and what we would need for our groceries for the first time, which got me looking pretty closely at what we were buying.
After that giant long intro, lets talk about what I do to spend $300 or less at costco for my family of 3 for the entire month. To get a few things out of the way real quick, I do make trips to walmart throughout the month to grab our milk, and maybe one or two things we may run out of early but that’s rare.
I suck at meal planning. I suck so hard. I just don’t know what I will feel like eating a week from today, and I can’t commit to saying I know what we will have for dinner when there is a good chance I’ll change my mind. What if I get a craving that day? I really hope I’m not the only one who has this problem.
My other issue? I refuse to compromise on food. I LOVE food. I love food so much, and while I’m okay with occasionally eating the same things, I’m not okay with eating the same things every week, with no experimenting or having fun with my food. I spend too much time on pinterest looking at recipes to let all those wonderful ideas go to waste.
So here’s what I do:
Make a list.
I have a notebook with a pretty little pen then NEVER leaves my diaper bag. It’s always in there. That way, I never forget or misplace is, and it’s ridiculously easy for me to jot down something when I run out of it. Or if I’m busy and suddenly think of something I need to add to my list, it’s always right there since my giant diaper bag goes with me everywhere. This makes it easy to never buy extra when I’m grocery shopping. I know exactly what I need, so I don’t get caught up looking at every single thing I see which means I do A LOT less impulse buying.
Make from scratch.
You might think to yourself, I don’t have time to make everything from scratch. That is totally fair, life is hectic. However, it’s a fact that making it yourself is just plain old cheaper. If I know I’m going to get the munchies for something throughout the month, because I ALWAYS do, I make sure I have the ingredients to make things from scratch.
This means I always have the basics in my house, flour, sugar, vanilla extract, yeast, coca powder. Those kind of things, because you will be astonished how many recipes you can find that are SO fast to make. Because I buy these types of things in bulk, (duh, everything from costco is bulk) I don’t have to buy them very frequently. Making brownies, cookies, bread, pizza dough, cinnamon buns… they are all fairly easy to make and doing it myself not only saves so much money, but I know that I have to seriously be wanting it to make it, which means I don’t end up mindlessly snacking on junk food just because it’s there.
Plus, it’s a healthier version. When you make it yourself you can substitute SO SO many things in every recipe to tailor it to what you have in the house, and to your needs.
Portion it out.
I portion everything from the second I get home. When I buy something, such as chicken, I calculate how many portions are in the package to the price. For instance, chicken breasts, you can get maybe 7 or 8 in a package for almost 20 dollars.
For two people, that’s 4 meals, that’s 5 dollars alone for the meat. OR a 20 dollar package of chicken thighs contains around 20 or 24 thighs, the amount can vary depending on the package, which at 2 thighs a person for 2 people that is 6 meals with just over 3 dollars for protein. That’s about 1.50 each person for two pieces of chicken thighs.
My math isn’t perfect, it never will be, I tend to round and guestimate, so those are exactly that, guesstamations. However, it does end up working out to chicken thighs being cheaper to feed my family, and get more meals from. Same with the giant bag of asparagus you can get, by the time you portion it out you have more then a weeks worth of portions for a $5 dollar bag. I also do this with lunches. Three packs of bread, a big three pack of sandwhich meat and a giant block of cheese. That’s good for a month of lunches, then I can chuck in some snacks. Boom. Done.
Every morning, at some point in the morning I take out the meat from the freezer that I will need for that night. That means I take a few minutes to decide what I feel like eating, fish, chicken, pork, red meat? Once I’ve decided on a meat, I take it out of the freezer then quickly check my cupboards and fridge to think about what will go with it. If I know, oh dang those mushrooms are about to go bad.
Well that means tonight there will be mushrooms, as well as tomorrow. What goes well with say, pork and mushrooms? A creamy mushroom sauce and rice. So I quickly create the meal surrounding what I know I have, and what needs to be eaten first. It doesn’t need to be fancy or intense, but in this way, I stop myself from getting bored by eating the same thing ALL the time, and I know I’m not letting anything go to waste.
Don’t grab the first thing you see
I used to be horrible for this. I want ketchup? Well first one I see is going in the cart! Now I stop and consider. Okay, this ketchup is five dollars but has way more in it, then this ketchup that is 3 dollars. Obviously, the bigger one will last longer, making it cheaper in the long run. That’s a pretty obvious example but I do that for EVERYTHING I pick up. How much does it cost, how much is in it? Is there one on sale? Is there one that is perhaps a tiny bit smaller, however the price makes it more worth it? I make sure to really consider how worth it, it is to buy that size or brand.
Round up the total in your head.
We already covered how horrible I am at math, but I use this to my advantage. I round up all the prices in my head by a dollar or two, until it’s a number thats easy for me to add to. If something is 3.89 I round it to 5 dollars, and in that way I keep a running tally in my head on whats in my cart. This way I know when I’m nearing my budget. So I know if I have some wiggle room, I can definitely get that extra treat for myself and still get to the till and know I will be under instead of that horrible surprise of being WAY over. It helps keep me in my budget range and remind me not to impulse shop. I can say to myself, you know that your cart is about 250 right now and you still have 5 things on your list.
You don’t need that random box of chocolate covered almonds today. I also use this method to help decide if I REALLY need something. I may put something on my list that isn’t a necessity, but a nice treat or a want, well if I’m too close or over my budget, that thing can go back. But if I still have room, I get to keep it.
It takes me a bit more time to go shopping, but as I get better and better of finding the sales, the coupons and tallying in my head it gets faster. It’s also faster then when I used to just casually stroll around grabbing anything that caught my eye. When I go grocery shopping, I am on a mission. I’m not stopping for anything because I know that if I stop, I will start to impulse buy. I hope my tips can help you out in your shopping adventures and if you have any to add please let me know!