Step 1 - Figure out how much money you have to spend every 2 weeks on food.
For me and my son that amount is $160. Not much is it? But I make it work!
Step 2 - Plan a menu for the next two weeks.
I usually pick out 4-6 recipes that have enough servings for 2-3 days worth of meals including dinner and leftovers for my lunch. This takes the brainwork out of what's for lunch and dinner. Our breakfast is always the same, oatmeal usually jazzed up with different fruits like raisins, bananas, blueberries, etc. and some Agave Sweetener or a Breakfast Shake (Thanks Dwayne!). My son takes two sandwiches to school each day, he is a pre-teen so his appetite is large these days.
Step 3 - Create a Grocery List
I make a list of items needed for each recipe less the ones I already have on hand. I add to the list any household items I may need. Then I review the list and estimate the cost of all items, including tax where applicable, to ensure I am within my grocery budget and make adjustments as needed. I even take it a step further and break my list down by store and isle. This helps me stick to the list and avoid seeing items I don't need which can lead to impulse plopping in the shopping cart.
Step 4 - Withdraw CASH!
It's very easy to over spend when you are sliding a little plastic card, whether it be a credit or an ATM card. To avoid overspending I only pay with cash. I shop on a bi-weekly basis which coincides with my paychecks. When the check clears the bank I go get cash. When I run out of cash that is it, no more buying. This is why it is so important to do step 3, so you don't run out of cash.
Step 5 - SHOP!
Most important, do not take the kids with you if at all possible. Leave them with a sitter, family member or a friend you trust. Shopping with kids leads to impulse buying, big no no when on a budget!
Shopping day is typically a 2 hour event for me every two weeks. I first hit the warehouse store (i.e. Costco or Sam's Club) to stock up on non-perishable items like toilet paper, paper towels, soap, shampoo and toothpaste. These stores are also great for oatmeal, 100+ servings for the price of $8 at Costco, fruits and veggies we consume most often and sandwhich meat and cheese. I even fill up my gas tank on my way out of the Costco parking lot, the gas prices are outstanding!
My second stop is Wal-Mart, I find great deals here on items like bread, boxed and canned goods, frozen chicken, ground turkey and dairy. By the time I leave Wal-Mart I am usually more than 3/4 of the way done with my list. I usually buy the store brand of items at Wal-Mart. So far I have not been able to taste the difference between store brand and name brand, but I have seen the savings in my wallet!
Third stop is Trader Joe's. They have great prices on soy milk, frozen fruit/vegetables, pasta, rice and veggies. They also have bananas at the low price of 19 cents each! I am usually done with my list by the time I finish at Trader Joe's. If I have any items left on my list I stop by Lucky or Safeway on my way home.
Two hours and 3 or 4 stores may sound like an ordeal I know. It was overwhelming for me at first, but I have come to enjoy it very much. And the good news is, I only have to do it 2 times per month! Every now and then I do have to run out to get something in the between time but that is very rare. Planning with a list ensures I get everything I need the first time around. The less I am at the store the less money I spend, it's just that simple.
Step 6 - Unload
Get the family to help you bring everything in, no need to do it all by yourself! Once I have unpacked all the purchased items I take inventory before putting them away. Non-perishable and frozen items get put away first. I then take a look at refrigerated items and figure out what I need immediately and what should be frozen. Because I shop in bulk as much as possible I find myself splitting larger portions of meat into smaller serving sizes, putting them in freezer bags and sticking them in the freezer for later use. Items I need to use within the next 2 days are put into the refrigerator.
Step 7 - Cook!
I typically cook every 2-3 sometimes 4 days based upon the menu plan from step 2. Each night when I serve dinner for myself and my son I put a portion for my lunch the next day into a container. The next morning I just grab and go!
Credit for the bulk of this method goes to my good friend Olivia Johnson. Thanks to her guidance in meal planning and food shopping I have learned to shop smarter and save money! Without her showing me the ropes I wouldn't be where I am now. Thanks O, you are the best!