Somehow now we have to get from a nice, tidy menu list to actual food in the larder with which to prepare said.
And if you're like me, with a strong preference for reading a book, taking a nap, or really anything other than figuring this stuff out -- and, to boot, you have a bunch of kids, no money, and a little homeschooling thrown in, you might like to know how to approach the grocery list.
(Nota bene: In our area of the country we have high food prices and no Aldis or other discount-type stores I read about on other blogs. If you have these, lucky you! I am really jealous.)
Do you know your grocery stores well? Really?
To know your stores well, you must know your prices! Many books recommend keeping a price notebook, which is very helpful (until you eventually memorize them!). Why? Let me show you something.
This place has a name that is designed to appeal to people like you and me, making us think we will save money there. And indeed, their flyer prominently displays seemingly amazing deals. Pork chops for 99 cents? Chicken legs for 35 cents? Cheap. (Well, around here it is.) But I'm telling you, everything else in that store is much more than even at "Elegant Market".
See this? They are making you go nuts over their Hellman's, which is really just the regular price! Here at my local, not particularly cheap, market it's 50 cents cheaper!
And this price for eggs is on the cover of their flyer, give me a break! At the two places I usually shop, the normal price for eggs is $1.45 a dozen. It just makes me mad. They are assuming you don't know the price of eggs! Do you?
If you did your weekly shopping at this evil store, you would spend a lot more than anywhere else, regardless of the bargains. And I bet those pork chops are not cut right. Stay away from this type of place -- it's simply not worth your time.
Back to planning.
Now, before I go anywhere, I take my fabulous weekly menu list which is usually, at this point, 0nly partially filled out. I've put in meals that I must have this week because
1) something needs to be eaten or it will spoil,
2) someone needs some particular dish or he will expire ("Make meatball subs or I will expire!"), and
3) something in my freezer might as well be taken advantage of because nothing like it is on sale this week.
Buy low, sell high.
I need the grocery store flyers for the week handy-- of the stores I know I want to go to (not that other, evil one). I see what's a good price and make my remaining menus around these things.
(You do realize you can put together any menu you want. Your Master List is for those moments when you can't think for whatever reason. It's there so you don't churn your wheels every week, getting deeper into a rut. If you are inspired and feeling creative, go for it! You are the Lord of the list.)
Aha! I see my handy local market has ham for 79 cents a pound -- we are having ham for Sunday dinner next week for sure. If nothing else, buy at least one for the freezer.
You should quickly be able to fill your menu list with foods that you either already have on hand that you "bought low" or with things you will "buy low" this week. In a few weeks, you should be able to do most of your shopping with sale items only, or at least at your targeted low price.
Now examine every item on every menu. Do you have enough flour to make this week's bread? Do you have enough beans for the soups you've planned? Celery? Noodles? And so on down the list. Nothing worse than realizing you can't make something because you lack an ingredient...
Once you have all the items for the menus, go over your needs for other meals and snacks. You should have some idea how many eggs, gallons of milk, boxes of crackers, etc. you go through during the week. If not, there's something to observe in the next month and ascertain. All that goes on the list, and off you go!
This is your main shopping at the store that has the best overall prices. You can stop at a store for just some specials if it is more or less on your way to somewhere else. And I have a store that I wouldn't want to get everything at, but does have good unadvertised markdowns on meat, so I'll do a little stop there.
If you are lucky, you have a kid who enjoys scouring the flyers for the good prices, understands unit pricing, and gets the lowest regular price idea. His reward is that he will come across something he wants that you might have overlooked, and he can put it on your list. I once had someone like this. It made list-making so much easier!
Ladies, keep in mind that if you are spending hundreds of dollars a month on groceries, you need to think big. Saving a buck here or there isn't as important as saving ten cents on everything you buy (look at your receipt to see how many items you bought. If you are like me, and it's in the hundreds, just think about that!), or many bucks on all your meat or produce. Don't wear yourself out and use up a lot of fuel running around, and don't go to a place just because it's closest. Don't be tricked by their sexy flyers. Use your common sense and your price notebook!
I have more tips and my take on coupons and big box stores in Worksheet IV.