Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mission Impossible Week One: Grocery Shopping on a Budget

One week down in my mission to eat good food on a budget and I’m already discouraged. The grand total spent on groceries this week: $161.19. If I continue to spend this much I’ll be on track to spend $645 this month, well over my goal of $500/month.

Here’s my menu before going grocery shopping for the week:

Here’s my menu after:

So what changed? Well the week started with a quick trip out of town on Sunday so we had “catch as catch can”, or whatever we could scrounge up for dinner that night. I had planned to do my shopping for the week on Monday but my son got sick and threw up on me as we walked into the grocery store - we again searched the freezer for frozen food and ended up with mini taco appetizers from Trader Joe’s for dinner. So much for my grand plans to stick to a plan.

That evening I finally made it to the store and learned lesson #1: never go grocery shopping on Monday.

This is not a news flash for most people - I actually knew this already - but I became acutely aware of how important it is NOT to shop on Monday’s when several of the items I purchased went bad or had a sell-by date within a day or two of purchasing them (e.g. milk, turkey sausage, french bread, eggs) because nothing had been restocked after the weekend. Shelves were bare and produce was sad looking.

Despite the lack of food on the shelves, I was afforded some flexibility because of lesson #2: be flexible and think long-term.

Fortunately, I brought along the menus for the entire month so I was able to look ahead and do some shopping for next weeks menu items and change my plans. For instance, when I saw that chicken breasts were $5.29/lb at Giant, I decided not to have chicken this week, knowing that I can buy chicken for $2.99/lb at Costco. I decided to make an egg/cheese/sausage strata instead - although that plan was eventually thwarted by moldy bread and expiring sausage. Had I seen chicken breasts on sale, I may have stocked up for a future meal.

The real key to shopping on a budget is lesson #3: make a list, remember your list... and stick to it!

Another no-brainer but I’m notorious for making a list and leaving at home. And since becoming a mother I’ve found that more often than not I walk into a store and can’t remember why I’m there if I don’t have a list in front of me. It is so important when it comes to sticking to a budget. With that said, it’s important to stick to your list, unless you see some good deals (see lesson #2). In addition to planning menus for the month, I have planned grocery lists for each week, too, which I also bring along with me to the store. One more thing about making a list: be realistic. Like a dummy, I didn't anticipate spending $20 on beer this week - but still haven't been (and will probably never be) able to convince my husband to give that up for the sake of our budget!

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