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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Planning the Grocery Shopping for this Next Month

As it is now the beginning of a new month, I am preparing a master shopping list of necessary items. This will be a tighter month than previous ones, as I have depleted much of my stock of canned goods and long-keeping produce. In addition, March is a 31 day month -- more days to feed us all. On top of this, March is a birthday month for my two daughters. I have all I need to bake a cake, and I even think there may be ice cream in the freezer. I will still need some festive foods for the celebration dinner. It looks like I will need a plan to get though this month.

This is a basic list, there are no luxury items on this list.

1/2 lb cocoa powder
1 gallon vinegar
10 lbs apples
10 lbs oranges
45 bananas
10 to 15 lbs carrots
5 to 10 medium dozen eggs
10 lbs potatoes
3 peppers
3 bundles celery
a few heads of red and green cabbage (should be good deals on cabbage this month)
50 lbs brown rice
2 large boxes frozen spinach and collards
1 gallon soy or almond milk
4 or 5 gallons dairy milk
vegetable garden supplies
4 lbs raisins
2 lbs sunflower seeds
3 dozen flour tortillas
large package corn tortillas
whole chickens
lettuce (at the end of the month when the produce stand opens)
asparagus (at the end of the month, when the produce stand opens)

As I find deals on butter, meat and cheese, I will pick those up, too.  I will evaluate other "deals" as I find them.

How to Stick to a List
In addition to making my shopping list, I also spent some time, yesterday, planning how I would stick to a tight budget. I have a technique for this type of think-time. I brainstorm various ideas, and then after the brainstorming, I sift through my lists and formulate my plan. 

This is how I brainstorm:

I ask myself, "what can I do to make this happen?" Then, I randomly  list all the things that come to mind that I can do to plan for a tight month, even listing those items that I may not do after some thought. Here's my list.
  • make a meal plan for all dinners
  • make a suggestion list for all lunches
  • bake and prepare lots of breakfast items ahead of time
  • keep homemade bread in stock
  • keep homemade treats in stock
  • avoid buying luxuries/non-necessities
  • take advantage of sales on milk, produce, meat and eggs
  • use up pantry items, while waiting for better sales
  • use oil instead of butter in most baking, save butter for bread, blend oil with butter for spreading, use olive oil for dipping/drizzling instead of butter for garlic bread or bread and butter with dinners
  • use cream cheese for toast and muffins in place of butter
  • make all of my own convenience foods for the month, by preparing ahead several dishes on weekend afternoons
Okay, so now I have a list. Next, I scrutinize the list, and put the items in order according to my estimated dollar savings, most to least.

  • make a meal plan for all dinners
  • make all of my own convenience foods for the month, by preparing ahead several dishes on weekend afternoons
  • keep homemade bread in stock
  • take advantage of sales on milk, produce, meat and eggs
  • avoid buying luxuries/non-necessities
  • keep homemade treats in stock
  • use up pantry items, while waiting for better sales
  • bake and prepare lots of breakfast items ahead of time
  • make a suggestion list for all lunches
  • use oil instead of butter in most baking, save butter for bread, blend oil with butter for spreading, use olive oil for dipping/drizzling instead of butter for garlic bread or bread and butter with dinners
  • use cream cheese for toast and muffins in place of butter

These items are my stepping stones to meet my overall goal of reining in the spending for the month of March.  Having the list prioritized tells me what to focus on. Clearly, planning dinners in advance is something I value right now. Also, having pre-made meals ready and waiting for the week ahead is something that I think will help me save on groceries. The priority list is based on my needs for right now. Your priorities might be different.

With this list in hand, I can ask myself what I could do, today, to meet a stepping stone goal. Today, I can bake a large batch of whole wheat bread and some cookies. This priority list also means that if someone in the family offers help, I will know right off the top of my head, what would be beneficial.

Clarifying My List Items
In addition to making the lists, I often need to clarify some things for myself, such as defining list items. Maybe I need to define what those pre-made breakfast items should be, given what my ingredients on hand are. Or, what would be easy casseroles to make for the freezer over the weekend, given my on-hand ingredients. Or, what are my current luxuries?

I tackled that last question, and came up with this list: crackers, soup mixes, lunch fixings and take-out lunches, ready-made food items (unless on a great sale, like at Thanksgiving prices), prepared sweets, commercial bread, and candy.

Does this sound like extra work? It took me about 30 minutes, including thinking through some of my options. However, by making out this list, I stand to gain about $25 to $30 in savings on prepared foods or treats, lunches from takeaway places, and buying ingredients that I could make-do without. So, for 30 minutes of my time, a savings of $25 to $30, yields an hourly wage of about $50 or more. That's a pretty great wage, I think.

What's your takeaway from all of this? Maybe nothing. Or maybe, it might give you some ideas on thinking through your own budget woes. This brainstorming technique works for all manner of issues. You can transfer this idea to how to save for your next vacation, or how to lower your electricity usage, or how to make retirement more affordable. At the very least, having a typed out plan is comforting; every time the worry monster creeps in, you have an actual list that you can refer to, to allay those worries.

Anyway, I thought I'd give you a peek into my mind and processes.


  1. It's good idea to go through items we pay for with a fine tooth comb from time to time because sometimes we pay for things automatically without really thinking about it. Like you saving $25 to $30 dollars for 30 minutes of your time is definitely worth the effort. I have decided to close my checking account and open one at the local credit union because the bank is wanting $9 a month while the credit union is free. Going through our expenses on a regular basis will help to open our eyes to what we are really spending our money on.

    Great topic, Lili. I hope you have a good day today. :)

    1. Hi Belinda,
      I think changing where you do your banking is a fantastic way to save over $100 per year. You will receive the same product (the checking account), for a small time investment in making the change. That's awesome!

      I hope that you have a good day, today, too, Belinda!

  2. Hi Lili,
    First, I want to tell you how much I spent in Feb. (all inclusive) and that was $238.95! Not bad.

    Second, My take on all what you do is a very positive YES! You got this figured out! When we lived way out in the country and the children were small and living at home, I did a lot of what you are doing. I have changed things up a bit now that kids rarely live home (summers maybe) and we live close to stores so that I don't have to do big grocery hauls anymore. I don't need to plan each meal nearly as much as when the kids were home. I don't pack their lunches. I don't need snacks for lunches anymore. But I know that you have all your family living with you so you still need to take care of them. I still shop sales. I don't always plan ahead but I do have a way of being able to put something tasty together very quickly. I'm not a huge sweet lover so I don't need to fill that void.

    I think the most important thing is that I know how to budget, stay within the budget and know when and where to cut when I see things getting out of control.

    I've got a cupboard full of jasmine rice, brown rice and lots of dry beans. I will be set for a long time. I also have a lot of dried fruits in there. Not sure why I bought so many but I'm sure they will last. We are seeing our refrigerator freezer becoming emptier as well as the deep freeze. But then I see a deal and fill it right back up.


    1. Hi Alice,
      That is fantastic on your grocery spending for February, and especially so considering that you include everything in your budget; food is not separated out from other household expenses, as mine is. So, way to go, ma'am!

      You're right, different times in our lives have different impacts on our budgets. In addition, we all have different priorities.

      It sounds like you have a good back-up for meals, in the rice and beans. You might want to move the dried fruit to the freezer. I've had a couple of problems storing dried fruit for a long time, just in the pantry -- bugs and mold.

      Have a great day, Alice!

  3. I appreciate the insight into how you think all this through. I've been slacking off with the meal planning of late, which is never a good thing when needing all meals at home and away for seven. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Hi Cat,
      One thing that I remind myself about meal planning, because it's one of those things that I feel is such a bothersome chore, is this -- you have to plan out that meal at some point, whether it's a day in advance, a week in advance, or 5 minutes before everyone expects dinner. So, when I can, I plan a week or two in advance. It's usually not an elaborate plan, but a basic idea of what to make, using what I will probably have on hand. I don't put things on the meal plan that will result in extra grocery shopping, beyond what I'm likely to buy for the month, given the expected sales and deals. Anyway, that's what I try to remember and do.

      Have a great day, Cat!

  4. Planning is the key to success with most everything--especially saving money. And reevaluating that plan, as Belinda said, is the second part needed for continued success.

    I'm a pretty good planner but my son is not. Some of us are born that way and some of us are not. I've try to guide and teach my son planning skills, but I think I will show him your example. Sometimes it's good to see things from a different perspective.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      Brainstorming is really effective when you just don't know where to begin. It might help your son. And then a plan develops from the prioritizing of a list, without a lot of extra effort.

      Yes, reevaluating your plan is super helpful. Priorities change, and benefits change. Even within my grocery budget, there are some changes for this coming month, because of different needs and goals -- an increase in produce purchases, for our family.

      I hope your day is off to a great start, live and learn!

  5. Great post Lili. I especially appreciate the detailed thought-process that enables you to tackle frugal issues. I'm sure it is helpful for all your readers, including me. Have a fantastic day!

    1. Hi Jayne,
      Thank you. I hope your day is wonderful, as well!

  6. I am not a detailed planner, instead I think I am a serendipitous junkie. Something will cross my path that will capture my interest, which then triggers a chain reaction of activity. Until then I dont see a need to do anything much ahead of time. I do work on my thought process about our bigger goals and endpoints all the time and always discuss with my husband, including what our next step or mini goal should be, or how to evaluate progress toward a goal. So those thoughts are always in the back of my mind in everything I do. Once I identify the framework, however, how and what I fill in as the picture is given the greatest latitude. I think that's how I prefer to live each day. The result is not as good as advanced planning and execution, but I don't think I could live life that way. Even on the job, I had great difficulty sticking to task and segued a lot. I always knew that I would have to earn a living doing it "my way", even though it was probably easier and more efficient following well worn paths. Now in retirement, there are many days that I question what I did all day. Progress seems to move at a snail's pace with spurts of furious activity every now and then.

    I think what I value most are the "tools" in my toolbag. I loved the idea as a math student, and approached problem solving by understanding the rules and operations in math as my tools. That's how life's problems can be solved too, by understanding what your tools are and how to use them. Every skill, resource, or idea that is developed is a tool.

    Have a good day!!


    1. Hi YHF,
      You have figured out what works best for yourself, and that is what matters.
      Have a wonderful day, YHF!

  7. I am always amazed how there is something around to pull together some kind of casserole. Thanks for sharing your thought process.

    1. Hi Busy Bee,
      I think those are some of the most satisfying-to-make casseroles, when it doesn't look like there could possibly be something to make, and then abracadabra, Mom creates something.
      Have a great day!


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