I go grocery shopping once every two weeks. Yes, it’s true. I do not step foot into a grocery store (if I can help it) but twice a month. These grocery shopping time saving tips could give you more time and help you save money (both of which I gladly welcome)!
An aside about coupons: I am NOT a coupon queen. It’s only a good deal if I really need it. If I’m just buying something because there is a coupon, I’m wasting money. So, I do not buy items because I have a coupon. Now, if something is on sale, there is a coupon and it is already on my food shopping list, then I’ll use the coupon. Upon tracking my spending with a budget spreadsheet, I found using coupons actually made me spend more money than I wanted and I ended up with items I did not really want or use.
I also learned the best way to save money on groceries is to just not walk into a grocery store more than you absolutely need to. Who has ever walked in and out without buying anything? I don’t window shop at the grocery store. I am guaranteed to come out with at least one bag with probably some items I don’t really need or planned to purchase.
So, here is a breakdown of my food shopping “system.” This is admittedly not very French of me since they tout buying fresh produce and baked bread daily… sadly, I just don’t have the luxury of popping into a local mom & pop boulangerie (bakery) every day.
Grocery Shopping Time Saving Tips in 5 Steps
1. Keep a running list of items to buy on the fridge.
This is super easy and effective. Every family has their staple items like bread, milk, and eggs. I place a simple pad of paper with a magnet (sticky notes like post-its would work too) and keep a running list of items we need to replenish when they run out or when we begin to run low. This saves me the hassle of scratching my head and trying to remember what we need to add to the list before heading out. My grocery list is already started for me!
2. Gather my weekly circulars.
While I only shop once every two weeks, I usually go to 3-4 grocery stores within a 5 mile radius of my home. This is because different stores have different items on sale and I want to get the best price. I make a list of sale items I need or would like to buy to stock up on in the house. If someone has mangoes for sale 5 for $5 and I know it’s a good deal (my grocery comparison spreadsheet tells me it’s a good price; see #3 below) – I’m going to put mangoes on my shopping list. We can always use more fruit.
If price is not an issue and you’re looking for simplicity, just grab the circular of the one store you plan to visit. I buy most of my items at a discounted grocery store, I hit up one “big box store” (like Sam’s Club or Costco), then another supermarket (in my case Acme or Giant Eagle) for other items on sale. This sounds really cumbersome, but I usually get it all done in 2 outings (like Thursday night and Friday night after the girls are asleep).
Also, I have learned food shopping with my toddler is a nice bonding/learning experience because she is familiar with picking out fresh produce and now she loves pushing the cart! She’s a great helper. I love seeing her get excited about buying food with me and she has opinions about what should be on the food shopping list. She told me we needed more yellow squash, zucchini, and broccoli – how could I argue with a pint-sized veggie lover?! I went “off-list” and bought extra.
3. Consult my grocery shopping spreadsheet and update my food shopping list with sale items I would normally buy.
This introduces my grocery shopping comparison spreadsheet. This can look/feel daunting, but I promise you it is not. This a running list of the best prices I have been able to get for items I normally buy at each store. (I do not have a smartphone, but I bet there is an app to track this sort of thing. If not, now you have your million-dollar idea IT app designers. You’re welcome.) I like to get the best price and this is the way I can guarantee it. This has helped me identify the best place to buy paper towels (not at the bulk store), diapers, even milk and eggs! The purpose is to get the best deal for what is already on sale. This is also where I write down items to replenish my stockpile of canned tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, beans, cereal, pasta, flour, sugar, coffee k-cups, canned fruit packed in juice, olive oil, and other non-perishables.
Click on the picture to see a snapshot of my grocery comparison spreadsheet:
4. Create a menu for the next 2 weeks.
My husband and I love food. I love to bake, and he will take the lead on cooking dinner about 3 nights a week (AMAZING hubby). We have a large binder full of tried and true recipes we know we love, and we are always adding more by trying out new recipes. We say we like to get “smacked in the face with flavor” and these meals do the trick. If a recipe makes it into “the book” it’s been given our seal of approval.
Looking at what is on our list of sale items, we’ll tailor our menus to what is in season and plentiful. For example, corn is not in season in the winter, so corn-based recipes will not be on our menu until corn is on sale for something like 10 ears for $2. Berries peak in the late summer, so buying lots of berries to add to pancakes, sauces, and dessert happen then. Apples are on sale in the fall and I buy a ton to make apple sauce or cobbler and freeze it for use later.
We create a list of meals and recipes we want to eat in the next two weeks. This includes desserts, breakfast dishes, basically anything we want to shop for. This is not an extensive list of meals for every single day of the week. I’m not Type A in this sense. I just like to know what the menu options are for the next two weeks. We may have a breakfast item for dinner one evening, it’s OK in my book.
5. Update food shopping list and hit the stores!
Once we create our menu and pull the the recipes to jot down the extra ingredients we need to complete our food shopping list, I am ready to shop! This will typically be things like cilantro, goat cheese, mesclun greens, phyllo dough or anything not already on the shopping list. It’s basically anything missing from my list and something I know we don’t already have in the house. I am also pretty sure there is a menu-planning app for smartphones too. I am old-school and I like my pen/paper and spreadsheets. You can tailor this to work with the tools you like to use best.
Click on the picture to see a snapshot of my shopping list:
How do you keep produce for two weeks without it spoiling?
I purposely buy some produce when it’s not ripe and let it sit on the counter to ripen. Pears are great for this. They take their time ripening as the week goes by, so then we have a beautiful supply of soft pears to enjoy in week two. I have learned I need to eat berries within a day or two of buying them. Apples will keep in my fridge for two weeks as will carrots, potatoes and onions. Cucumbers do not keep for two weeks (learned it the hard way – I hate throwing away food). Bananas only last a week (at best) and they ripen fairly quickly on the countertop. Still, very ripe bananas are the best for baking. I will often mash bananas and freeze them for later use (like banana pancakes or baby food).
I try to stretch my produce out by eating what will go bad earlier and saving others for later (delicate salad greens go much faster than cabbage, broccoli or bell peppers – stir fry anyone?). I also prepare apple sauce to break out of the freezer when our fruit drawer is looking low. Week two is also when I will bring up canned fruit from my stockpile to supplement a dwindling supply of fresh fruits & veggies. Pineapple and mandarin oranges packed in their own juice are big hits with my family. My daughter loves beans, so we always have a stash of kidney beans, garbanzo beans and black beans. “Mexican casserolé” is one of my favorite freezer-friendly meals which also helps clear out items like leftover onions, beans, tortillas/chips, rice, salsa and cheese (all items I almost always have in the house). I’ll make and freeze strawberry rhubarb sauce to later mix it with yogurt or use it as a “dipping sauce” for pancakes and French toast (both of which freeze nicely too). I have learned I can get a better price for fish when frozen. Individually frozen fish make an easy dinner along with frozen veggies when we’re nearing the end of our two week cycle. We have been able to make it work. This is trial and error and you’ll learn what works best for you.
Bottom line: It’s so nice to know we avoid the nightly question of “What’s for dinner? And do we have the ingredients?” We know what we’re going to eat and we have everything we need to make the meal. It’s one less thing to stress over at the end of the day. Even if the take home message from this post is helping you feel like you can plan healthy meals, shop the sales to save some money and feel like you’re doing something good for your family while making your life a little easier – goal achieved.