Shopping tips

We eat fairly to very well on a somewhat limited budget.  Here are some tips:

1. I always make a two week menu before going shopping.  Sitting down and deciding on around 8-10 meals helps avoid impulse purchasing.  That number accounts for at least a few nights of leftovers and all of our lunches. Recently, I’ve started a spreadsheet of menu ideas so I’m not completely overwhelmed when it is time to do menu planning.
2. I organize my shopping list into store areas (produce, dairy, protein, condiments, etc).  I’m not sure if it helps save money per se, but it does eliminate confusion and shortens the time I’m actually in the store.
3. Do not buy items that are not on the list unless they are a necessity (like milk- Cheese Its do not count just because they are on sale).  I tend to just do a general fruit/veggies line because I like to see what is local and looks good.  Not strictly on the list, but not an impulse buy item.
4. Don’t buy junk food.  No chips, pop, cookies.  Not only will you lower your bill, but you will (theoretically) be healthier.
5. Only buy meat that is on sale.  Look up the flyer and plan your meal from that, or go in with several meal ideas that are ‘flexible’ on the cut and type of meat.
6. Eat before you go.  Make sure you are full.  It is harder to throw everything in your cart because it ‘just looks good’ when you are really not hungry.
7.  I find that I’m able to keep to my budget better when my husband isn’t with me.  I feel guilty about indulging in extras when he isn’t there.  When he is there, I will get things we don’t need because he wants them and I want to make him happy.  You might work better with someone to hold you accountable.
8. Try to go to the store when it is not crowded.  I find that I do better when I have time to think about whether I really need that extra ____ when there aren’t tons of people around.
9. If you can, use coupons.  I hardly ever buy things that are pre-made or pre-prepared, so I don’t collect coupons.  But, if you are getting cereal/salad dressing/ frozen pasta, check to see if you can find a coupon.
10. Keep a large pantry.  If I notice flour/sugar/canned tomatoes/etc is on sale, I will typically get at least two.  I might spend more that trip (like $10), but chances are I’ll save money later.  We could probably make at least a week’s worth of food based on my pantry and freezer alone.
Here’s an example menu from the beginning of the month:
Ground Beef was on sale, so I based most of the menu around beefy meals.
-tacos w/refried beans
-sloppy joes w/salad
-meatloaf w/mashed potatoes
-thai beef with mint w/rice
-sweet and sour pork w/spring rolls
-pad thai
-thai omelet 
-32 bean soup w/bread
-grits/sausage/eggs for breakfast
(yes, I tend to get on ethnic kicks)
Anyone still reading?  Questions?

(originally published 2/6/2009)

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