So you’ve got your “business plan” and you know how much money you have budgeted for groceries. You’ve looked over Budget Menu Planning and you’ve got your ads and coupons, you’ve tracked down a coupon matching site, and you’ve identified the best deals in your area. You have an idea of a “template” in your mind to keep you on track and plenty of inspiration. Hopefully, you’ve asked your family, based on what’s on sale, what they’d like to eat.
Let’s take a look at a sample menu, and forgive my bad handwriting, please:
- I did an inventory of what I had on hand: left overs go towards the top of the menu to be used soon. I started with several zucchini, left over Chipotle soup, a bag of tangerines, a bag of apples, spare ribs that I didn’t get to last week, some gorgeous lettuce, 1/2 of a huge head of cabbage, 1/2 a honeydew, a partial bag of potatoes and anther of onions, and a loaf of French bread. I had plenty of eggs, they were on sale last week. I made sure to work the perishable items into the menu early and the longer lasting items like the apples and tangerines, throughout the week.
- I checked my sales flyer for great prices. I checked with the coupon matching site to find the best deals. Chicken was $1.69 a pound. Corn was on sale, 20 cents an ear, iceberg lettuce 99 cents a head, hamburger $2.49 a pound. Carrots, 3 pounds for $1.49. Grapes were a great price, as were the tomatoes and peppers. Beans 99 cents a pound. Strawberries were on special. Taco Shells were 39 cents with a sale and coupon. Brownberry bread was buy one get one and I had a coupon.
- I began to formulate my menu, paying particular attention to working in the sales priced ingredients, lots of fruits and vegetables, and tried to make sure I was serving a variety of foods, including fish – one of my goals is to eat fish at least once a week. I also took into consideration what were my busy days and how much time I had to cook. We’re not morning people, so unless it’s a weekend, breakfasts are quick and minimal. I filled in “weak” nutritional days with salads and green smoothies.
- I made use of planned left overs – I usually note those with a little star. I forgot to “star” the oven baked chicken, which made another appearance in my Asian Chicken Salad. When ever I could, though, I made extra of some dishes so that part was done ahead for another meal. Note the garlic toast which turned into croutons for the soup, glazed carrots make another appearance, fruit salad was served more than once. Extra rice from Thursday was served on Saturday.
- Since chicken was at a stellar price, it was a bit of a “star” in this week’s menu. But man cannot live on chicken, alone. I had the ribs that needed to be used. Canned tuna and salmon helped fill in on other days, and I pulled a round roast from the freezer to use up the tomatoes and peppers which were dirt cheap. Ground beef was a fantastic price, but we don’t eat a lot of it – I’ll freeze some for later weeks and make tacos this week.
- I double checked my recipes and made sure to jot down anything I needed at the store that I didn’t already have. Because I have a well stocked pantry and freezer, this list was minimal. I had the round steak, oj, cashews, muesli and peas in my freezer. In my pantry, canned salmon and tuna, rice, refried beans and all the sauces and incidentals I needed for this menu. I have green onions growing on the windowsill. I have enough cheese for the tacos (I grab my sharpie and write “do not eat” on the package. There’s Parmesan for the zucchini boats and garlic toast.
Now the List:
As I’m identifying the great deals and planning the menu, I’m formulating my list as well. I put items on my list based on categories: Dairy, produce, pantry, meats, etc.
- I have compared with the coupon matching sites and looked at the flyers and I begin to jot down the best deals in each category.
- I go through the menu, making sure all the items I need are on the list. I jot them down. I can easily see how much of any particular item I need.
- I add in any items I still need to complete my menu. If these aren’t stellar prices, I only buy what I need of these items.
- I decide how much to buy, in addition to what I need this week, of the items that are at a stellar price. I will be buying these items for the future as well as this week.
My list looks something like this, and I track what the cost will be, estimating where necessary:
Produce, about $20.90:
- Tomatoes: Seven (they make an appearance in several dishes and salads.) Depending on how they look, I may pick up an additional few harder ones and leave them to ripen for the following week. $2.20
- Beans: I’ll pick up a pound, beans need to be used asap, so I won’t buy extra. $.99
- Corn: Four ears (I’m from Iowa and believe in buying and using fast – and I know I’ll see this price over and over during the summer so I don’t buy extra) $1.00
- Iceberg Lettuce: I’ll serve this with tacos and in two salads – I’ll look for a large head. $1.00
- Strawberries: Great price, I may pick up extra for a dessert or smoothies. $2.00
- Avocado: Not on sale, I’ll get one. $1.20?
- Kale: Not on sale, I’ll pick up 2 bunches for smoothies. $2.40?
- Carrots: Great price, $1.49 for three pounds – I’ll pick up two and when the fam gets tired of carrots, I’ll make a carrot cake if need be. $3.00.
- Peppers: Green peppers were a great price, I’ll pick up 3 for the stir-fry and a couple more for the zucchini boats, frittata, salads, etc., and since they last well, a couple more for next week. 7 at 50 cents each, about $3.50.
- Celery: Not on sale, guess is $1.29 a bunch.
- Jalapeno for the salsa, not on sale, about 30 cents.
- Grapes: these will go in the salad and be washed and ready for snacks, and as I know how my family loves these, I’ll set aside some for the Chicken salad in a bag that says “do not eat.” 99 cents a pound, I’ll pick up two pounds, $2.00.
Pantry, about $16.70:
- Bread: Brownberry is a great price and I have two coupons. I’ll pick up four loaves, freeze three. I’ll make sure to only freeze short-term, thaw in fridge. If bread doesn’t get used, it will be made into croutons, bread pudding or bread crumbs. $4.50.
- Taco Shells: Fantastic price. I’ll pick up 4 since that’s how many coupons I have. $1.60.
- Soy Sauce: On sale for 99 cents, I have 4 50 cent coupons. I buy 4, even though I have one in the pantry. $2.00.
- Tomatoes: Canned tomatoes 88 cents a can with a coupon, again I have four coupons so I buy four. $3.60
- Tortillas: 10 count package for 99 cents. I pick up several and wrap well and freeze. $4.00.
Dairy, about $4.90:
- Yogurt, not on sale, but I have a coupon. I buy the good stuff, a large package and flavor it with fruit or jam. $1.89.
- Milk: $2.99.
- Hamburger: Great price and these are going to be family packs. We don’t eat a lot of ground beef, but I’ll pick up extra, depending on my budget, divide into pound packages and freeze.
- Chicken: Absolutely stellar price, I’ll pick up as much as my budget allows, and just like the beef, divide into my own family packs and freeze.
I can see, before buying the meat that I’m at about $42.50. While I try to keep within a general budget for the month, I can see that with the great meat prices, and the bargains below (an additional $10.00) I’ll be spending more this particular week than others. I simply cannot pass up on the chicken or ground beef prices. The chicken, alone, is the absolute lowest I have seen it in months.
If it were necessary, I would go back over my menu and cut costs to keep in budget and still allow me to stock up on the chicken, in particular. My guess is that next week’s prices will not be as good, and I’ll likely find myself spending less.
While I usually stick to my store, I often glance at all the ads and determine if it is worthwhile to me to stop at a second store. I see a fantastic price for several items and since I regularly visit very close to this store once a week, I decide to do what I call a “drive-by.” A quick stop, very focused, just picking up the great bargains. This little few minute drive-by will save about ten bucks just on the bacon.
- Bacon: On sale with coupons for $1.49 a package, and again, I have four coupons. Regular sales price is $3.99. While bacon is not a regular menu item, it’s a much pricier option than many meats, I do use it in small amounts as a flavoring in recipes. I will stash this in the freezer. $6.00.
- Razors: I see they also have a 12 pack of Bic razors on sale with a coupon for 82 cents and decide to pick up four. $3.30. My “buy price” for razors is 25 cents. These are 7 cents each.
- Aspercreme: I see a stellar price on Aspercreme, and decide to pick up one for 94 cents. I don’t do a lot of over the counter meds, but with my arthritis…well, it helps a bit!
- As long as your freezer or pantry isn’t chock full already, it is more important to keep picking up the “loss leaders” at the store each week – the store specials used to entice you in with their low prices. If you don’t have a freezer, by the way, why not? Get one. You’ll save thousands upon thousands of dollars.
- Develop a price book, a notebook or list on your computer of what the best sales prices you’ve bought at for the items you use.
- Always keep a list of items you are out of or nearly out of, and check the ads and your coupon matching site to determine if it is a good time to buy. When it is, buy extra. If you shop this way, you’ll start finding that you have enough “inventory” to almost always wait for a sale.
- Pick up as many of the best deals as you can each week – think in terms of how much you’ll use in the next two to three months on the best deals, especially for pantry type items or items you can freeze – try to get out of the habit of deferring buying an item just because you already have it – remember, buy low.
- Stock up on those items as much as money in your budget allows – if it’s one box of pasta extra, or 10 cans of tomatoes, what you are trying here to increase your inventory at sale prices, so all the items you are using are bought at rock bottom pricing.