Cooking: Menu Planning & Grocery Shopping

Long time, no blog.

I hear you. I'm working on it.

Really.

No, REALLY!

I have a nice long list of things I want to blog about, but getting to it is becoming quite the task.

In the meantime, I wanted to share something that I just started doing that has made a big difference in my meal planning, grocery shopping habits, and budget.

Yes, the dreaded 'B' word.

Budget.

I'm sure (if you have TV, and if not if you have HuluPlus like we do), you've heard about various stores and their updated/new price matching policies. At the super store that is closest to me (Wal-Mart, aka Hell-Mart), they will price match ANY price if you have the ad. There are a few exclusions, but basically, if you have the ad, they'll match the price.

I'd heard about it in the past, but had blown it off. However, recently a friend shared her price match experience and relayed the amount of food she purchased for mere pennies as to what it was worth. After giving her experience some thought, I decided to give the same price matching concept a try.

So, I sat down with my menu planning form, and the ads from our weekly paper. I flipped through the ads to see if there was anything that interested me, or anything we needed. Then, I went through our fridge to see what was remaining from our previous week's produce basket. After I knew what was left, I started plugging in menu plans using both the items from our fridge and from the ads.

After I had our menu planned out, I started double checking to see what ingredients I needed versus what we had in the pantry or freezer. If I needed it, it went onto the shopping portion of the form. I also noted if it was a price match (PM) and what store (S) the price match was at. Out here, the only stores I grocery shop at are Albertsons (A), Kroger (K), Tom Thumb (T), Central Market (C), Sprouts (S), Aldi (A), Wal-Mart (W) and Market Street (M).

Once I had that planned out, and any other miscellaneous items we need added to the list, I was off to Wal-Mart, to see how this would all work out.

Basically, I did my shopping as normal (double checking the sale prices against regular, everyday prices). Once I got up to the register, I made sure to tell anyone who jumped into line behind me that I was "price matching" and that it might take a while. I put my items up on the checkout lane belt by store (everything that I was price matching using Kroger's ad went together, etc), and then explained to the cashier what I was doing. I told her each price/sale as she got to the item.

In the end, using price matching, I left the store with $370 worth of groceries for only $126. Most of that money was on things I needed to stock up on, rather than meat or other goods ($26 vacuum filters, etc). I was able to purchase almost 16 pounds of chicken breasts for $8.55 which takes the per pound cost down to $0.53. I can't beat that anywhere!! I also purchased 8 pounds of pork chops for about $6, bringing the cost per pound down to about $1.33.

(I know the meat isn't organic and isn't grain fed. I wish I could afford to always purchase meat that is. Unfortunately, with our current budget, and our current possible job change I need to save every penny I can. So, I shop sales - or I try to! - and I stock up when I can.)

Though I had the ads, and offered to show them to the cashier, she never looked at them. Not once. When we were done, and I had settled our bill, I asked her what I could do to make it easier on the cashier next time. She shrugged her shoulders and said, "I dunno. Have the ad's with you for sure though."

I plan to use their price matching program again, to build a better stash of things we regularly use. I want to purchase an upright freezer so that food won't get so lost when I put it into our chest freezer.

A few tips to share:
  • You have to know what the normal, regular price is for the items you shop for. It doesn't do you any good to get something at a lower than normal price, if the everyday price is already lower than that at another store.
  • Be ready to freeze the extra food (in my case on this trip, the chicken and pork chops), using a method that will hold up (i.e. with a FoodSaver).
  • Only stock up on the things you know your family will eat, or that you'll use. It is silly to stock up on foods that you don't like, or items you'll never use. 
  • Have a storage plan for the items you've purchased. I didn't, and my pantry is really organized. Now I have a counter full of salad dressings, salsa, and other deals that I scored. I'm working on a new "stock pile/canning" storage area. I'll share more when I have it done.
  • Have a plan to use up what you purchase. Sometimes, I buy things with no plan in place and it ends up either expiring (ticks me off!), or using up valuable storage space. If it's something I'm putting into our long term food storage, it needs to go into that area. If it's something I am planning to use within the next few months, then it should go into the kitchen pantry.
How do you plan you family menu's and what are your strategies for saving money? I've love to hear them!

Just in case you're interested in using my meal and grocery planning form, here's a link to Google Docs where I've shared it.


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