I have been trying for a couple months to figure out how to handle our grocery budget. I have had the same budget for about 3 years. The only problem is my son is growing, while he doesn't eat a lot of different foods (he's quite picky) he eats a lot of fruit, peanut butter sandwiches, milk, and juice. I also started babysitting another 2 year old 3 days a week so the juice and snacks dwindle faster. I've been having a really hard time sticking within my $30 budget in part because of this, the lack of sales on basics, the increase in food prices, and stores in my area no longer doubling coupons. It is desperately hard for me to "stock up" on basics like canned tomatoes, canned veggies, flour, sugar, etc, because it seems most of the coupons I've been getting for these items are internet printable (which means I can only print 2, which usually means I can only buy 2 or 4 of the item depending on the coupon). 2 cans of tomatoes will last me about a week and if I'm lucky 2. So while I might get a fantastic deal on a few cans I don't actually get a huge stockpile that's gonna last me months on end til the next great sale, which is what I have been able to do in the past with couponing.
Milk has also been an issue in our house, making it even more difficult to stay within a $30 budget. We go through about 4-5 gallons a week now and when it's not on sale it's $2.79/gal, that's a max of $14 a week just in milk and when you're trying to work with only $30 and another $10 of it goes to meat purchases, and $2 towards 2 loaves of bread a week (Grant will pretty much only eat peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast), that leaves $4. Definitely not enough even for this couponer to get everything else we need for a weeks worth of meals.
So I've been looking into changing things up a bit. Since I have only been going over budget by about $30-$40 a month (so about $10 a week) I know I don't need to change the amount of money by too much, it's just making that amount work for us without needing more. I've been looking into once a month grocery shopping and the only thing that's been holding me back is the couponer in me. I've helped my mom refine her couponing skills, and taught my aunt how to coupon, it's like it's in my blood now. I can't bear to pay for toothpaste and paying over $1.50 for shampoo physically pains me. So naturally this part of me says once a month shopping will never work for me. It says I will miss out on the great deals and rock bottom prices I typically look for. I'm fighting that part of myself.
We have a baby coming soon and the idea of grocery shopping with an infant and a 3 year old sends me into a small anxiety attack. Especially with the idea of how I shop now, meaning the 3-4 stores I go to in one morning. Getting Grant in and out and keeping him satisfied through each one is proving to be more and more of a challenge. My patience isn't what it used to be and I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that for both his and my sanity the 3 stores in a single morning, getting a handful of items, and spending hours making and tweaking menu plans and grocery lists only to realize I can't get everything we actually need with our previous budget, is not working and needs changing. I've seen many woman with 3 and 4 kids at the store, and you are rock stars, I just don't have it in me.
I've been reading how other's do their once a month shopping and I'm trying to figure out how to make it work for me and my family. I still want to be able to get those stellar rock bottom coupon sales but I want to have the luxury of shopping for the bulk of what we need all in one trip. Naturally since we live in a 2 bedroom apartment with no room for a deep freeze (oh how I miss our large chest deep freezer) I can't buy enough milk and bread in one trip to last us a month, which means I will have to make at least a weekly trip somewhere to get milk and bread. But that small 5 minute trip into a store is a lot better than the normal hour or two. I have noticed my weekly lists have a lot of the same items on it and it's only recently I've decided I'm really tired of shopping for the exact same items every week when I could just buy enough in the beginning of the month to last us until the end. In the past my attitude has been "maybe that item will be on sale or there will be a great coupon out for it and I can get it cheaper, so I'll just get one this week and cross my fingers for next week". Buying bulk for the month is one thing that is really difficult to do with a small budget. Obviously with $30-$40 a week to spend there was no way I could spend $15 on a package of 36 rolls of toilet paper, or $13 on a 25lb bag of sugar. It was too much of a dent in the budget so I've been buying these items every week to two weeks depending on our use.
So my plan, cuz I always have to have a plan, is to start the beginning of next month by making a monthly meal plan. I specifically chose November to start this venture because my husband happens to get an extra check so I figure if I royally screw up, we have a little more leeway financially to fix my mistakes. I also want to start now so if this does work for us I have a few months to master it and get a system down before baby comes, that way my husband will only have to make a small trip to the store for milk, eggs, and bread (Lord only knows what he would end up buying or spending if I sent him to the store with my normal list).
I have already written down the basics of what we go through in a month. Those basics being milk, bread, eggs, flour, sugar, toilet paper, and juice. I wrote down all the meals I've made in the past and a few I've been wanting to try. I still have to take inventory of our pantry and freezer to find out what we already have and how many of those meals I can make with most of those ingredients. I'm hoping the list of our "needs" for the rest of the ingredients, and our basics, will be within our budget with enough for some wiggle room for those fantastic coupon sales that pop up throughout the week.
I'm really nervous but hoping this will simplify my life a little, right in time for the holiday season, and eliminate the problem of getting to the end of the month and realizing I have all of $10 left in my budget to buy toilet paper, 3 gallons of milk, 2 loaves of bread, a dozen eggs, and 2 bottles of juice. I'll let you know how it all goes.