Friday, November 16, 2012

Once a month shopping

Once again I have been neglecting my own goal of keeping up with blog posts. I have a million excuses, but I am sure you don’t want to hear all of them. So we will just skip all that and get on with the blog post and pretend I haven’t been on here since the end of September…..and its mid November…  
I mentioned in a post a few months back that Hubs and I have switched to once a month shopping and trying everything homemade. I recently had a friend ask me to go into detail on how I go about shopping once a month and planning a whole month’s worth of menus. I was going to direct her to my previous post about switching to once a month shopping when I realized I didn’t really go into detail.
So, here is our process.

Just to forewarn you, this is a very, very lengthy post.

But don’t let the length it takes to explain the process deter you from giving it a try. I am just trying to be as specific as I can about my own process. The execution of prepping for shopping once a month and monthly menus is very easy. And don’t try to take on too much to do once a month shopping. Take it one month at a time. And this is just one way of doing it…everyone has their own method that works for them. This info pertains mostly to food items. But you can also use the information to include other household items and purchase those monthly.

I did not include any prices in this post because prices vary by store and state. I always see blogs where they post that they shop for a month worth’s of groceries and get out of the store under $200 and here I am trying to do the same when I live in a different state and shop at a different store…..Although, I myself previously posted what my shopping cost was. So ignore that part….
(Forgive the quality. Took the pic on my phone. This photo is explained under "Keep track of usage")

v Take an inventory of ALL the food items you have on hand.
Ø  Yes, this can get tedious, but this will help out with over buying. This also gives you an opportunity to organize your pantry, fridge and freezer.

§  Now I am not saying you have to weigh or count every tiny bit of food like 12 slices of cheese or a half gallon of milk. Just list the item you have and if there is a multiple of said item write it down. For example: Green Beans- 4 cans

 v Pick your day you want to shop.

Ø  Hubs and I separate paychecks. One paycheck goes to bills, one paycheck goes to food. It is based on this that we pick our day to shop. We choose the first Wednesday of each month.

§  Stick to this day and only allow yourself to go shopping on this day each month. However, don’t be too hard on yourself if you have to run out for an additional trip for something but stick to a list of only what you absolutely need at the time.
v Make your menu

Ø  First write a list of meals you can make using only the items you have on hand before going shopping for additional items. Even if that is only a week’s worth of meals.

¨       Then plan the rest of the meals.

¨       List out the quantities of items. Example- 10 tortillas on taco night, 4 buns on Hamburger night… The tortillas I buy come in 20 count, and the buns in 8 count. This leaves me extras to use in other meals or if I choose to have a repeat meal (Which we do; tacos, hamburgers, and hot dogs are almost always eaten at least twice per month. So now I know one 20 count pack of tortillas will cover two meals) Side note: I am going to try my hand at making my own tortillas and freeze them.

§  I choose not to write down specific meals to have on specific days because I always end up needing to change out a meal for whatever reasons. Then I have to rewrite the whole menu because it might, for example, make us have hot dogs to two nights in a row.

§  Instead I make a list of 25-27 meals to have in a 30-31 day period. I list out the meals we like or want to try leaving room for leftovers , a night of sandwiches or eating dinner out (however, we rarely go out to eat…) Once I fix the meal, I cross it off my list.

§  For lunches and breakfast meals I make a list of items to have but once again do not designate them to specific days. My lunch menus are the shortest list as we usually have leftovers and Hubs will take those for his lunch or the kiddo and I will eat them the next day. Breakfast is really included in the quantities I have designated to make my homemade mixes (Bisquick for example) so I don’t really list that we will have pancakes, waffles, muffins or biscuits. I might purchase a box of cereal but we would eat it as a snack rather than a breakfast meal.

§  And we do not purchase snack foods any more. We buy crackers (to have with soups and such) that we also snack on, we keep a few fresh/canned fruits or we make cookies or make popcorn. I will on occasion buy pre packaged fruit snacks for the little man, but that is for the convince of keeping them in the diaper bag or my purse. By cutting out snacks we eat better at our meals and it has the added bonus of shrinking the waist line all the while saving extra bucks.

§  We also do not purchase soft drinks except on special occasions or when we have guests. This is a cost cutter reason for us, not a healthy choice, although we are healthier because of it. We fix tea or Kool-aid. We do buy bottled water just for drinking because we have sulfur well water that is chlorinated and albeit safe to drink it’s a taste preference when we want just plain water to drink. We have tried several filters and they do the job but are way too costly.

Ø  I find that breaking up my shopping list and inventory list into categories helps me keep better track of the quantities I need. Example: Meat, veggies-fresh, veggies-frozen, veggies/canned items, breads, dairy, spices/condiments, baking items, and so on.

Ø  Once you have the list made, make a copy of it. Keep one copy at home and take the other to the store. This will help you create a MASTER LIST (This will be explained later).

*****Side note: I purchase items like bouillon powder instead of cans of broth/stock, large bags of frozen vegetables sometimes instead of canned or fresh ones (think carrots…) powdered buttermilk instead of fresh buttermilk. This helps cut down on waste if I need only use a portion of the item for a meal and leaves me pantry space as it is very limited in our little farm house.

v Keep track of food usage:

Ø  This will help when you go shopping the NEXT time.

Ø  Each time you open something, write on the box, or carton, or bag the date you opened it. Then you can see how quickly, or slowly, you use the item. I do this on everything I use. Yes, it is a little odd to do but honestly, it really helps you when you make a shopping list or menu the next month. And this is only for items that do not get used just the once. (Example: If I buy 16 oz of sour cream for a dip that requires all 16 oz.)

Ø  This will also assist you in making a MASTER LIST

Ø  I have a portion of my kitchen wall that is painted with chalkboard paint (see picture at beginning of post). Originally I broke it up into two categories. Now I have four categories:

NEED TO MAKE (we make a lot of items ahead from scratch)


Ø  This is a trick I just learned to do. In fact, I don’t think I would have been able to make a master list after my first shopping trip anyway. It took several monthly shopping trips to make up a list of ALWAYS USED ITEMS. They are items that I use up, nearly in its entirety, every month regardless of what meals I have planned. This list also helps me project how much I will be spending on groceries because I write down the price of the items on my master list. (We shop at one store unless there is a highly needed item that the one store does not carry)
Ø  The way I have my master list set up is for the very lowest quantities of items to survive the month. I buy 10 lbs of flour per month, but on my master list I have only 5 lbs of flour listed. This is because I have overages left from the previous month’s flour purchase and really, I always have about 10 lbs on hand. And should we ever have a month where we dip into our budgeted food money for an unexpected repair or whatever, and then I know that we will make it the whole month on just the amounts on my list.
Ø  Some things do not need to be purchased every month but they make my master list because I check the amounts before making my final shopping list. I make a bunch of items from scratch (one example is Bisquick). I put “Bisquick” on my list so I know to check the container to see if I need to make some more to last the month. If I do, then I add the ingredients to my shopping list. If not, then I won’t require extra flour or shortening for that month.

Ask yourself these questions each time you shop….

Is there a cheaper brand or store brand of an item?

Be willing to compromise. Try the store brand this month. If you don’t like it, then go back to your regular brand next month. I buy nearly everything store brand but there are some things that are not available in store brand (powdered butter milk is a good example) There are just a tiny handful of items that we have tried the store brand version of that we did not like.

Will this last me the whole month?

You seem to be running low on shampoo but that last little bit might just last a whole month (it’s a phenomenon, I swear!) But at the same time, don’t leave yourself without an item and having to run to the store mid month. If you keep tabs of your usage, then this should help you calculate how much of one item lasts an entire month

Do I really need this item?

This is the HARDEST question to answer. Yeah you just wrote an entire month’s worth of needed food and household items, but could you shave off a few items from your list that might help reduce the final bill?

          My best personal example for this is chips. I first convinced myself that I HAD to have potato chips for our lunches. Then I realized that sometimes we waste the chips; we never eat the crumbs at the end of the bag or the sandwich really was enough to fill us up so we didn’t eat all our chips so the rest were tossed away.  So the first month we did once a month shopping, we didn’t buy ANY potato chips. And guess what? We survived the month without them, and in the mean time saved a few extra bucks. (Oh yeah…and got a little healthier.)

When planning your menu: Is this item in season or out of season?

For me this pertains mostly to fruits and veggies as we don’t eat a lot of fresh seafood or fish. There are some fruits, vegetables, fish and seafood that are available year round. However that does not mean they are always “in season.” For these you may notice the price is higher because they are imported from other locations. Do a quick search online or ask at your grocery to see if the item is in season. I fix the meals that require fresh vegetables/fruits during the first week or two so they don’t have time to spoil. I have ran out and gotten a fresh veggie or fruit for a meal that occurred later in the month (like bananas….the little one LOVES bananas at breakfast and it’s hard to turn that cute little face down when he asks for his ‘nanners) but I try not to if at all possible.

Could I make this from scratch at a lower cost than store bought/prepackaged?

This is my favorite question. I was a quick fix, premade, box meal kind of gal. It’s not 100% laziness. I never gave much thought that some food items I bought could be made from scratch. Now when I am in the store or reading a recipe I am always thinking, I wonder if I could make that instead of buying it. Though I don’t have the actual math on the cost of these (store bought vs. homemade) I feel comfortable to say that 99% of these are way cheaper to make at home rather than buying.
Most of the following things I make on my own make large quantities that last the entire month or several months without expiring. So I get the convenience of store bought but without the added cost. The food items are great for people with allergies or on special diets or who are additive cautious because you control the ingredients that go into them. The homemade cleaners are great if you want environmental friendly/chemical free cleaners (with the exception of the laundry detergent and fabric softener…I haven’t come across any statements claiming it is environment friendly, but it is wallet friendly and works just as well if not better than store bought). My list of things I make homemade is continuously growing.

·         Muffin Mixes
·         Brownie Mixes
·         Cookie Mixes
·         Cake Mixes (and homemade frosting when cake is made)
·         Bisquick (for pancakes and biscuits)
·         Tortillas (have not tried it just yet but will be doing so VERY soon)
·         Taco Seasoning
·         Ranch dressing Mix
·         Onion Soup Mix
·         Cream of something soup base
·         Coffee Creamers
·         BBQ Sauce
·         Hamburger Helper Mixes
·         Chocolate syrup
·         Popcorn
·         Laundry Detergent
·         Fabric Softener
·         Multi Purpose Cleaner

What can I buy in bulk and freeze?

I will tell you what I buy in bulk and freeze. I am choosing not to include best by/expiration dates because each person differs in opinion as to when stuff goes “bad.” You can easily research on the internet about freezing foods and suggested use by dates.


·         Freezing milk does not change the consistency or taste.

·         Be sure to remove at least 1 full cup of the milk before freezing because of expansion.

·         The milk will turn yellow once frozen. This is supposed to happen. It will return to white once thawed.

·         I buy 4-5 gallons at a time. That leaves me 4-5 cups of milk. I then make up 4 cups of milk from powdered milk and add the other 4-5 cups. That gives me an additional half gallon of milk. (or more if we buy 5 gallons) I use this for cooking and in my coffee or coffee creamers. I write on my jug the date I made it and it will last up to 10 days in my fridge.

·         When I thaw my milk I put it in a bowl with a towel underneath and set it on my counter. It thaws for about 6 hours or so. I don’t worry about it spoiling or building bacteria because the milk is frozen solid it acts as its own cooler as it thaws. I shake it really well before putting it in the fridge and just by habit I shake it each time I get it out although this is unnecessary. For a few days it still has ice crystals in it but eventually finishes thawing in the fridge. If you worry about bacteria and such you can thaw it in the fridge. But it will take a whole lot longer (days perhaps).

·         Our milk stays in the freezer for 4 to 5 weeks. This isn’t because it will spoil by then, just that we use up what we buy within a month or so. Most milk will last 10 days or more in the fridge. Just give it the sniff test after about a week.

·         I write the day that I thaw the milk and write my own “expiration date” on it. (10 days from day it’s thawed) so I know when to do the sniff test.


·         I have kept sliced, block, and shredded cheeses in my freezer for over two months and for me and my family it was fine. I thaw my cheese in the fridge to keep it from getting “mushy.”

·         The only thing I don’t freeze cheese wise is Velveeta (we buy store brand) because it can stay in the pantry or fridge for a few months.


·         I have found that loaf bread gets a bit dry if frozen longer than a month so I only buy one month’s worth.  (Usually about 3 loaves for us)

·         My opinion on freezing hamburger or hot dog buns is that they get very crumbly once frozen. So I don’t freeze mine. They will keep fresh in the fridge for a little past the expiration date but I just use mine up in the first part of the month and if we have hamburgers or hot dogs later in the month…we use loaf bread.

·         I have yet to try making my own fresh bread….I tried yeast rolls once and they didn’t turn out so well..I think it was just me. I’m better at biscuits or cornbread.

·         Tortillas freeze well. I have had some that lasted over 3 months in the freezer and tasted perfectly fine. Once again though…I am about to try making these from scratch.

·         Frozen dough lasts a couple of months. I did read once that it can lose its rising power if kept frozen too long. But again…. Research it and go by your own comfort levels.


·         I freeze all my fresh meats: Ground Beef, roasts, sausage, bacon, chicken, fish, hot dogs and so forth.

·         I also have been known to freeze lunch meats.

·         I remove them all from the original packaging and place in freezer Ziploc’s. I put what the meat is on the outside and the date it was frozen. (I’ve gotten confused between pork tenderloins and chicken breasts, thus the reason for naming what’s in the bag)

Fresh Vegetables and Fruits

I honestly do not have any experience in freezing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables but I have frozen onions and bananas. I sometimes only need half an onion so I chop up the rest and put it in a Ziploc. I don’t blanch/cook them before I do so. I froze some bananas to try for a smoothie once but found it was a hassle breaking them up from one big chunk to smaller chunks for the blender.

Other dairy products

·         You can freeze buttermilk and heavy cream. Try putting them in ice cube trays then into a freezer bag once frozen. I would not recommend freezing them in the original containers because of blowing up due to expansion.

·         I froze sour cream once but ours got lumpy once thawed. Not sure if it was just a one off thing or that it always happens.

·         Yogurt can be frozen. I would recommend dumping it out into a freezer bag or putting the whole container into a bag to keep air from getting in.

·         I have frozen cooked eggs (scrambled and in omelet form)

Baking products

·         You can freeze flour and spices. I try not to buy so much that I have the need to freeze them but I have in the past frozen taco seasoning packets (I kept buying them at every store visit for some reason!) I make my own now and it has a long shelf life so I don’t have the need to freeze it.

·         I freeze all of my baking chocolates and nuts. I have had some last up to a year frozen with no change in taste.

Tea and Coffee

I freeze my coffee grounds to help keep them fresh. I am just going to venture a guess that I could do the same with my tea bags…

*********I do a quick search on the internet if I have anything else I want to freeze. The key with freezing foods is getting as much of the air out that you can. Ice crystals that form can punch tiny holes in plastic so double bagging helps.

Ok, so! Thanks for sticking with me through all this!!! I hope that I have covered everything. If you have any questions I am happy to answer them to the best of my knowledge. I will (eventually) post the recipes to the mixes I make. A large majority of them came from Pinterest so if you need one in the mean time do a quick search or leave a comment here and I will post a quick link.

If you have any tips, please, feel free to share!

God Bless and Good luck with trying once a month shopping and making stuff homemade!!







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  1. Thank you for this post. I have tried the menu planning and bulk meal preps in a variety of ways to try to save money but I found I was still tied to a weekly shopping trips and resented to commute into the store as we live out of town.
    The idea of just having a list for meals and crossing them out as I make them is great I'm going to try that. And I'm not sure if you get this but I didn't know how to make bread and there's a great book called Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day which was awesome and now I make all of our bread as well as pizza dough:-)

    1. You are most welcome!! And thank you for the bread tip! I will be checking it out :) Way to go on making your own bread too! It's such a money saver and quite fun too!

  2. Do you have recipes for all your mixes?