I recently became a monthly grocery shopping convert out of necessity. I refused for many years because it did not retrieve positive memories of my childhood living in the middle of nowhere! Monthly grocery shopping was a necessity growing up and I loved the variety I had when I moved to the city as an adult and was able to shop weekly and at a moments notice.
How I Started
I grew up in Big Bend National Park, Texas – my backyard was a majestic playground with an abundance of hikes and wildlife. A quick glance at a map will show that my beautiful home was also very secluded. This means no movie theaters or malls, which is a positive thing in my opinion. But before everybody packs their bags to head to this nature-lover’s wonderland, it also means there are no grocery stores, no doctors, or many of the conveniences you have when living in a town. Monthly grocery shopping is a must when you live here! What this meant for me was, my mom went grocery shopping only once every 3 months. To make the food last this long we ate mostly canned and boxed foods that had long shelf lives and froze items like meat and bread. I still have nightmares about powdered milk and freezer-burned meat. To this day cannot eat Spam! If you ever get to experience this wonderful part of God’s creation, you won’t feel too sorry for me over my much lacking culinary experiences.
Fast forward to my college years and the first city I lived in that had over 5,000 people. I quickly became a weekly, or even sometimes multiple times a week grocery shopper. If I wanted a specific food one evening, I would run to the store a grab what I needed. Menu planning was not something that crossed my mind. If I ran out of milk (yes, real true milk that comes in a gallon), run to the store again, and I might as well grab some cookie dough and ice cream while I was there. This is how I continued to grocery shop through out college, single working girl, early married years, and even my first years of motherhood. My budget for groceries changed with each season, but my method of shopping did not.
However, when baby # 3 turned 1 and I found out baby # 4 was on the way I knew something needed to change! Have you ever tried to grocery shop with 3 or 4 kids? Excruciating pain is the best word I can use to describe it. Try calculating your total as you shop or making price comparisons as your children ask for some sugary, expensive cereal, your toddler needs to go to the bathroom, or the baby that needs to eat NOW. Do you feel my pain?
So I decided to put my nightmares of freezer burn and powdered milk behind me and give monthly grocery shopping a try. I would love to tell you it was a stellar success, but it really did not work well for me, due to my spontaneous nature and 20 years of ingrained weekly shopping habits. I would constantly forget to set my meat or freezer meals out to thaw, be short one ingredient, or just want something other than what I had on hand. Eventually, I had one large grocery trip by myself each month, where I bought meat, cheese, and bread for the month. But I would still shop weekly for milk, veggies, and extra ingredients for the meals I had planned. But those trips I still often had all 4 kids in tow.
Now I am expecting baby #5 and our finances are tighter than they have ever been before. Last week, while my husband was home, I price shopped at meat markets, fruit stands, Sam’s and HEB to find which places had the best prices. In our area there is only HEB and Walmart and the lack of competition keeps prices high. But after my comparisons, HEB really had the best overall prices with the exception of the fruit stand. So I decided to do all my shopping at 1 store, which honestly I prefer anyway.
Our menu will consist of about 5-6 favorites that are also cost effective. This helped in planning because all the ingredients are simple and I just bought what I needed for each recipe times 4. This should fix my forgetfulness problem and trips to the store for 1 ingredient and all the impulse items that go with it. We normally have cereal for breakfast, our main meal at lunch, and sandwiches or leftovers in the evenings. So beyond our main meal, I also planned how much cereal and peanut butter we would need for the month and purchased that as well. I also planned for snacks for days at the pool, beach, or on the go. My total bill came to $385 and I hope to make this stretch over the next 5 weeks with only one or two more quick grocery store or fruit stand runs for milk and produce that does not freeze well. This keeps my food budget right at or below $100 a week for a family of 6 and 1 on the way.
So this is more of a challenge to myself to make meal planning and monthly grocery shopping work for my family. Thankfully, I love challenges, and when I actually see that my plan worked I know I will be able to stick with the monthly grocery shopping for the long haul. Each month will become a new challenge to see how low I can get my budget and how long can I make it last.
What I Have Learned
Since I have now been both a weekly and a monthly grocery shopper I have learned the pros and cons of each method and I wanted to share what I have learned.
Monthly Grocery Shopping Pros:
- You save money! Buying in bulk and less opportunity for impulse purchases really helps the savings add up.
- You save time! When you grocery shop weekly there are at least 4 times in the month that you have to make a menu and shop for all those items. When you shop once a month you only have to do each task once. I have found the only thing that takes extra time is unloading and separating the bulk items into meal size portions.
- You save your sanity! Well at least this is a pro for me, because I can usually manage a once a month grocery shop without the kiddos and that is much harder for me to pull off weekly with my husband’s work schedule.
Monthly Grocery Shopping Cons:
- You must be able to stick to your plan for it to really work. If you are a planner this may seem easy, but for us spontaneous folks this really can be a challenge.
- Not all items freeze well, and somethings are just better fresh. Often times this means you only have fresh foods for the first week or two and frozen the rest of the month unless you make another trip during the month for extra fresh items.
Weekly Grocery Shopping Pros:
- It is easier to shop grocery sales when you shop weekly. You may just score steak rather than hamburger if your store has a special. Some menu planning tools have a sale feature built in.
- You can purchase food that you are in the mood for. Of course this may just be a pro because I’m a pregnant lady with lots of food cravings at the moment.
Weekly Grocery Shopping Cons:
- You have to do it every single week! Each trip to the store is extra time and often extra money.
- It costs extra money. Other than the previously mentioned specials, most of the time it is cheaper to buy in bulk. Also more trips means more impulse items. Unless you are super disciplined it is hard to avoid all impulse items. If you wind up spending $15 each trip on impulse items that adds up to an extra $45-$60 each month on your grocery bill.
Of course there is no right or wrong way to grocery shop, but it is a necessary task. When thinking about that task it helps to think through your family’s unique dynamics. If you have older children or a very unpredictable schedule, weekly grocery shopping can be great. But if you have small children or a small budget like me, then monthly grocery shopping may be a great solution for you too.
How do you handle the chore of grocery shopping?