Grocery Shopping Once a Month – Can You Do It?

My husband and I recently bought a house, and we’d like to plump up our emergency fund just in case we have a large house expense.  (Because, of course, when you have little savings, expensive things start to break.  It’s the law of nature, right?)

To inspire myself, I reread America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money by Steve and Annette Economides.  One strategy of theirs that I latched onto is once a month shopping.  The Economides shop once a month for their family of seven and right after shopping day, they make 15 to 17 freezer meals to help them on nights when they’re too busy to cook.

Alright, I already regularly cook freezer meals, so how hard could it be to shop once a month for my family of five?

As it turns out, very tough, at least the first month.

Grocery Shopping once a monthBreaking Bad Habits

I have a bad habit of making a big shopping trip on the weekend and then running to the store for this or that several times a week.

Do you do this, too?  From all of the harried shoppers I see at the store at 5 p.m., I’m guessing I’m not alone.

The problem is that each time I run to the store, I buy more items than I initially went to the store to buy.  The Economides recommend once a month shopping to avoid this kind of impulse buying that blows up the grocery budget.

Making the Big Shopping Trip

This month, eager to change my bad shopping habit, I scouted the deals and made my big, once a month shopping trip.  I spent two days afterward cooking up meals to put in the freezer.  I was set, or so I thought.

Turns out, limiting the impulse to stop by the store is more difficult than I thought.

There are a number of reasons why we’re struggling:

  • My husband likes fresh fruit and veggies.  Our family wiped these out after a week, so back I went to the store to pick up some more.
  • I’m an impulse eater.  If something sounds good to me, I want to make the recipe and have it for dinner.  I don’t want to wait until my next monthly shopping trip to get the ingredients to make it.  (The whim would have passed by then, which is the point, I guess.)
  • Eating up odds and ends at the end of the month is not fun.  Sure, trying to make meals out of what food is left is fun, but the last few days, most of it doesn’t taste good.

Taking Baby Steps Moving Forward

While it would be easy to give up on the idea of once a month shopping, I haven’t yet because I know it can be a big money saver.  Instead, I’m going to back up and move to twice a month shopping.  This will allow me time to plan out our meals for two weeks, making sure we have all the ingredients we need.  Many fruits and veggies stay good for nearly two weeks, so my husband will have the fresh fruits and veggies that he wants.

I don’t know if I’ll ever fully implement once a month shopping, but if I am successful with twice a month shopping, I will still significantly reduce my impulse shopping trips and improve my grocery budget.

How often do you grocery shop?  Are you a multiple trip, impulse buyer like I am (was?), or are you a grocery store ninja?

Keeping Up With the Smiths

Keeping up with the Joneses is bad.  We know that.  From a financial perspective, we spend a great deal of our time overcoming the green monster called envy in order to keep our lives in some semblance of financial order.  We know the Joneses down the street with their big, fancy new SUV.  We see them going on long family vacations.  And we know the guy that mows their lawn.  But, we also know that there’s a pretty high probability that they still owe a ton of money on that SUV.  That that family vacation likely was financed through a credit card.  Their entire financial life depends on them keeping their well-paying jobs.

Forget the Joneses

I’d like to talk about another family.  The Smiths.  You don’t know them.  We don’t talk about them like we do the Joneses.  Why don’t we?  Because, outwardly, their lives are nothing to be envious of.  They don’t own a big house on a double lot.  They don’t drive a brand new Escalade.  Their family vacations consist of weekend trips to state parks or trips to visit family a couple of counties over.  Outwardly, they may even seem a bit downtrodden.  They may seem (GASP!) a bit poor.

Sometimes they are.  Sometimes, they are truly victims of their circumstance, or their poor financial choices along the way.  But, for every one of those families, there’s at least two that aren’t poor.  They have well paying jobs.  They have money in the bank.  And they occasionally barbeque a steak on the cheap grill they have on their back deck.  It’s those Smiths I’d like to talk about.

It’s the Quiet Ones You Have to Watch Out For

Why don’t we know the Smiths?  Because we live in a society that is enamored of our celebrity.  We hang on every word that that famous athlete, or famous actress says.  We try and model our lives after theirs.  They live a glamorous life, full of flashing photography, red carpets, and any number of endorsement deals.

Keeping up with the Smiths

Who wouldn’t want to be like that?  Short of being famous, we decide that we’ll see how close we can get.  The bank doesn’t turn us down for that big house, big car, or vacation to the same beach that the celebrities hang out on.  Maybe we’ll even get to see one of them!

But, it’s the Smiths we should know.  We should know people who live their lives responsibly within their means.  We should know people who live for more than having our fellow neighbors think about how rich we are, and how rich our lives must be.  We should be the Smiths.  We should be the people who drive the reliable older car without the flashy rims and booming sound system.  We should be the people who live in the smaller house that we try and repair ourselves.

Society may push us towards that Joneses sort of lifestyle.  After all, what would become of some of the companies if we stopped trying to keep up with the Joneses and stopped buying all their luxury goods?  What would the news and tabloids cover if we weren’t constantly buying their rags in order to find out what sort of clothes the princes and princesses of some foreign country were wearing this spring?

Shiny Facades, Crumbling Foundations

All around us, there are Smiths.  We don’t notice them, and we rarely get to know them.  We’re surrounded by the Joneses, and the shiny facades of businesses and economies that are driven by their reckless spending.  But, under those shiny facades is a crumbling foundation.  The economy of the world is on shaky ground.  We saw just how shaky it really was in 2008.  When the housing market crashed, it very nearly brought the entire world economy with it.  Luckily, the economy was strong enough at the time to take a beating.  It wasn’t strong enough to bounce right back.  It’s been a long slog back to where we were.  We aren’t even back there yet.  There are still parts of the world that are hurting economically.

Imagine, for a moment, if we rebuilt that economy, not on the sands of bailouts and extended unemployment benefits, and instead built it on the bedrock of hard work and frugality that got us where we were in the first place.  Imagine if we had seen the folly of our loose spending ways and tightened our belts, stuck to our budgets, and started building an economy that doesn’t shake and quiver at the smallest rise in unemployment, or the slightest miss in an earnings report?

What if, instead of running around willy-nilly chasing the lifestyle of the Joneses, we were calmly working ourselves into the stable economy of the Smiths?  What if we all didn’t have wait for our next paycheck to buy gas because our last paycheck went to our mortgage and car payments?  What if we were able to fill a tank of gas from the cash in our bank account and know that we still had our emergency funds to help us along should a real emergency come along?

We can.  We can bring our spending in line with our earning.  We can sell the fancy car that we don’t need.  We can downsize our house to something that we can afford.  Sure, the dependable used car you buy might not have as much chrome as the fancy one.  It might not have the same heated seats.  And the house you downsize to might not have a walk-in closet, or a jacuzzi bath tub.  I’ll let you in on a little secret.  You don’t need them.  They’re luxuries.  You only think that it’s normal to have those things because the Joneses told you it was.

We should be keeping up with the Smiths.

We can be the Smiths.

Stock the Freezer with Frugal Meat Through Hunting

My wife really enjoys eating healthy, and prefers the taste of organic, grass fed meats to the traditional pasture raised and corn finished variety that is far less expensive. My wife usually does the shopping, but last time I went with her she bought a pound of ground buffalo for $9.99, and that was on sale! I absolutely couldn’t believe it! We try and keep our grocery tab under 65-75 dollars per week for the two of us, and she was spending more than 10% of it on one item!

That’s a lot of money, and more of the same in this department would put us in the poor house in no time flat. Thankfully though, we very rarely buy meat from the store. It’s not that we are vegetarians or vegans, but we prefer to get our meat from other sources. The main sources that we use to get meat these days is hunting and fishing. I’ve found that this is a great way to get high quality meat for a great price. Not only that, but you get to be outside all the time while you do it.

I started hunting right out of college with my dad and my uncle, and I went with them because it was what they always did. Hunting didnt seem that abnormal to me at the time, and neither did securing your own food. It was just something we did because we didnt have a lot of money to spend on anything, especially food.

Goes Hunting Gets a freezer full of frugal meat

Now though, I’m hard pressed to find someone that is under the age of 30 that hunts, and I cant figure out why. Every time I go to the store I see people filling up their carts with organic, free range and grass fed meat, and they are paying a pretty penny for it! When I go deer hunting I usually yield about 35 pounds of raw meat, and I pay $20 for my hunting tag, which equates to about $1.75 per pound. This isn’t just some regular old factory farmed meat either, it’s high quality, grass fed, free range organic stuff that people are paying an arm and a leg for. It’s good, frugal meat.

This poundage that I get is all venison as well, it’s before I combine it with a little beef fat for hamburger or before mixing with pork for venison sausage. Typically, when you make sausages or ground venison, you want to add some fat because venison is so lean that it dries out pretty quickly, further increasing your actual yield.

The same can be said for fishing. I know not everyone likes fish that much (and the ones that are more popular like salmon are nowhere to be found where I come from) but you can get a great source of protein with them as well. Your yield isnt as high in terms of poundage, but you still get some great healthy food for cheap. Fishing tags are also a lot cheaper where I come from (about $25 for the season) and can be a great source of food as well.

What if You Dont Hunt or Aren’t Interested?

To this I say that is just fine! To each their own. You don’t need to hunt or fish to enjoy wild game meat. All you have to do is befriend a hunter. Last year, I had quite a few friends express interest in any leftover meat that I had, so I simply purchased an extra tag and harvested an extra animal. Once I was finished processing it, I gave 4 of my friends about 10 lbs each of multiple cuts of venison. They each got some sausages, steaks, roasts and ground venison. Everyone was so thankful they offered to pay me – I couldn’t believe it, I had a great time out there and was happy to do it for free.

The next question I got was how do I cook this – which is also a simple solution. I explained the cuts of meat that each person got, and they went and searched for venison tenderloin recipes or whatever the cut was, and found a great recipe online. Lots of them shared the recipes with me, so it was nice to get some new stuff to try as well.

If you’re looking for one great way to save on food costs, stay healthy and “beat broke”, I encourage you to take up hunting or befriend someone that is a hunter. They can help you save a lot of money while they have fun outdoors!

Readers: Have you ever hunted before? If no, Are you interested? Why or Why not? Do you know any friendly hunters that may share with you?

Original image credit: Hunting Face, by Kristacher, on Flickr