Save 15–20% or more on Groceries Despite Rising Prices

This easy strategy will save money and hours of your time.

Photo by Nathália Rosa on Unsplash

The first week after the mad run on grocery stores and everyone hoarding toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and disinfectants, I was appalled to discover that my grocery bill was over $400. I had collected one cart-load and did not have duplicates of anything, except maybe hamburger. I barely had any meat at all.

What would have cost me between $150–200 before had almost doubled in cost. I’m sure the same thing happened to you, too. Why, I thought, had this happened? And then I realized that nothing in the store was on sale, and many things had gone up at least 50 cents to $1.00. Price gouging? Certainly! Obvious and reportable? Unfortunately, not.

As the weeks went on, my 6–8 bags of groceries were costing way more than they should. However, I need to shop at stores with an order-pickup option because no one wears a mask, and my husband has type-2 diabetes, which puts him at high-risk. This means I can’t shop at the deep discount stores.

What to do, what to do.

I could damn-the-torpedoes and go to that discount store anyway. I could shop the so-called sales ads and go to multiple stores. I could begin shopping at the dollar stores near me. I could purchase off-brand or store-brand products. None of these appealed to me. Call me spoiled.

I needed a solution, as I could not continue spending $300 on average each week for just two people. Although my grocery bill was high, I also realized that we were eating out less, and not at all until the end of July. Our grocery bill should have been somewhat higher, but not almost doubled.

Then, I thought about what I had done before I retired. I hadn’t wanted to take up all day Saturdays at the grocery store, so each week I made a menu. Then I would purchase only those items that I needed to make the meals on the menu that week. When I had done that, my grocery bill was on average 15–20% less. I thought, I can make this work again.

Make a menu for the month

The first thing I did was make a list of all the main dishes that we enjoyed eating. Then, I made a list of vegetables and side dishes we liked. Finally, I started pairing them up and made a menu for the entire month.

My menu lists dinner only since we usually have a sandwich, soup, or snack for lunch. And breakfast is easy for us to vary, and we often prefer cereal with fruit. However, you can totally do all three meals. I did when I first started doing this.

This has several great advantages. It saves time, money, and ensures a wider meal variety for which I shop for two weeks at a time. This also means I am less exposed to COVID because I go to the store less often.

It saves time

Before I created a monthly menu, I often spent time trying to figure out not only what I wanted to eat, but also what I could make with the ingredients I had on hand. It was not uncommon for it to take up to 30 minutes to figure out what I would cook.

With a menu, that stopped, and I get to cooking right away. I always have the ingredients I need because I know ahead of time what I will cook and can put everything on my shopping list for two weeks at a time.

Shopping every other week means that I go to the store less often, so I spend less time shopping, and less time putting groceries away. I used to spend 1 1/2 hours each week shopping and up to that long putting it all away, depending on my purchases.

Now, I transmit my grocery order and pick it up, which only takes 30 minutes including my travel time. I will only have to go into another store to buy items not available from my order. This takes less than 30 minutes, not hours. On top of that, the time it takes me to put it away is about the same, but I only have to do this every two weeks.

My family’s Google calendar menu. Screenshot by author.

The first month took me about two hours to create the menu, but the second month took less than 30 minutes, as I just moved the previous meals to the new month’s menu. And I had so many meals leftover that I already have the following month’s menu half-way completed.

It saves money

When I only purchase the items I need for the meals on my menu, I save money. I am not purchasing ‘just-in-case’ items. I’m not filling up my pantry with dozens of cans of vegetables and other staples that I may or may not use for months, saving me valuable real estate in my space-challenged kitchen.

You will be surprised how much money you save when you don’t make those extra purchases. If you buy enough to allow you to double your recipe, you can freeze the leftovers for a quick-fix meal next month, or use them for lunches. Also, if you do feel the need to stock up on items ahead of time, you only purchase those items you are guaranteed to use. No waste!

My grocery bill for a two-week period, after I started using this planning strategy, averages between $150 — $225, often less. If I could eliminate all the extra items that my hubby puts on the list, it would be lower. I rarely need to go to more than two stores, and then only if my order has unavailable items.

Having a menu ready to use also means that we are tempted to eat out much less than before, which saves even more money. Now we only eat out when we plan it. In fact, I put “Eat Out” on the menu once or twice a month. Usually, I name the restaurant, which saves time trying to figure out where to go.

For us, during this pandemic, eating out doesn’t mean actually eating at the restaurant. Instead, we have several favorite restaurants that we support by ordering food to bring home. We haven’t gone into a restaurant since mid-March, but this way we have the treat of someone else doing the cooking and support our local businesses at the same time.

We eat a wider variety of meals

When I was a kid, my mother had a set weekly menu. Every. Single. Week. The only thing that varied was whether we had pot roast or grilled steak for our Sunday meal after church. We always had taco salad on Friday night. After a while, mealtime was a bit boring.

The one thing I noticed when I began creating monthly menus is that we rarely eat the same meal twice in a month unless we just want to. Because I have more than a month’s worth of main dishes, we can go up to 6 weeks without repeating a meal. No more boring mealtime rut.

If you do have a favorite that everyone loves, you can still put it in once a week, if you like, or vary how you make it. I usually make chili several times a month when the weather is cold. I can make different kinds of enchiladas (cheese, beef, shredded beef, chicken, or pulled pork), and tacos can have varied fillers.

Everyone’s favorite meals are served at least once during the month, and no one is forced to eat the same thing over, and over, and over again.

Since I buy what I need for two weeks' worth of meals, there is some flexibility built-in. You don’t have time to make the chicken and dumplings planned for tonight? Not to worry; make taco salad from next Tuesday.

If you are trying to lose weight, eating a wider variety of meals can make dieting easier and more satisfying. You have fewer cravings because you are eating more foods and never get bored with what you eat.

What if I don’t want to eat what I’ve planned?

No problem. This is very flexible and forgiving. Look at your menu for the upcoming weeks. You probably have what you need to make a different meal. You can also decide to eat out instead. This plan should, however, save you time and money overall.

If you discover that the fresh broccoli you planned to fix next Thursday is wilting, switch it with the carrots you planned for tonight’s meal. If you discover a recipe that you really want to try out, just do it. Sub it in place of another meal. Just because it is written down, doesn’t mean it can’t change.

Give it a try

If this sounds like too much work, try doing this for one or two weeks and see how it goes. I’m betting that you will discover that it takes the pressure out of meal preparation. And everything is easier to do the second time around.

As an added benefit, anyone can start making the meal if you are running behind. I put my menu into a Google Calendar that is shared with my entire family. If I’m not yet home, anyone can start getting it ready. They will if they are hungry.

If you have teenagers, you can have them prepare a meal once a week, getting them ready for becoming adults. It also helps them learn your family’s favorite recipes.

Just remember:

  1. Make a list of favorite recipes and side dishes.
  2. Make a menu for the month. Put it in an online calendar, if you’d like.
  3. Make a grocery list for two weeks based on your menu.
  4. Do it again next month.

Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy!

To get you started, here is a free two-week easy menu.

Pat Davis, a retired teacher and editor of Living Simply and Simply Living, lives with her husband and neurotic cat, Neko. She loves to read, write, travel, bake, garden, sew, and craft.

Pat is a certified ELA, speech, and drama teacher. She enjoys writing, reading, baking, gardening, and crafting. Top writer in Food and Cooking.

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