I'll admit it - I love grocery shopping. However, I totally understand why most people may not feel the same way. It's time-consuming, it’s hard to do with kids, and no matter how many times you go shopping, you always seem to find yourself headed back to the store to pick up a few more things. Whether we like it or not, we all have to grocery shop, prepare food, and eat, so we might as well attempt to make the best of it in order to be as expeditious as possible. Over the years, I’ve developed a strategy that has made these duties less arduous, more efficient, and most importantly, has saved us a lot of money. And the strategy is very simple -- shop less often! It takes some committment and developing a solid meal plan, but if you feel like you spend too much time and too much money at the store, you may want to consider experimenting with this concept.
I refer to my meal planning and grocery shopping routine as a “cycle.” I have a “two week cycle” in that I only grocery shop twice a month. Two trips, plus a stop for more fresh milk, and that’s it. The main purpose of infrequent shopping is to use up and eat as much as you possibly can during the cycle to maximize utilization, which hence saves money. The concept is very simple: meal plan for the entire cycle, complete a large shopping trip and stock up on everything that is needed during that time, and finally, commit to avoid more food shopping by “purging” what is in the house during the cycle, using up everything until the cupboard is bare. Literally - you are aiming to have an near-empty fridge at the end of the cycle!
(it's a great feeling to know that all perishable items have been used up when it's time to shop again)
Doing larger, less frequent shopping trips is admittedly not for everyone and can seem unrealistic at first, but it has so many benefits, and can be tweaked and customized for each family’s needs. Here's why I love it so much:
- It saves money. We tracked our spending over the course of several months, and we saved about $50 a month shopping every two weeks as opposed to every week. You are literally reducing the “oh I need that,” and the “oh we’re almost out of that” moments in half, which adds up to a smaller grocery bill overall. It forces you to use what you have!
- It is time efficient. There’s nothing I love more than saving money – except for saving my time. Making lots of shopping trips means more time driving, parking, toting kids, getting carts, crossing things off lists, wrangling kids, dealing with tantrums in aisles, waiting at checkout, bagging, unpacking groceries, and more. By doing larger shopping trips, you are consolidating all of this.
- It helps to avoid food waste. When you’ve made a commitment to shopping less frequently, it means you’re committing to actually using what you bought. If you run out of bread with two days left until your next trip – it forces you to get creative and put tuna on that last tortilla in the fridge, see what else works, or simply go without. The more you operate like this, the more you’ll avoid wasting odds and ends of food items, which adds up to a lot of savings in the end.
- It helps you plan better. When you meal plan and shop less, you begin to recognize your family’s eating habits a whole lot more, and over time, this makes the entire process easier and organized. I promise! You’ll be able to see patterns and predict when you typically run out of certain items, and you start to adjust quantities more appropriately.
There may be a list of objections and questions running through your head, but this way of shopping is very feasible. If you're concerned about fresh produce, you'll learn to develop a sense of what stays fresh longer, and plan your meals according to these “perishable priorities.” And lots of produce lasts longer than you think. If you fear that your hungry family wouldn't like this, I assure you they will not starve. I truly believe that one of the main reasons people spend too much at the grocery store is out of worry that they will run out of items. After doing this for so many years, I can tell you this: you will not run out of things if you plan accordingly. You have to see how long you can go without buying a replacement of something to truly understand how long it WILL last, and overall, this will extend the money you spend on it.
Infrequent shopping doesn’t mean you can’t step foot into the grocery store until your next major shopping day. If you need to stop at the store mid-cycle and get more cold cuts and fresh raspberries, go ahead - but don't get anything else! This can take some discipline, but the commitment works. For some, meal planning for a long span of time sounds like too much work. But for me, it's all about consolidating time in order to be more efficient. You're swapping out lots of little moments of preparation for one larger session. And then it's totally done until next time!
(I'm fully stocked and don't have to think about any shopping for the next two weeks)
All this may sound overwhelming, but the first and most important step in making this a success is committing to meal planning. Next time, I'll be sharing some of my tips on that topic. But for now, take note of how often you buy groceries or stop at the store for items and see if it seems like too much. Perhaps shopping less is the answer! You never know until you try!