March 08, 2015

Menu Planning on a Budget: Part 2: How to Shop

I hope that my tips on menu planning were helpful! (Don't sweat if it seems a little complicated, I promise that practice makes perfect!) Like I said before, menu planning is an incredible tool for your budget, your health and your stress level.  If you're a newbie, give it a month: you'll be in the swing of things; eating well; and loving the bottom line after a month of practice.

Today, I'll focus on shopping tips... Then, for the rest of the month, I will be sharing budget friendly recipes- along with prices!- to bring it all together.

Ok... So, you've made up your menu and now you're ready to go shopping! Nope. I know you're psyched to get going, but be patient. The key to shopping on a budget is planning.

Now, it's time to make your list(s). Then, armed with a complete list, you can tackle the store with confidence that you won't overspend.

(In actuality, I make my list as I plan and double check my pantry against the ingredients I need for the meals I have planned, the snacks we need, etc. I will also plan recipes based on what I have on hand, in order to use remaining produce, etc. BUT, for purposes of these posts, it is much easier to separate the planning from the list making/shopping.)

Wegmans' Phone App in Action
Making a List and Shopping:

1. If you're sticking to a budget, know that number before you start making your list.  Keep that in your mind as a stopping point. It's much easier to build your list with an end in mind than it is to scale back once you've planned and made your list.

2. Use your store's website.  Sadly, not all stores are created equal. I do most, if not all, of my shopping at Wegmans, and am able to rely on their website (and app) pretty heavily for list making. Their site and app allow you to search all of the store's products, view the nutritional information and prices online and add them to a shopping list. (If you use their website, you are even able to print the list out which is sorted by aisle so you know exactly where everything is!) This is an incredible tool, and helps me completely build my list and know exactly how much money I'm going to spend when I get to the store. It also cuts down on shopping time, and impulse buys! There are a few other stores which allow you to search their entire inventory, including prices, and build a list: Target; Walmart; BJ's; and Sam's. Aldi allows you to see prices for sale items, frozen foods, and pantry items- and make a list with a running total. Sadly, many other stores (including: Publix; Shoprite; Stop and Shop; BiLo; Kroger; Harris Teeter; and Winn Dixie) only allow you to view the prices of their sale items when building a list. (Whole Foods only allows you to see what's on sale, and doesn't allow you to build a list... Trader Joes doesn't post any prices!)

3. Alternate the purchase of big-ticket items.  For me, protein is typically my big ticket item. With that in mind, I plan my menu- and make my list to include- only one type of protein per week. (I'll buy chicken one week, beef another week, and fish the next, etc.) I buy in bulk when I buy meat, and so I have enough to get me through a few weeks at a time- especially since I work to alternate proteins during the week so that we get a good variety.

4. Only buy what you need.  Part of staying on a budget- and eating healthier- is eliminating excess. You don't need two different flavors of jelly, three different types of cereal, and four different types of rice. Streamline. Alternate cereals weekly, buy one type of rice and learn how to dress it up (add scallions one night, slivered almonds and craisins the next, etc.) Put snack items on your list, and only buy what's on your list! If you wait until you get there to decide what to get, you'll invariably buy more than you need and probably make fewer healthy decisions.

5. Don't be afraid of store brands.  This can be a gradual process. It was easy for me to immediately switch to store-brand beans, canned items, bread, and pasta. It took me a little longer to try store-brand cereals, and even longer to switch to store-brand toilet paper. It's amazing how much we cling to name brand items! But, don't be afraid- find a brand you trust, and go with it. You can often get more for your money, and may even find store brands to be healthier. (I recently realized that Swanson reduced sodium chicken broth is the same price as Wegmans Organic Chicken broth for the same size container. Swanson's broth has over 500mg of sodium, whereas Wegmans organic has just over 100mg!)

6. Buy in bulk when it makes sense.  A good example of this is meat. I buy family packs of meat when I shop (and break it down in 1lb. packages for use in recipes when I get home). I can buy boneless skinless chicken breasts at $1.99/lb. (LOVE Wegmans). It is cheaper in bulk, and something that I know we will use. I won't, however, go to Sam's and buy gallon containers of mustard because it's cheaper... it's not something we will use, and will probably end up going to waste. Bulk items make sense if you'll use them.

7. Don't be scared to try new stores! My husband and I recently tried the Aldi in our area after encouragement from a friend. We were able to find grapes at 99 cents/lb that looked just as good as the grapes I would have paid $2.49/lb for at Wegmans! We also saved on their brand of: graham crackers (delicious!); pasta; and snacks. We also choose to shop at a local "microdairy" for our milk and ice cream. (We are able to get fresh, local, additive free milk- and lactose free milk- at a savings!) We also checkout local farmers markets in season.

8. Try frozen fruits and veggies!  Like to have smoothies for breakfast?? Bags of frozen berries are typically far cheaper than their fresh counterparts, and just as delicious! (Plus, they don't need any prep!) Frozen veggies are also a great buy- I love frozen green beans, at just $1.99 for a 16 oz bag, I can get 2 nights of sides out of one bag. Frozen stir fry veggies are also a great buy. Having frozen vegetables on hand not only helps with your budget, but is great when you're planning more than a week at a time because you don't have to worry about everything going bad. (I do not rely on frozen vegetables alone, but I have found that they are a big help- there are some veggies that I prefer fresh only, such as broccoli and cauliflower.)

9. Shop with cash. It is proven that we spend more money when we use credit or debit cards. Go to the store with only your budgeted amount in hand. You can't go over budget if that's all you have!

That's the end of my tips/tricks... for the rest of the month, I'll be sharing cheap eats (and prices) to help you eat (healthy) on a budget!!

Disclaimer: I have not received any incentive or payment for speaking about Wegmans or any other stores listed in this post. The opinions are mine alone, and are based on my shopping experiences and research. 

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