Thursday, May 31, 2012

Meal Planning- Why I Changed to a Monthly Budget

Budgeting, and especially meal planning, is something of a challenge that I long to master. I have changed the way I budget my groceries, so here's the breakdown of how I currently run our kitchen. I've been eager to share it with you! We've been doing really well on it and I actually feel freer and less restrained when it comes to planning our meals.

As I told you about previously, I aimed to spend about $40 a week for my little family of four. That was a year ago, and a lot has changed! For one, Sophie was 10 months old and still primarily getting nutrition from breastfeeding, but BOY does she have an appetite now!

She will frequently out-eat Ben! We are working with a lot more food these days. I also found that spending weekly didn't leave me very much freedom to make bulk purchases. Occasionally I would need to buy olive oil (about $20 for 2 liters) or vitamins ($12 a bottle) or bacon ($12 for 5 pounds) and my planning for the week would go out the window. I also found that I couldn't take advantage of loss-leaders (the really fantastic front page ads) like I wished I could.

Another problem I had with weekly grocery shopping was that I found myself going to 3 stores every single week, usually all in the same day. I was starting to feel exhausted and burnt out. All of these factors made it very clear that something needed to change with my routine. Weekly grocery budgeting just wasn't working for us anymore.

I read about Once a Month Shopping on Quick, Easy, Cheap and Healthy and it sounded a little crazy at first, but what really sold me on it was the way I could take advantage of bulk purchasing at Costco, Honeyville, loss-leader sales, or even ordering something online at Amazon or Azure Standard.  I could spend the money on these larger purchases without compromising the food plan or having to resort to food storage for the week.  The way Once a month shopping works is that the majority of your food is purchased the first week, then the rest (like produce and dairy) is purchased throughout the month in smaller weekly trips. This way I can purchase what I need with the flexibility of having our whole month's budget at my fingertips. I also only go to 3-4 stores in the first week, then one store for each of the following weeks. Here's the breakdown of how I do it:

1. The last week of the month, I do an inventory each time I am in the kitchen focusing especially on bulk items (flour, oil, butter, oats, sugar, the ingredients for granola, etc.) and write down what is needed on a white board on my fridge.

2. I begin to browse the circulars for the following month and take note of the loss-leaders I plan to buy. Using what is on sale, I try to make a meal plan for the next 2-4 weeks and write what items I will need for the rest of the month's meals, excluding some produce, dairy or protein I will purchase later.

3. I go out and make my monthly purchases, leaving money remaining for restocking milk, eggs, produce, and any other loss leaders I may want to take advantage of. I spend about 2/3 of my budget in the first shopping trip.

4. Each week, I restock produce and/or dairy. I try to only go to one store and almost always succeed. I will usually go to Sprouts the second week, Costco the third week for fresh dairy, then usually Sprouts again in the fourth week.

So, really it's more like one big stocking up shopping trip and one tiny shopping trip each week. But most of the work is done in the first week and my other shopping trips throughout the month are a breeze!

I have also increased my budget due to little Miss Sophie's appetite. We now spend $240 each month- up from $160 a year ago (which we often went over).  I came to that number by adding $40 for the little miss' portion of food and $40 for bulk items. It's working out quite well- this month we were 100% on budget! Yeehaw! I did it by using a cash system, but that's a discussion for another day.

I will be taking my first shopping trip for the month of June tomorrow and will let you know how I do!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you have a great plan. I try to keep a stash set aside from our budget as well, so that I can stock up when I find truly great deals.