Playing The Grocery Game

   Remember my blog post “Go Big & Go Home” about once a month grocery shopping?  For 8 years now, that is how we rolled.  Go check it out, its big, its messy, but then you are done……

For a WHOLE MONTH. 

  Ahh, it was Heaven, and it was all I knew…..but THEN, as we have been going through our year of financial discipline,  I stopped going nearly all together.  Praise God, as He provides we are able to go again, just not ever $450 at a time anymore.  For this reason, I am ready to start a whole new way of shopping.  One that doesn’t require me to have that $450 ready when I go, instead I only need about $60. 

  We have 3 local grocery stores: Aldi, Dillons and Walmart.  Walmart and Aldi’s were my top 2 places to shop, due to budget reasons.  Dillons is much nicer than our Walmart, but MUCH pricier in my opinion.  I used to get a whole CART full of groceries at Walmart for $100. 2 bags at Dillons seemed to run me $75, so I never went…..

Until now.

I just finished a 4 week trial with The Grocery Game from thegrocerygame.com. The Grocery Game is a weekly list of the lowest-priced groceries at your local stores.  The idea behind this is to buy only what is on sale AND use coupons for these items as well.  Here is a break down of my 4 week trial:

Week 1) 

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  I didn’t photograph all groceries, but purchased freezer pizza, Bugles, cracker packs, grapes, bananas, milk, mayo, salad dressing, granola bars, some school supplies, bounce sheets and lots of shredded cheese since it was on sale for $1.79.   I spent $80.17 and saved $40.  This was more than I was hoping to spend, but great savings none-the-less.  Besides, if I did this amount 4 times a month, I’d still be $130 under our grocery budget.  Oh and thanks to coupons + sales, I got free butter, free dip and free toothpaste, FUN!

Week 2)  There were less things on the Grocery Game “To Buy” list this week that we would use, but here is what I bought:

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Treat bars, 2 jellies, 2 pens, Combos snack, cereal, milk, 2 crescent rolls, yogurt, bananas and cherry tomatoes.  I spent $28.98 and saved $20.18.  MUCH better percentage than week 1. 

  My only question is, will I be able to make menu from these sort of purchases week after week? Um, not unless we want breakfast for supper with some tomatoes on the side!  Also, some of this stuff is major junk food that I don’t usually let my kids have. 

   I am wondering when the pasta, tomato sauce, cream of soups, broth etc. will come through the list.  I guess if I just use this method to get us basics, we would still have cush in the grocery budget to buy some other ingredients, plus fresh items. 

Week 3:    I am loving this!  I spent $ 74.17 and saved $38.33 this week.  This is what I got:

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Week 4:  I spent $63.04 and saved $36.18. 

  I am seeing how as you get further into this Grocery Game, you do see casserole ingredients go on sale AND you have a larger stash to make your menu from. 

  By month 2 & 3 of this, I will be set!  Our shelves are more full than they have been in a LONG time! It’s nice to have a stash of snack crackers, canned fruit, spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce and noodles overflowing the shelves.

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Summary: 

The Grocery Game free trial was a success!!!! And as you can tell by all the recipes I’ve shared with you, we are still eating like kings! 🙂  YAY! We will definitely choose to keep this up until further notice. 

  If you DO decide to try Grocery Game, do the free trial. THEN, when you are done and ready to sign up for real, will you pretty pretty please use my referral link?   If you use this, it allows me to earn free weeks for sharing this with you. Thanks in advance! 

  Before you start, you’ll need at least 3 or 4 weeks stash of Sunday coupons, you’ll want to date and file each packet from here on out for easier finding, and a Dillons plus card to do this right.  After your free trial, it’s roughly $1.25 per week, basically $10 every 8 weeks, which you more than make up in savings your first shopping trip!  And they do all the work, you just locate and clip coupons and load your card! 

  I hope you love it.  It gets easier as you go!

Happy Shopping!

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~T

Go Big & Go Home!

  After a successful trip to Walmart Monday night, I decided to write a bit about the method to our madness.  Dale and I are firm believers of once a month shopping.  Our motto is this:

 “Walmart: Go big & Go home.” 

 (And do NOT return for a whole month.)

((Unless you forgot the eggs, then by all means, send Dale on the way home from work.))

   We budget $450 a month, for our family of 6, and that has to include diapers, light bulbs, shampoo etc.  This total does not include meat purchases, since we get a side of grass-fed beef once a year instead.  It has worked out great! 

  We just, in the past year, increased our monthly budget from $400 to $450 because of 2 in diapers and our kids eating more.  On average, the government figures $100 per person in your home, per month, so that lets me know, we are still doing good.  I think the $400 range is a good one, and hopefully, I’ll never need to go over that by too far, as our kids grow up. Just think, before I know it, my two littles will be potty trained!  Right, AVERY the STUBBORN, who is almost 2 1/2???????????  That will give us $60-$80 extra, that used to be spent on diapers! Hurray! 🙂

  Monthly Shopping:

 Step 1)  Get out all your favorite cookbooks to pick out recipes. Man, do I LOVE this part!  I tend to plan for 12-14 meals per month.  Often, 10 of those are brand new recipes to try, how exciting!

  I plan for 2 fun breakfasts per month, for quiet Saturdays at home, like Eggs Benedict Casserole with Hollandaise sauce, French toast casserole, Dale makes a mean Denver Omelet, and whole wheat buttermilk pancakes are always a hit! We plan for  2 new appetizers to try on Sunday Night Snack Supper, like Cocktail Reubens, Buffalo Wing Dip, Philly BBQ Ranch Dip, Corn dip, or Stuffed Mushrooms.  Add a dessert or two, maybe some bread recipes, and viola, you are done! 

  I always have a whole drawer full of new recipe print outs to try, in addition to my plethora of cooking magazines.  Plus there are page numbers and titles of “To Try” recipes listed inside each of my recipe books for easy reference during this planning time.  (When I get a new cookbook, I write inside the front cover, the list with page numbers, of all the recipes I want to try.  Then, once we’ve tried them, they either get a star of approval, or an X meaning never again!)  I leave all the pages bookmarked or open and move on to step 2.

  Step two is to type out the menu you have chosen, adding sides and a fruit or dessert if you wish.  I try to pick a variety of recipes: chicken, beef, occasionally pork, several Mexican dishes, casseroles, 1 or maybe 2, meat and potato suppers, and occasionally an Italian meal. (Not Dale’s favorite to my kids dismay!)

  I also try to watch things like, if I am buying a bunch of cilantro and the recipe calls for only half a bunch, I’ll find another recipe to uses the second half of it.  Then, as I type out the menu, I include in parenthesis the fresh items called for in the recipe, like (uses cilantro), so I have a quick reference when the other half needs to be used up.  This also helps me to prioritize which recipes I should make early on in the month. 

  This month may not have been the smartest one to show you for multiple reasons: it’s Christmas, so I will be home less to cook.  Also, instead of Bkfst, Appetizer and Dessert listings as I usually do, I had to list out the get-togethers we are attending and what I am assigned to bring.  And, poor Dale, I am hungry for Italian (and its so easy!) that I put 2 Italian things on the menu.  There is also more Pork than usual because we just bought a half a hog from someone for the ground sausage, so I am using up some of the other cuts this month.   

 Disclaimer done, moving on.  🙂

Step 3) Take all day to go through said recipes, and type missing ingredients out, one by one, on the computer spreadsheet you made for a grocery list.  Ok, ok, it only takes me all day, because I get interrupted no less than 1000 x’s, and can’t do much when I sit to nurse every 3 hours.  But you?  You can totally get it done much faster than that.  Like I used to back in the day.  For some reason, there were fewer interruptions before 3 kids in 3 years occurred!  Oh, and in all fairness, that was also before I lost the last of my organization brain cells, and could form a complete thought.  I sure miss that part of me! 

Now, what was it that we were we talking about? 

Oh yes!  Grocery lists. 

  Again with a disclaimer, don’t judge, it’s not pretty, I only own Microsoft Works, and this, is as good as it gets.  Its ugly, its crooked, I have to write in short hand cause the blanks are small, but I gotta tell you, it beats the heck out of hand writing it!  I usually organize it by sections as I go, and then drag and drop all the canned goods together within the Shelf category etc.  * means I have a coupon for it.  This gives Dale the hint to check which brand is on the coupons clipped to the list, rather than just whatever he feels like buying.  

Once I print this out, we cut it in half, and head to the store to divide and conquer Walmart. 

Here it is.  Don’t judge me.  Funny, I am feeling vulnerable just now, like you are peeking into my underwear drawer or something.  

Step 4)  2 hours, 2 full & overflowing carts later, we are headed home.  And, after 1 hour of putting away, we are done for the whole month! Is that the Hallelujah chorus I am hearing?!  Why yes, yes it is!  🙂

  Now, this part takes some dedication…..the budget is spent.  Finished.  As in, NO MORE!  So, unless someone calls and needs me to make something I have NONE of the ingredients for, or unless I forget something reallyreallyreally important, we don’t go back.  At all.  Must.  Stay.  Away.   Besides, you’d be surprised how much you can do with just the things you have in your cupboard and freezer in a pinch!

  The questions I am most often asked at this point is, how do you get your stuff to last 4 weeks?  And where the heck do you put it all?  

  Well, first of all, it’s not a perfect method, but we make it work the best we are able.

1) I have 2 fridges, the second one keeps things much longer, since it is rarely opened.  I also have 2 deep freezes, 1 for meat and bread, 1 for cheese, ice cream, butter etc.  Plus, I now have  a pantry, which is a welcomed change to storing things in the garage, kitchen, laundry room and my bedroom closet.

2) We eat the stuff like mushrooms (I just learned they freeze beautifully, so that’ll change), bagged salad and spinach, bananas, broccoli, and sometimes peppers, in the first 2 weeks before we start to lose ’em.  Things we buy that last the whole month, or very close to that, are: celery, heads of leaf lettuce, carrot sticks, potatoes, onions, apples, oranges & sometimes grapes. 

3) Towards the very end of the month, we tend to do more frozen veggies, which I steam on the stove, to maintain the most nutrients possible.  (we all buy such sprayed, altered, nutrient-poor food, that I don’t know that there are much nutrients left to save, but I feel the need to make an effort at least!)  

  We get raw milk from a farm, so when that runs out, we either go get more, or I use Vanilla Rice Dream milk.  The kids eat it just fine on their cereal, and it has a long shelf life, so I always have a little stash of it to help us make it through the last week or so.  Breads, I buy at the Sara Lee Bakery once every other month, and freeze them.  They thaw great!

  Grocery day is exciting and awful all at the same time.  I dread the process, but the end result is soo worth it!  We only have to get a babysitter once, we only have to make ourselves go brave the crowds once (and germs, ew!), and when we are done, I have a super-full pantry of yummy ingredients, to last me the next 30 days.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE making new recipes, so I am always geared up and ready to cook the next day.  

   My poor hunny, does not get excited about any part of this excursion!  He used to be a really great sport about going grocery shopping with me, but after I was put on 6 1/2 months of bed rest with Paxton, and he went alone all those months, he is not quite so willing now. Imagine that?! 

   I am seriously considering going to the store every 2 weeks for a one cart shopping trip, so I can give the poor guy a break. I am nervous though, I mean, we’ve done once a month shopping nearly all of our 8 years of marriage.  It’ll take a bit of adjusting on my part, to figure out how to do things 2 weeks at a time.  I had gotten good at looking at the list and knowing if I had gone over my budget or not.  I also will have to figure on average, how many meals we consume per week, since it changes all the time based on the social calendar!  Shopping every 2 weeks will be an adjustment, but if it means that much to him, I guess I can give it a whirl. 

In the meantime, I love Once-A- Month-Go-Big-&-Go-Home Grocery shopping, and you just might also! 

Happy Shopping! 

~T