My Meal Planning and Grocery Sale Preparation Process

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When we first got married, I used to love couponing and shopping for good deals. Of course, we also lived in a bigger city and had a multitude of stores to choose from. AND I didn’t have children so it was easy for me to just run in a store pretty much any time I wanted to. When we moved to where we live now, we were at least a 30 minute drive away from the good stores. I tried to make it work for a while, but after a while it just got to be too much. Maybe it was when I had my home daycare and just couldn’t find the time to get there to shop, but at some point I just gave up trying to coupon and embraced Walmart’s “every day low prices”.

Fast forward to now. I am a stay at home mom. We live on one income, and we are expecting our fourth child. A few months ago we had our little family budget meeting, and my husband told me that I had to cut our grocery spending somehow. I wasn’t really sure where to even begin because I was already struggling to make what I thought was a low budget work for us. Even just getting to the store was a challenge for me. But I decided to work on it. I made the decision to say goodbye to Walmart, and begin shopping at actual grocery stores with sale cycles again. I also bought us a Sam’s Club membership and decided I would also tackle drugstores again, but I would only focus on one right now… CVS. So while it’s still not perfect, and it’s taken me a month or two to get back in my groove… I think I’m figuring it out again. I’ve already cut our grocery budget category down by more than half! Before we were budgeting $450/pay period for groceries. Now I budget $200 per pay period for my grocery trips. (Sam’s Club and Drugstores have a separate budget line now, and I’m in the process of deciding exactly how much these amounts should be. I’m in the gathering stages right now, and I’ll track my patterns over the past months to get a good idea.)

And we also now always have food. We don’t run out of things as easily, and I seem to always have a back-up of whatever the item might be… I have a small stash now of extras and things like Ranch Dressing, Ketchup, Dishwasher Tablets, Laundry Detergent, Pancake Mix, Shaving Cream, My favorite Lotion, etc. It’s also been really nice because there are some weeks that I don’t even have to grocery shop! I’m not even kidding! We have plenty of food, and there might not be anything on the sales list that we really need so we just skip it. This was the case one week when we went out of town in June and another week in July when we just wanted to wait and make a larger trip the following week instead.

I’m definitely not an extreme couponer. I only buy what we use and love. I only buy what’s on sale… at least for the most part. And it’s been working really well.

Today, I’ll share my planning and preparing strategies with you.

(My strategies and things I take into account might be a little different because I almost always have my kids in tow. So you can just take those kinds of tips into consideration when you are making YOUR plans.) Then, I’ll come back and share with you my actual shopping trips with you… what I buy, what I spend, and how I make it all work. I hope you enjoy, and I hope you get some inspiration.

Wunderlist App 
We use this app for some of our church lists, and I thought it would be great to have as a “shared grocery list” for Justin and I. It works out so well because both of us can add things to it and see it at any time on our phones. I also especially love those times where he runs to “get a few things” from the store, and I can see where’s he’s checked things off that I added to the list. It really makes my heart go pitter patter inside. 😀

Being real though, this is kind of my “catch-all” list for needed items instead of writing it down in random places or not writing it down at all and forgetting we need something. If I notice we are running low on laundry detergent or I see that we need poster board for a school project, I add it to our Wunderlist. I also made a Household Staples Sub-list and a Grocery Staples Sub-list which I can glance at to make sure we have our basics covered each week. Obviously this Grocery Staples list needs to be updates since our shopping style has changed dramatically in the past few months. (You can imagine how expensive my Walmart grocery bills were from purchasing all that.)

My Planning Process
1. I go to SouthernSavers.com, and make a grocery list based on the weekly sale ads. I’ve been using this website since my couponing days nearly ten years ago, and I love that Jenny pairs all of the applicable coupons with the actual items that are on sale. It makes things really easy! I also make a list for drugstore shopping. Winn Dixie and CVS are my preferred choices right now.

2. Print and clip any applicable coupons.

3. Write out a meal plan based on the sale items and what’s already in our fridge and pantry. I jotted down a quick plan (in messy handwriting) to give you some ideas, but most of what I planned to buy I knew that we would put up in the freezer for later actually. I like to plan the main parts like the shopping and the deals, and then I’m more laid back and “go with the flow” during the week based on how busy our days are and my moods and how I feel, which aren’t always predictable. Can anyone else relate? 😉

4. Check Wunderlist, and add any items we need that aren’t already on the sale lists. Usually, we we run out of things, they go on sale pretty soon after so it works out, but it’s not always the case.

5. Add any other meal components we need for the weekly meal plan to my shopping list.

6. Go back through the lists, and add up the total costs. It won’t be exact, but this way I can know about how much I will be spending before I even put anything in my shopping cart. You can see how I’ve kind of done this on the lists below. Of course, it’s not exact. Sometimes things are unavailable in stores, and sometimes there are extra deals that I stumble upon and decided to get. Also, I starred the items that are priced by pound because there’s no way to determine an exact cost for those ahead of time so I knew these would be added to my totals that I have shown written in pencil.

7. Go back through the lists and eliminate things we “don’t really need” from it if we are over-budget.

8. Print my lists, and organize my coupons. (Obviously, sometimes I change up the order of these steps. I really like to just add things or cross things off and make notes with pen or pencil once I’ve already printed my list.)

    

Getting Ready for Shopping Day
1. Gather my shopping lists, coupons, store loyalty cards, Extra Care Bucks for CVS if I have any from previous weeks, freezer bags for cold items, etc.

2. Grab my cash envelope wallet and system. Make sure I’ve gone to the bank and filled it based on what our budget allows so I’ll have some money to spend. This is really helping me stay on track with our budget.

3. Clean out my car and make room for the groceries. Right now, they mostly have to fit in my front seat because I have car seats on the two back rows, and that takes away all my trunk space. It’s especially difficult on Sam’s trip days, but we just make do with what we have right now. (When December comes, I don’t know what we’ll do with adding another car seat, but I’m praying about that for sure. Maybe I can find someone to keep the kids once a week, hire someone to shop for me, or maybe somehow God will bless us with a bigger vehicle. I’m not too worried. It will all work out.)

4. Prepare for the day with my littles. They are always with me, and I’m learning to embrace this and make it work for us. There was a time when one of my kids could NOT come with me because he had severe anxiety and meltdowns in stores. Now that he’s a little older, we are learning how to manage this a little better and be prepared for it. To prepare for the day, I fix water bottles, prepare sandwiches or grab snacks to have in the car. I make sure I have my Tula carrier for my squirmy toddler. I grab a bag of candy to use for good-behavior rewards. They each get to choose one piece to have after each store if they listened and behaved well. while we were shopping. If I had to stop shopping to discipline them or something, they lose their candy reward. I have only had to do this one time in the past month of shopping so it works like a charm! I’m not above bribery here, but I make it work for me.

5. Plan the order of stops to make based on location and practicality. Sometimes we plan to do something fun like go to Lynn Meadows or the park while we’re out, but we definitely need to do that before we make our big grocery store haul with all of our cold items. Planning ahead is definitely necessary.

Once these steps are completed, it’s time to hit the actual stores! You can see the breakdown of my actual shopping trips in those posts that will be coming soon.

Whatever you do, Let’s make a Plan to be more Purposeful! 

My Sam’s Club Shopping Trip 8/3/18

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So, I’ll admit to you that I’m a nerd about some things, and I’m unashamed to say so. One thing about me you should know is that I’m a problem solver, and I want to do things the best way that I possibly can. I’m like an ultra-planner sometimes because I want to simplify a “system or process” as much as I possibly can for myself to make it easier for me down the road. Who knows if this is actually the case or not, but I do enjoy the process so I guess it’s alright. 😉

This post is a part of a series. If you missed any of the earlier posts in this series, you can find them here…
My Meal Planning & Shopping Preparation Process
My Winn Dixie Shopping Trip 8/3/18

My goal with shopping at Sam’s Club is to SAVE MONEY, not to spend more money. I know Sam’s is full of things that look so fun to buy… I saw a sectional on this trip that caught my attention. 😉 But that was an easy one for me to say no to. That’s not always the case. So I want to be really intentional with my planning process and my purchases here.

One thing I think that would make this easier for me is to only shop here once a month. The more often I go, the more often I will see things that will catch my eye and beg for me to buy them. Another thing that I think would make this easier for me is to know WHAT to buy and HOW MUCH of it… so that it will actually last us a full month. This part takes a little trial and error. I’ve been shopping more often than I’d like, but I think *maybe* I’ve finally got it down now! The things I bought in this trip are things that I think will last me at least a month. So you are here as my accountability. I’m not allowed to go back to Sam’s Club until September 5th. ;-D I think I’ll be just fine.

So you can see here that I tried to write down everything we purchased in various transactions and note how long those products lasted us at our house to get a better picture of how often I should buy those items. I have a bit more to do to get this down to a science, but I planned at least this trip out for now, and it works. I was totally guessing on much of this in June and July, and basically starting from scratch with a lot of these items too. Obviously, I won’t have to buy the same condiments every month, and some of these were just the “fun things” like the Chicken Enchilladas or the Pulled Pork.

For the most part, we are using Sam’s Club to buy things in bulk that we use for meal planning and prepping. We like to have simple, healthy meals prepped and divided into containers in the fridge so that we can easily grab them whenever we need to. This saves me from cooking on those busy nights too! We keep the meals really simple, and it’s the same basic components in each one. I try also to meal-plan and cook some other recipes and dinners throughout the week to give us the variety we crave, but these are always available to us, and are pretty much always the same.

Here are my Sam’s Club purchases all loaded into my car in my freezer bags. I have three bags here, and I actually really probably need even more than this – or a big cooler or something. I try to shop Sam’s Club, drugstores, and Winn Dixie all the same trip usually so the freezer bags are a must to keep things from getting too hot in my car.

And here’s what all I bought at this trip displayed for you to see on my kitchen table!

Here’s the breakdown…

I purchased…

3 bags of Frozen Broccoli Florets – $20.04 for all 3

1 bag of Frozen Edamame – $7.98
*My kids love this so I added it to my cart, and it should last us a while, probably longer than a month.

1 bag of Garlic Chicken & Veggie Pasta $8.98
*A gal I follow on Instagram said this was really good, so I decided to try it.

1 box of Mandarin Oranges cups 24 pk. – $7.98
*I love to have these in the fridge available for kids’ snacks or to put with meals. I really like to add in fruit with all of their meals to give them something on their plates that I know they will eat.

1 box of Angus frozen burgers 12 pk. – $14.98
*We love these, and this has been our go-to cheat meal lately. I actually cook them in the microwave too, and they taste JUST AS good as if we had grilled them. Not even kidding! They’re great!

1 box of Digiorno pizzas 3 pk – $12.98
*I got these for nights where I just need a break from cooking or we’re ready for another cheat meal. Having this kind of thing available keeps us from eating out and craving foods that aren’t necessarily in our budget or our diets. 🙂

1 box of Chewy bars 60 ct. – $8.98
*I got these to add to my kids’ snack box for on-to-go snacks, and I’m hoping that since there are 60 in this box that it will last us a really long time! I’ll let you know how that goes.

Powdered Sugar – $4.48
*I needed more powdered sugar for an upcoming recipe, and it’s not one of those things I see go on sale often. I decided it was worth it to buy the big pack of it, and it should last me QUITE some time since I don’t bake that often.

1 large can of Green Beans – $3.37
*They didn’t have the box of 12 canned green beans in store today, so I got this instead. Sometimes we just like a change up of veggies in our meal-prep boxes.

1 package of Butter 5 pk. – $11.98
*We are running low on butter, and since I didn’t place an Azure order this month I figured I better stock up. Butter usually freezes pretty good too.

Mustard 2 pk – $4.99
*Mustard seems to last a really long time in our house, but it was on our list of things needed so I went ahead and grabbed it. These should last us even longer.

3 packs of Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs – $14. 93, $15.50, and $15.39
*This is our protein of choice for our meal preps so I needed to get enough to last us the full month. I hope I did my calculations correctly.

1 pack of Hormel fully cooked, microwavable bacon – $11.98
*Who doesn’t love bacon…. and bacon without the mess is even better!

Total Spent $175.04

Sam’s Club Scan & Go App 
I wanted to share with you about this app in case you haven’t heard about it. It allows you to personally scan your own items when you are in the store and bypass the lines. Yes, it does take away the opportunity to speak to a cashier and have that personal interaction, but I’m an introvert and I like to get going so it’s good for me. I also REALLY love that I can see how much I’m spending before I actually spend it, which allows me to put things back if I’m going over budget. Win win for me!

If you missed any of the earlier posts in this series, you can find them here.
My Meal Planning & Shopping Preparation Process
My Winn Dixie Shopping Trip 8/3/18

Next up, I’ll share my latest shopping trip to CVS.

Whatever you do, Let’s make a Plan to be more Purposeful!

My CVS Shopping Trip 8/3/18

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CVS and drugstores everywhere…. the land of FREE!
Before I even looked at the ad and made my list this week, I knew I had $10 in FREE MONEY, aka “Extra Care Bucks” to spend that I earned in a previous week. Even if I didn’t shop the sale ad at all, I could use this like a gift card to buy almost anything in the store (some exclusions apply of course). That’s reason enough to shop and drugstores and “do the drugstore game”.

This post is a part of a series. If you missed any of the earlier posts in this series, you can find them here…
My Meal Planning & Shopping Preparation Process
My Winn Dixie Shopping Trip 8/3/18
My Sam’s Club Shopping Trip 8/3/18

The goal is to only buy sale items and to let these Extra Care Bucks (or ECBs) roll over to use on your next transaction. Sometimes you can make that next transaction the very same day…. like one right after another. I’ve done as many as 4 in a row before, but usually I try to stick to one or two just because it’s much simpler and requires less thought. (Remember, I usually have my littles with me when I shop and thinking clearly isn’t always at an optimum level) I do always try to be courteous of other shoppers when I do this too. The cashiers usually don’t mind because they are used to couponers coming in and taking advantage of their sales and rewards. But If there’s a line of people behind me, I will simply tell the cashier I have more transactions, and let those people go in front of me. It gives me a few extra minutes to gather my thoughts and my coupons for the next transaction as well. You can just imagine how annoying it would be when you’re in a rush and just ran into grab one thing and then you get behind “the couponer” with multiple transactions. Don’t be THAT couponer. Be courteous of others always. But have fun, and get your good deals too. 😉

It take a little more planning to do these consecutive transactions, but when you become a professional couponer (wink wink) , you can do it too. It’s ESPECIALLY fun the week of Thanksgiving! My sister and I have done this together several years when we are together for the holidays, and it’s always fun to see all the deals we get. Lots of our Christmas stocking stuffers have come from these trips.

 

One of the things about drugstore deal shopping, is that it’s less predictable than grocery store sale shopping. This is because of the magical coupon printer that you see usually close to the entrance of the store. You scan your loyalty card when you enter, and it prints coupons for you based on your previous purchases. Sometimes they are really good and high value, which will make you alter your plans a little. Sometimes it’s just a bonus coupon of something you’ve already planned to buy which is also exciting! And the good news is that these are Store Coupons so they can be combined with any Manufacturer Coupons that you brought with you to shop on the very same products for additional savings!

Here’s my CVS list for the week. I add to my list anything that might be of interest to me for that week. I try to go ahead and plan our what I want to buy and in the best order, but sometimes the coupons that print from that magical coupon printer will change those plans. 

I only planned to purchase the three packs of diapers, but I did check out the other deals while I was in store as well. I couldn’t find any of the Honest Baby products, but I did decide to go ahead and purchase the Oral-B toothbrushes. The pack I chose was $4.99 and with getting $4 ECB back, that’s like getting it for $0.99! (We had some sickness in our household this past week so it was time to switch out the toothbrushes anyway to be safe.) I just decided to add this to my diaper deal transaction because I didn’t want to have to find something else to purchase. I’ll just save my ECBs for next week.

Here are all of the coupons that printed for me from the magical coupon printer at the entrance!

And here’s the one that I knew I could use today… score!

So here’s the breakdown of this shopping trip! It’s a pretty simple one with only one transaction. 

I Started with $10 ECB to spend

I Purchased…

3 packs of Pampers diaper jumbo packs $9.99 each
(Deal: Spend $30 in participating products, get back $10 ECB.)

1 – 2pk. Oral-B toothbrushes – $4.99
(Deal: Buy any Oral-B 2 or 4 pack, get back $4 ECB.)

Total: $37.20
Coupons: $3.00 ($3/15 diaper coupon) Usually, I would have additional manufacturer coupons for diapers and additional savings, but I didn’t this week.
ECB used: $10
New Total: $24.20
Saved Today: $21.40 (49%) *Based on retail prices of items without the deals and sales*
Earned Today: $10 ECB + $4 ECB + another coupon for 25% off a single item
(Some couponers like to think of it this way… It’s like getting it all for $10.20 if you subtract my earned savings!)

There ya go! This week at CVS was pretty simple and easy. Maybe next week will be a little more eventful to share with you. 😉

If you’ve missed any of the posts in this series, you can find them here.
My Meal Planning and Grocery Sale Shopping Preparation Process
My Winn Dixie Shopping Trip 8/3/18
My Sam’s Club Shopping Trip 8/3/18

Whatever you do, Let’s Make a Plan to be more Purposeful!