It happened again! I was preparing homemade pizza for supper and discovered I was out of tomato sauce. As I searched the grocery store shelves for that crucial ingredient, my cart mysteriously filled. I looked at my watch in the check out line and sighed just one thing had taken 45 minutes and cost $45. I thought back to the two other last-minute trips I'd made to the store that week and the frantic late-night search for children's cold medicine (found very overpriced at an all-night gas station), and resolved to find a system in which I'd never run out. My new system took a few months to perfect, but it's been worth it! Follow these steps and you will never run out.
Make a list of 20-25 meals you like to cook and your family likes to eat. List all of the ingredients needed to prepare each meal.
Master Grocery List. Include all the ingredients for your favorite meals, plus staples like margarine, eggs, flour, rice, cereal, spices, canned products, and fresh fruits and vegetables. List items you purchase every time you grocery shop, as well as those you only get once in awhile. Arrange your list according to the layout of the store where you usually shop. Store the list on your computer so it's easy to make changes and new copies, or just write it out by hand and make photocopies. Post the list on your refrigerator. Show your family the list and ask them to circle an item if they use the last one.
Discount Store List. List dog, cat, hamster, fish food, light bulbs, paper towels, shampoo, feminine hygiene items, vacuum cleaner bags and their size, dish soap, fabric softener, envelopes, diapers, and everything else you purchase on a regular basis (even if it's only several times a year). Post this list in a central area also.
Between shopping trips, circle the items on each list that you are out of or low on. Before your shopping trip, check your supply of all of the items on your list and circle anything you will run out of before your next shopping trip. By shopping proactively, before you run out, you don't have to buy items reactively or when you're completely out and in a panic.
Before you grocery shop, plan meals for the next week or so and make sure you have all of the ingredients on hand. When you have two or three of a frequently used item left (like bottles of catsup) or open the last of a less frequently used item (like a bottle of lemon juice), circle it on your list and add an asterisk. This means you don't need it immediately, but will soon. Buy several if the item is on sale. If you have a coupon for a circled item, mark it with a "c" so you don't forget to use the coupon.
This is a key step. Your goal is to gradually build up a stock supply of items you and your family frequently uses when these items are on sale. For example, when barbeque sauce is on sale, I buy 12-15 bottles, which is enough to last until it's on sale again. To stay within your budget, you may only be able to buy one or two things in a large quantity on each trip, but eventually you'll have a supply of all of the ingredients you need to prepare any of your favorite meals. By noting a dwindling supply of any item, you'll probably be able to stock up on that item again when it is on sale. You'll never have to buy stock items at regular price again! When things are on sale, buy as many as your budget will allow within reason of course. Don't stock up on a new brand of taco sauce until you know if your family likes it, and remember that if an item spoils and you have to throw it out, you're not saving money.
If your budget won't allow a bulk purchase, try to purchase at least two of everything anyway, whether it's on sale or not. Having an extra jar of mayonnaise or can of soup in your cupboard will still save a last minute trip to the store. Eventually you'll build up your supply of all items.
What about things that don't usually go on sale like tissues, over-the-counter medications, and soap? You'll still save money buying these items in quantity, as your budget allows, because you won't have to make emergency trips to the store for just one thing.
In the past two years, I've rarely had to make a last minute trip to any store. Besides saving money and time, I have a greater sense of security. If someone is sick, or nasty weather prevents going to the store, we still have plenty of meal options because we have the ingredients available in our well-stocked pantry. In those inevitable months when money is short, we can delve into our extras and not need to purchase anything except perishables like milk and fresh fruits and vegetables. My stash of toilet paper, dish soap, light bulbs, and over-the-counter medications means we're prepared for almost anything.
Adapted from the book Home is Where the Mom Is. To read another excerpt, or for more information about Home is Where the Mom Is, go to homeiswherethemomis.com.
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