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Polyamory for the Practical
To say that I am not shopping's biggest fan is an understatement. I don't enjoy it at all. The sole exception to this is a bookstore with a good coffee bar. Yes, I know. commercialism at its finest, but it's something I do like.
The problem is, even the most frugal of families needs to eat. With six of us, there are many sorts of consumables we go through -- most especially groceries. The Goddess of Giggle and I found that we average three hours on a shopping trip no matter what we do, so a weekly grocery/consumables run will cost us twelve hours a month. No, we do not just zip in and out of one grocery store, as it winds up costing more money to shop only at one store. We consult the flyers, compare our menu plan to the unit of time for which we are going to shop and make our list from that.
When we first got together, we shopped for two weeks at a time. We did not have a lot of freezer space, and we really didn't have the backlog of cash that makes it possible to shop for just one month.
Now, between the time it takes us to plan, the time we spend going to each store, the time we spend at each store and the time it takes for us to put stuff away, we spend about five and a half hours each month grocery shopping. (We also spend a lot less money). So, how do we do this?
One of the best tools we have for this is a shopping database. You can download your own copy, here but you do have to have MSAccessXP to make it work. Sorry. It's what we have, so it's what I use. If you have a Palm PDA, I can also recommend Handy Shopper. It's freeware. Both databases have a pricebook (I'll explain this later), functions to let you add items to your list and stores you frequent. The MSAccess database has options to print out a master shopping list to check off what you need, as well as a way to generate a list broken down by store and aisle so that you can generate a list for Power Shopping Day.
To make this work, you have to have a menu for a month. The article on saving money on food has a sample menu and explains how it works. Basically, you have 20-30 meals (we have 26). You put 'em in order and serve them in rotation. After you've gone through all of them, you start again. This really streamlines your shopping. Do notice this menu only deals with dinners. Take into account what you eat for breakfast and lunch. (I'm on a grapenuts-n-yogurt kick at the moment, and we've always planned to cook enough to eat leftovers for lunch). If you eat snacks, take that into account, too.
Now, this will not make you a slave to the menu plan. You should have a good mix of foods every likes (or at least are willing to tolerate) and can swap meals around as it suits you. In our house, one of our spice is a chef. On weekends, he usually cooks, and it is rare for him to follow the menu. He prefers to follow his whims and get creative with what we have in the house. This typically causes no problem.
So, you have your menu planner and you've fired up your database. Print out the Master Grocery List, and take it, with your monthly menu to the kitchen table. (Yes, go to the kitchen for this. Don't sit at your computer like a nerd and think you'll remember the entire contents of your house. You won't. Even our very own Checklist Chick can't.)
If you're just getting started with the menu planner, it might be a good idea to have written down the ingredients to each recipe you use. We don't do this. We know that we use two pounds of meat at a meal. That means, we'll count up how many hamburger meals we've got for this month, multiply it by two and that's how much hamburger we need, and so on. But, the reason you're in the kitchen doing this instead of at your computer is because you need to go through your pantries/freezer/fridge to see what you have . Remember that sale on chicken thighs where you bought ten pounds of it? If you still have enough for the month left, there's no need to buy more unless there is a truly excellent sale on. Make sure you're not stocking up on stuff unless the sale is good.
This brings us to the price book option. It's going to take a few shopping trips before this one is really useful. What you do, is record what you spend on each item you buy and put it in the database. When you print out your grocery list, it'll print out the prices for items. If you encounter a price cheaper than that, you know it's a good sale and can stock up. This is a very powerful tool to save money and make Economic Velocity work for you.
Once you're done with groceries, check in the cabinet under the sink. Do you need any cleaning supplies? Check that off. Go into the bathrooms? How are you on soap, toilet paper, saline solution, tampax and razor blades? Check off what you need. Do you need to change toothbrushes? (That needs to be done quarterly, remember).
Poll the family. Honey, how are you for socks? Baby, do you have enough notebook paper for school? Has the teacher assigned a project for which you need something special? Sugar, do you need pantyhose? How about dress shirts? Underwear? T-shirts, sweats or bras? Anyone need film, batteries or lightbulbs? How are we for videotapes? Do we have enough kitty litter? Obviously I am presuming you know your family's sizes for things. If you don't know, find out. Make a note of them if you don't remember. (I don't always). It's a good idea to know underwear preferences (boxers/briefs, etc.)
After you've done this, check the sale flyers. Make a note of which stores have sales on the items you need.
Now you can go back to your computer and update the list. In the items field, you can make notes on amounts if you want. We do if we've stocked up on an item, but it is running low and there's no good sale on it.
When you print the current grocery list, you can decide which stores you want to hit in which order. Try to avoid the back and forth stuff and make sure you're covering the distance in the shortest way possible. Now, I live in a very rural area. We have to travel eight miles to a discount store, then double back, and travel another thirty miles to the main shopping center of our region (has a warehouse store, large grocery stores, Wal-mart, Staples... That sort of thing). So travel time is not insignificant for us -- another reason to limit shopping trips, as for us, it seriously saves on gas. So no whining about how much planning this takes. When you get it down pat, it's going to take you less than half an hour to do so. (Matter of fact, I just had a Brilliant Idea ! Have a list posted where the family is responsible for writing down things they need. Use that to help make the list for Power Shopping Day. You could even make a rule: If it doesn't get on the list, you don't get it. A month of that would certain train anyone to write things down!)
We have done Power Shopping in many ways -- with kids, with houseguests, with the whole family and with just two people. It tends to be quickest if just two adults go, but we tend to make a fun time of it, and let the kids get a treat if they come along and are really, really good. (Believe it or not, a soft pretzel makes a GREAT bribe. Whoda thunk it?)
When you go, if you do not have a minivan or truck, make sure your trunk and back seat are empty. If it's hot and you're going to have your groceries in the car for more than forty-five minutes what with travel and such, bring a couple of coolers. Don't bother with ice, as the frozen stuff will keep the other stuff cool. Wear comfortable shoes, and make sure you've eaten a good meal before you go. I keep the list on a clipboard and bring a highlighter to mark off items I've gotten, and a pen to record new prices. Bring a calculator unless you have someone REALLY good at mental arithmetic. Have it understood that getting the groceries in the house and put away is a family deal. Even at three, The Bird could bring in bottles of catsup, tubes of toothpaste and stuff like that.
I recommend strongly that whoever is on the shopping committee for that month not have to cook that night. You will come home hungry and tired. However, if the ones that stay at home are lousy cooks, or are not going to be available to make a meal, make sure you have a meal frozen ahead of time that can be popped into the oven -- or order pizza out. Takeout once a month will not kill anyone.
So, what do you get from all this work? Well, we only spend five hours a month on shopping. We live in a state with a LOT of snow. It means we've got the flexibility NOT to have to go out shopping in a snow storm. It means that most of our weekends are free for other things. It means we cut our grocery and household bill quite seriously. We've cut our grocery bill to $450/month for a family of six (and no, we are NOT all slender) and only spend about $100 a month on clothes and household items. Major, major savings.
So try it. You'll like it.
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