Mary Beth Writes

Len and I are buying groceries differently than we used to and we are saving $100-250 per month doing so. If you know us, you will have noted that neither of us are any slimmer.  This is not about eating less.

There was plenty of time to consider things one doesn’t often consider during our long car trip last fall. One afternoon (while Len was driving) I began listing ALL the foods, staples, and household products that Len and I consume. This list, as you might guess, was impressive. The next day I explained to Len the new grocery-shopping idea I was inventing; he was amiable about trying it.

First of all, this is how we have bought groceries/household supplies up till now. Once a week we make a list and then one of us goes out to buy the groceries. I bet you have heard of this method.

Then when we run out of something during the week - because who doesn’t? – we stop to pick that up. If while we are shopping if we notice a good sale on something we eat or use, we might buy that item to stock-ahead.

Here’s the thing. We have been spending more on groceries the last few years than makes sense. We have enough money here in our retirement but our goal was never to make Pick n’ Save rich. You know?

Here’s what we have done since last September. I waited this long to write about it to see if it works. It does.

Strategy #1. We made a list of ALL the foods and products we use in a year. The list is several hundred items long! 

Remember, I was in the car a lot of hours; I didn’t do this all at once.  I started by thinking about what we eat for breakfasts and the listing continued – off and on – until we were considering items we expect to have on our bathroom shelves. Because if you need cough syrup or a Band-Aid, life is easier if it’s already in the house.

We included beer and wine in quantities that make sense for us.  If we run out of cabernet sauvignon, well, we run out.  We can probably survive the rest of that month on seltzer water and blueberry tea. (If you want to stop by our house unannounced, you might want to learn how long it’s been since we Big Shopped…)

We typed our master list into categories arranged in the order of the grocery store we shop in the most. This list is in both of our computers. We add to it when we realize something is missing.

ONCE PER MONTH we take twenty minutes to go over this list together. One of us reads it off, the other runs around to check if we have enough of that item to get through another month. There are many things on the list we don’t buy often. Ex: Sprinkles in on the list even though I only buy them every couple years. BUT if a kid were to suddenly pop up in my kitchen to make sugar cookies, I am ready! 

The Big Monthly Shopping can easily take two hours if I go to Aldi’s first and then the regular store. (Which saves considerable money.) Or if we turn it into a date and go to Cermak Market in West Allis. Or, if as happened last week, I gallantly offer to do the Big Shop by myself while Len stays home to snow-blow and shovel. I’m a peach like that.

The Big Shop cost has varied from $180 to $260. We bought more around Christmas…

Strategy #2. Once a week one of us does a 20-minute Quick Shop for dairy, fresh produce, and meat or fish if we want it that week.  I love Quick Shopping more than I expected. It is liberating to run into the store, get the apples and bananas and whatever salad things we want that week, then walk QUICKLY to the back of the store to get milk, eggs, and whatever other dairy products we want that week. And then walk QUICKLY to the front of the store to pay.

 In and out with a tally to pay that doesn’t freeze my heart.


Benefits we really like.

This is saving us surprising money in two ways. One: “Stocking-up” on groceries when things are at a low price makes a lot of sense when one is feeding a lot of people. When our kids were teenagers accompanied by fellow teenager friends - we were plowing through groceries like Newfoundland snowplows.

Now it’s the two of us and we live close to grocery stores. It is WAY cheaper to let the grocery stores own and pay utilities on freezers and extra fridges and pantry-moth-proof storage.

Two: One doesn’t buy what one doesn’t see. Those side trips always ended up with a few “extra” items and then the total would be $30 and if we did that once a week for a month (we did) – that’s $120 right there.  Len and I are impressionable around food.  We always ate what we bought but still.. it added up.

This saves time and imagination! Big Shop day come once a month. Last time we went five weeks before we needed a shopping trip. We pick a day that’s not too busy, spend that twenty minutes making the list, and then go. Making this a date is fun when we do it that way.  Plus, we know in advance the total will be large, so it doesn’t feel as crazy when it happens.

The rest of the month we cook from what we have on hand which makes life feel more centered and reasonably scaled.  Experts say children who have a sufficient number of toys instead of tumbling jumbles of stuff - play and think better. They use their imagination with what they already have instead of obsessing about what they want next.

Our kitchen feels a bit more like that. There are limits here. Happy limits, lots of options, we are certainly not short of food. Ex: I made chicken piccata without capers!

One last thing. This is a way of obtaining groceries that reduces our time in stores, saves us significant amounts of money, but does NOT reduce the number of hours we spend cooking (we both like to cook).  It is just a method, not a rule or law.  If we really need or want an item, we still go out to get it.  It just happens a LOT less than it used to.




About that funny photo. It is from I looked it up and like the site (so far). It’s good thinking about the many aspects there are to growing older. 





Leonard's picture

Changing the subject just a bit, have you noticed that Blueberries are available in winter? I think they are from Peru, much like Paddington Bear. This new Shopping Strategy means year-round fresh fruit.

You guys are my hero’s. I really do marvel at your thriftiness. Yes, I love fresh fruit all year round! Some of those berries are HUGE!

We are eating down the freezer, so I am thinking about how your plan might help us. I try to keep stuff organized, but have “ help” with stocking the pantry, refrig and the freezer. I just remembered some homemade sausage that is buried in there! I am gonna go find it for dinner!

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