Prov 31:14 She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar.
Once-a-month-shopping is something I started some years back for convenience. With 6 kids and living almost 30 minutes from 'town'....it just seemed more logical and frugal to get it all done at once!... 'Running to Wal-mart' was no small task- with diaper bags, sippy cups, and another meal needing to be cooked. I began learning how to get it all done within a couple of days and now I can sometimes do it in just one!
There are two main ways that I do this. 1)Plan the menu and recipes, make a list accordingly and go shop!
2)Check out the sales and plan the menu around those items, and go shop. Also, I coupon as much as I can and it helps to keep a list of those until or unless, you have developed a good system for working those.
I actually now can do this on a whim if I have to but when I first started, I had to make very meticulous lists.
I've taken a lot of tips from Brandy, The Prudent Homemaker. Keeping flours, sugars, grains, fats, seasonings, etc stored up as much as possible. I've learned when I run out of salt, to try to buy 4 or 5 (or 6!). When I run out of oregano, I don't buy a little 1 ounce bottle, I buy the big bottles. When I need sugar, buy the 25lb bag and the same with flours if I can. (Walmart usually has sugar and flours.) Buy beans and rice this way as well. Some items, I've been able to grow in my garden and have either frozen or dried in the food dehydrator. A few items that I can't get local, I've ordered from The Bulk Herb Store.
I buy as much fresh produce as I think I can use before it could go bad. (If it starts to get old- can it or freeze it!) I often buy 50lbs of potatoes (for anywhere from $5.99 to $12.99). I buy approx. 10 lbs of onions per month since they are frugal and a very useful and healthy seasoning for every main dish that I cook (nearly). I often buy a bushel of apples each month as well. (Did I tell you that 5 of my kids were boys?) I buy several pounds of carrots and celery. These are the most frugal veggies and they last well. I've also discovered that fresh romaine (packaged in 3s) will last several weeks to if they are fresh when purchased. Cabbage is another veggie that will last and is also frugal and very versatile. I buy other fresh fruits and veggies according to sales and those are eaten in the first part of the 'cycle'.
I've caught produce on mark-down, I work it up first as it's usually quite ripe. For example; in the summer I can often find mark-downs on bell peppers. If they're not yet in, in my garden, or not all my plants are 'happy', I will purchase the mark-downs and chop them up and freeze them in portion sized bags to drop-in a hot pot later! Another time, I caught about 1lb of hot peppers on sale for less than a dollar. I brought them home and put them in the dehydrator right away.
Frozen Fruits and Veggies:
I also try to purchase big bags of frozen fruits and veggies at our local Cash-n-Carry. These are used towards the end of the cycle, once the fresh veggies are gone. I will often stock up when Kroger runs their bagged veggies for .88.
I have also had a garden for the last several years and this gives fresh foods during the warmer months and I try to can and freeze any excess that I get from the garden as well. You can also put the word out to friends and family that if they have extras, that you would love to have them to can and freeze. Freecycle is another option as well since many people grow more than they can use or have fruit trees in their yards that they would allow you to glean from in exchange for just picking up all the fruit around the trees.
Also from inspiration from Brandy, The Prudent Homemaker, I've planted many fruit trees in my yard as well as bushes, that I hope will one be a nice supply as well. I've planted apples, pears, peaches, plums, figs, apricots, cherries, grapevines, and 4 kinds of berries.
Meat prices at this time are through the roof! (March '11) Brandy has a great rule "I don't buy any meat over $2.00 a pound--period. In fact, my preferred price is less than $1 a pound."
It's not easy to find it less than a $1 a pound these days, but when it is, it's a great idea to stock up! Instead of buying 10lbs @ .99--why not buy 40#s at .99? This will provide meat for many meals this month and I'll have extra for the future when meat isn't on sale.
Helpful ideas for meat: Brown up the hamburger when you get it home. 10lbs browns in a just a little bit more time than 1 or 2 and you can drain, cool, and bag up and even pre-season some if you like for quick meals like tacos. When you catch whole chickens on sale, boil up 4 or 5 (or more) the night you bring them home. Shred the meat for casseroles, wraps, salads, etc and bag up. Add a little acid (lemon juice or whey) to your bones and and boil up a wonderful and nutritious broth. (Boil for 12 to 24 hours to get the most from those bones.) You can also render the chicken fat if you're interested, for a little free fat to use later!
Sometimes I will premix meatloaves etc the night I come home from shopping and freeze them so I can easily thaw and cook.
I have a few ideas mentioned on this post for when you catch roasts on sale and you're family is a little tired of the typical roast-potatoes-carrots meal. Yes, you can slice them, grind them, dice them, and so much more!
Bonus Food Storage Options:
Another thing I did to improve on this system, once the kids got older and more (and more) food was required, was to get another (used) deep freezer AND another (used and cheap) refrigerator for my garage. I paid $150 for the biggest freezer that I think you can buy, from a repair man who gave me a 90-day warranty and I paid $40 for an old refrigerator with an agreement that I could get a refund if it didn't work. :-) They've both saved me more than that in gas...running to town and back....since I was able to have the food here! (By the way, I know this is sort of a 'luxury' on a frugal budget, but putting back $5 here and $10 there, I was able to save up enough to buy both in a little over a year without a pinch in the normal budget.) One freezer houses the meats, the other houses fruits, veggies, and homemade items for quick meals such as broths, beans, doughs, and thaw and serve or OAMC type foods, etc. The old refrigerator houses the extra veggies and milk (as I like to buy some 6 to 8 gallons or so at a time), extra eggs (since I like to buy some 12 dozen or so at a time:-), excess cheeses, butter, and bulk containers if I find good deals on things such as mayo.
I love whole grains, especially wheat! I order them in 50 and 100 pound sacks from different places. For a while I ordered them from a Mennonite Community that's about 40 minutes or so from my home. A local friend introduced me to a Buying Club that had a local delivery system set up that was even a few dollars cheaper. This last year, I've been able to keep wheat, rye, spelt, and kamut here. I store the grains in large food-grade buckets. According to my searches, the buckets sold at Walmart in the hardware section with a #2 on the bottom are food grade. They are the most economical way to purchase these types of buckets.
Some families like and work best with a set menu plan that changes little. If this is something that would work for you, once-a-month-shopping would be quite simple for you as your shopping list would remain basically the same. If however, you like to experiment in the kitchen and your family has now named themselves "your guinea pigs", then a menu plan is very helpful with once-a-month-shopping. You will want to collect your recipes and make a shopping list as per ingredients necessary OR you can purchase sale items and look for recipes accordingly.
This is a very helpful habit for once-month-shopping! Keeping (many) lists! I like to have one on the fridge in the kitchen to keep a note of what I'm out of or getting low on. It's also a good practice, although I don't always do it, to keep a list on the freezers of what is available inside, especially if you do OAMC. I often make it a habit, the night I get home from shopping, to sit down and make a list of what I bought (if I didn't shop by recipes/menu and shopped by sales) especially of fresh foods. I don't want anything to go bad and the most perishable is worked into the menu first.
I have more notes in several places around this blog, even some pictures (that was day one, this is day two of that shopping trip)and lists of what I have bought in shopping trips past. You can type in "once a month shopping" on the search bar in the top left corner of this blog and there's also lots of tips on the posts under "menu". Here was a post with a little Q&A from a young lady named Melissa. It would also be helpful to read Brandy's Guest Post on "Living On Our Food Storage". The tab called "grocery shopping" has lots of info too about more of my shopping and what I do once the shopping's done!
Feel free to write with any questions!