We cut our grocery bill by 30%; more than just making a menu…

Alarm bells and red flags were sounding (and going up) in my brain. I sensed all wasn’t well and that some rectifying needed to be done in the near future. This was going to be one of those conversations where the selective hearing would not be an option. My FULL attention would be required.


Monica and I had just gotten home from work and the gym when the daily question presented itself… again. “What are you thinking for dinner?” It was a simple and straightforward question but even as I asked it I sensed the repetition starting to nag at both of us.


Monica vocalized our collective thoughts. “I’m sick of making decisions all day, then coming home only to decide what’s for dinner. This stops now.” She wasn’t mad at me, just frustrated with the situation we’ve fostered. And frankly, her frustration was warranted.


Whether it’s Monica’s decisions about a patient’s treatment or mine about how to handle a case, we work in a couple of serious fields with daily choices that have legit ramifications. Not looking for any slack here, but at the end of the day, it can be nice to come home and enjoy. Put the brain on autopilot for a bit and spend some time with the team. Unwind.


The unwinding doesn’t take place when you come home to disorganization and the absence of some structure. The unknown requires additional choices. And as Monica continued, we were about to be done with some of these daily choices. I was intrigued…


… But I was also hungry. “Well, I’ll figure something out and start cooking while you explain.”


I think it was Pinterest, or maybe Facebook… One of the social mediums, anyhow, planted the kernel of an idea in my young wife’s mind.


“… I think we need to make a menu,” she said. – Step 1


How to make it happen:


We go grocery shopping once each week – Sunday mornings (we’ll get back to this later) – so each Saturday we’ll decide which meals we want to eat for the week ahead. For us, this typically means we’re cooking 5-6 nights each week while 1 additional night will be a “Save yo selves” night (leftovers), and sometimes we’ll venture to a nearby Chipotle or another favorite establishment.


So, on Saturday we slot each day with a meal or one of the alternative categories and then start making our shopping list. You might be thinking, “this sounds both involved and a bit too rigid for my taste… why should I?”


I had some similar thoughts early on, but let me tell you that I’m so glad I gave Monica’s method a shot. But this part right here – the making of the shopping list – is where you cut the length of your receipt down to size. At least, you will if you stay disciplined.


We are transitioning to a digital family cookbook right now, so our recipes are either in an old-fashioned Rolodex or in our Evernote app. So, once we have our menu made, we’ll pull the recipes and start scouring the cupboards, fridge, freezer, and cabinets for ingredients. What we don’t have will find it’s way onto the list, one recipe at a time, while the items already present make for one less line item on the till’s records.


Truth be told, we’ve been at this about 5 years now, so this process has been whittled down from 45 minutes-ish to about 15. We know what a recipe needs, what we have, and what we don’t, so efficiency tends to take over – which is nice.


After the meals are accounted for, we’ll add daily essentials, lunch items, the occasional treat, and any snacks that make the cut. The 2 caveats being, 1) We only buy what is on the list. Nothing else. And, 2) That doesn’t mean you write everything in the store on the list. You write what you need for the week with a dash of what you’d like. Otherwise, you’re not saving money.


Step 2 – practice discipline and stick to the list


I’ll get something out of the way now. Monica isn’t a huge fan of the grocery store. She treats it like a To-Do List item that needs to be crossed off in the most efficient manner possible. I, on the other hand, take pleasure in strolling the aisles, scanning for deals, coupons, and new items while I’ll occasionally eavesdrop on a passing conversation… All in good fun.


With the above in mind, it may not surprise you that I have tended to do a majority of our shopping. I like it more. No big deal.


Back to the story: 


Early on, I didn’t exercise the best discipline. Sure, our bills had dropped by about 10% each week, but I’d always come home with a pint of fro-yo, some chips, jerky, and a bottle of red (not all to be consumed at the same time, of course. I’d at least spread that out over a day and a half or so). After some brief reflection, we were stoked about coming home and not having a decision to make. We’d check the menu, grab the ingredients, and start cooking. On the other hand, we knew that we could save more than we had been.


I needed to apply some training wheels to myself.


Step 3 – I now shop at 6:00 am Sunday mornings


You read that right – 6:00 am. And I love it. They don’t turn the lights on in the freezer aisles before 7:00 and I consider the trip a success if I’m out of there before illumination occurs. Aside from my admitted craziness, there are some great benefits to shopping at 6:00 am on Sunday morning.


  • I never roam the aisles hungrily. My metabolism hasn’t had a chance to pick up quite yet so I’m not seeing sugary treats and feeling the urge to add the item to my cart.
  • The trips are quicker. No long lines or customers to compete for produce-section-space with. Just me and Larry (there’s a guy that waxes the floors every Sunday at 6:00. We’ve never actually met but when I get the right moment, I’ll let you know if Larry isn’t his name…)
  • It’s a great chance to listen to podcasts, audio books, or just clear my head. Aside from the joy of listening to my favorite shows, I’m less concentrated on the shopping so I default to finding the next item on the list and moving along. No time to think about whether I’d like to add something mid-trip.
  • On my best days, I’m out, back, and have the groceries put away before the girls are up. There’s nothing like starting your workout at 6:30 after a store trip and before the family’s up. I’m saving money, saving time with my family, and promoting good health – it’s a no-brainer.


It’s this last step (shopping crazy early) that really made the rest of the 30% difference in price for our monthly grocery budget. I’m coming home with what we need for our menu and what’s on our list, nothing else. It’s a great cost-saving and health savings at the same time. Now we’re less stressed on weekdays (no decision about what’s for dinner) and we’re less stressed financially. We now throw the 30% savings onto additional debt payments or into savings, and it’s been phenomenal to see the effects of those changes!



Brief anecdote: 


My mother-in-law also likes to get up early and get after her day. One weekend the in-laws were staying with us and I hadn’t quite filled them in on the early store trip procedure. Didn’t think it would be a big deal to mention and we were probably too busy having fun on Saturday to remember to mention it, anyhow.


So, I was walking down the steps at 5:45 and I stopped suddenly because I thought I heard a noise. Probably nothing… Couldn’t be someone else up at this hour, I thought, so I continued down the stairs. I hit the first floor, made an 180 to head down the hallway, and almost tripped over what looked like a rug with some pillows under it. Stopping just inches short of the object I realized that was no rug. It was my mother-in-law on her hands and knees scrubbing our floor. “What are you doing?” I asked. More shocked than anything.


“I thought I’d help you guys clean up after that party yesterday,” she said as if it was just a nice gesture. Never mind it’s 5:45, there are no lights on, and we have a good amount of hardwood down there.


I mulled over what she said, thought about telling her to relax and leave it for later, but then remembered she likes to get after the cleaning. “I guess we know who keeps these families running,” I said, and made my way toward the garage. She smiled, picking up on my humor and continued with the wax-off.



My question, then, is what are your thoughts? Do you think the savings is worth the extra effort? We definitely do. Not to mention we enjoy the process. It’s understandable that shopping at 6:00 am may not be your thing, but it’s a tactic that’s been helpful to us. I’d love to hear your opinion (or bewilderment) below – let me know.


Thanks for reading!


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I’m glad you’re here. Thanks again and talk soon!


– Mike
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