Organizing the Grocery List

Have you seen the movie “New York Minute” with Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen?

(Should I be admitting I’ve seen that?)

The two actresses play sisters (big surprise, right?) – one is laid back and messy, and the other is organized to the point of neurotic. In one part of the movie, you get a glimpse of the neurotic sister’s planner, and every single thing is planned out – right down to the minute.

That’s me. Well, okay, maybe I’m not that bad, but I require lists. Grocery lists, to-do lists, home repair lists, and on and on.

I used to keep a planner, but I don’t have enough room in even a student planner to put everything I need to list. So I moved on to notebooks. I can’t say I often completed a lot of the things on those lists – a 100 point to-do list can be a little overwhelming.

My mom came up with an even better way to organize these lists, and she shared it with me. She has a notebook divided into parts – one part has a running “to-do” list just like mine. It includes things that have to be done right away and things that are long term. Another part of this notebook contains her “to buy” lists – groceries, clothing needs, etc.

Every day she takes a look at her “to-do” list and picks 5 or 6 things she knows she can get done that day. She’ll adjust that number depending on the size of the items and the time she has. She writes them on a large sticky note and sticks it to the front of her notebook/planner. Those are her goals for the day. And she is able to get through the larger “to-do” list in her notebook because she’s only doing bite-size chunks and not trying to get as much done as possible in one day.

Okay, that’s been really effective for me, too. And time management is important.

But I didn’t actually write all that so you could learn a new time organization trick.

I wanted to share that because recently I’ve been trying to find ways to stay within our $100 monthly grocery budget. And one of the things I realized I was doing was going shopping way too often. I tried to shop once a week, but we always ran out of something important three days in. Why? Because I wasn’t organized.

First I’d go in not knowing what we would need in the next week. I knew what we needed now. But would we run out of milk on Wednesday?

Second, I assumed that if we ran out of something, I would just go run and get it.

Third, if I did go shopping half-way through the week, I was buying more items than what I went to the store for – I was seeing things we might enjoy or might run out of and buying on impulse.

All of those things meant more money spent on groceries. It had to stop.

So I came up with a plan. Using the trick my mom taught me (big lists and small lists) I’ve started writing down anything I think we’ll run out of in the next month (low-priority items.)

Then I started starring any item on that list that we would run out of in the next week or that we had already run out of (these are high-priority items.) This week, it was mostly milk, cheese, and split peas.

When I went grocery shopping yesterday, I immediately got the starred items, as long as the price was decent. I also checked the prices on the other items on the list, looking for sales (particularly ones that coincided with coupons I had.) I didn’t actually find any sales yesterday, so the low-priority items are staying on the list until next Friday.

This actually worked quite well. I replenished the items we needed and stayed under budget. (The budgeted amount for the week was $25, and I spent $17. That’s good, because we’ll have to buy some meat soon – but I’m keeping an eye out for items that are discounted because their sell-by date is coming up.)

This was only my first week using my new organizational skill. We’ll see how it goes, and I’ll update later in the month!

An Explanation

There’s been a lot of concern and discussion on other boards about whether or not our family – 2 plus a toddler – be able to live on $100 a month for food. I think it might be good for me to explain some background information as well as how I can be so confident that we can stay within our budget and still eat healthy, nutritious meals.

First, this is only a reduction of about $50 from our current budget that we’ve had for over a year. Until recently, my husband was unemployed and we were living on savings.

Second, right now we have a well-stocked pantry that should last us about a month to two months if we don’t buy anything but staples. We have a good amount of frozen meat as well. So it’s entirely possible we could go under budget this coming month.

And finally, this is only a temporary budget. Our goal right now is to get our personal Citibank card paid off through snowballing and selling some larger items we have. Once that is done, we’ll look at our grocery budget again and determine what needs to change.

Some have expressed concerns that one cannot eat healthfully or enough on this budget – I want to assure you all that we will not risk our health. 🙂 Living thoughtfully and frugally means making sure our bodies stay healthy since medical bills are definitely not cheap! So if necessary, we will go to the food pantry, beg my parents for money for food, or simply pay less on our credit cards so we can raise our budget.