Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Grocery Shopping 2: Let the Negotiations Begin

The next step in the preparation for grocery shopping is to negotiate the list. For me, that means asking my family what they want. This is like any business negotiation. I have them bring to the "table" five meals and five items that they want. This gives them a voice in the shopping and a chance to help plan some of the meals. If they give me five meals each - that's ten meals that have been planned with little hassle. I don't mean that they have to plan the entire meal - more just give me entrees. Have they been craving mac and cheese? Do they really miss having stroganoff? Would they kill for the summer's last watermelon?
More importantly, it gives them some feeling of control. When the budget is tight, meals can get boring fast - pots of soups, beans or days of the same meals over and over again because you can make a huge batch for so little cost. That may feel like a solution but it's not a good long term solution. What we are looking for is a long term solution. You don't have to skimp always and I will talk about splurging and when and why I do it at a later date. If you have a good basis then when the money is less tight you can stick to your plan but add to it.
Yesterday I talked about meal planning some. When planning for a month of meals, plan for back-ups. You may envision making amazing time consuming dishes because they are the least expensive and you have the time. Except life happens, these are the times when it's far too easy to order a pizza or slip off to McDonalds because you can't think about what to make for dinner. You have to plan for back-ups. For us, pasta is a back-up plan. When we can't think what to make for dinner we have spaghetti - sometimes marinara and sometimes carbonara. Sometimes I make fried rice or bean burritos. This is easy because we always have the ingredients in our pantry (and I know they are there because they are listed on my Kitchen Inventory).
What happens when what your family wants doesn't meet your budget? I never say "no", I say "what can I make to substitute?". My husband loves soda. It's not in the budget and it's not really healthy so I can't justify buying him soda. Last month was his birthday so he used the Walmart gift card from his family to buy his soda but there's no windfall this month. We talked and decided that Kool-aid would be a good substitute. I made sure to add Kool-aid (.10 each) and extra sugar ($5 and change for 10 pds) to the list. Now the price of the sugar is a little steep but it allows me to make more than just Kool-aid. As we go into winter, we're going to want more baked goods. It cuts a little from my shopping this month but I can make up for it next month.
My son loves milk. Right now we're doing powdered milk but I always by a fresh gallon during my shopping trip. I got to thinking about the previous month and shortfalls. A two pound brick of cheese didn't last the whole month. We were given a brick of cheese from my dad but it's Velvetta-like cheese and my son hates it. I use the cheese in sauces and he doesn't mind but he's commented on more than one occasion that he really wanted real cheese. So I went to him - what would you prefer a gallon of milk or an extra brick of cheese? Now - it's more for the cheese than the milk but the cheese would last longer so I felt it was a good trade off. He thought for a minute and said he would prefer extra cheese to the fresh milk.
After talking with my family, I make my list. It's never a very long list because the goal is to cut down the shopping cost. I look for things that can be stretched over several meals, like the cheese.
Now as I head to the store, I don't keep my list rigid. I allow for other negotiations to occur. I may have hamburger on my list but, at the store, find that it's far more expensive than my budget allows for. At that time, I have to have a back-up plan. Can I alter the menu ideas using less expensive ingredients or is there something else I can drop to make up for the extra expense?
Tomorrow, I'll talk about what to do when you actually make it to the store that will help maintain your budget and your plan.

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