Gather ‘round and listen close. I need to give you a little pep talk. This is the part you will hate. There’s math. There’s a lot of thinking. There’s a lot of calculating. If you’re already loving this series and find this exciting, I don’t understand you you’re probably going to love this part too. But if you’re doing this and you’ve been even slightly reluctant and hated even filling out a calendar, this is the part where you’ll want to throw yourself in a fire pit. This is the part that makes me wish everyone was sitting around my dining room table and I was hovering over like a substitute math teacher because there will probably be some confusion I won’t know how to explain.
But hear this: it’s kind of crucial. I mean, if your grocery budget is $4,000 a week, fine. You can skip it. Your planning is done. But if you’re looking to get your grocery bill as low as possible, we have to power through this. And listen, if I’m beginning to sound like one of those people that is preaching to the well-organized, alphabetically filed, choir, may I present Exhibit A:
That is my calendar. And those are the 57 sheets of lined paper I’ve gone through to figure this out. I don’t really know what those arrows mean anymore. A toddler that I live with did a lot of “helping” so basically everything is scribbled over. Said toddler also ripped one of the lists in half. And then a couple sheets sat under an oil diffuser for an hour or two. There’s another one in there somewhere that looks like a spider monkey got to it. There is so much room for you and your frazzled self at this table! So let’s take a deep breath and do this.
Here’s what you need:
First, caffeine. You don’t need to go Jessie Spano on us, but you also don’t want to try to do this if you’re tired or hungry. You need to be your best self. Good: do this at your most productive time of day and you’re feeling unstoppable. Better: do it at nap time/quiet time with no chance of interruptions. Best: split a sitter with me and let’s go to Tim Horton’s.
Next, this mentality: Think of this like putting together a regular shopping list and we just need to figure out how much we need. We’re just going to do it for 3 months at a time instead of, say, a week. PAUSE. I promise it’s not as overwhelming as you think. We aren’t planning a list of every single thing you’ll need for every meal, just the main expenses like meat, or anything you might want to buy in bulk or stick in a freezer. The reason for this is so that when you see an awesome price on chicken, or pork tenderloin, or any beef, you’ll know exactly how much you need to buy either for the next few months or until whenever the next sale comes around. Instead of spending $13 bucks on a family pack of chicken one week, it’s already in your freezer (and it only cost you $7 bucks) and all you need is a packet of marinade for $1. We’ll talk more about the actual budgeting and shopping next time. Here we go!
Start with a fresh, clean, scribble free meal list. (See, this isn’t so bad!) Then (tedious alert) go through your calendar and count each time you’re having a meal. Write the number down on your list, like so. (Water stains optional.) P.S. I have no idea what those check marks mean anymore.
Now, BRACE YOURSELF FOR THE MATHS.
Alright so let me just say my husband is not a hunter, so if you’ve usually got a freezer full of wild game you’re on your own. I personally cannot help you figure out how to divide up a deer, but definitely just account for that in your planning. You also may just figure this out in whichever way works best for your brain. Again, I know all too well that someone else’s plan or thought process may not work for you. This is just how my brain calculated amounts of food we need.
First, when it comes to chicken I operate on number of breasts, not by the pound. So for example, when we have Ritz chicken, I know we’ll use 3 chicken breasts. I fillet them in half to make 6 pieces of chicken, and that usually gives us enough for dinner with leftovers for lunch (for two adults plus two toddlers who may or may not eat it.) Ritz chicken is on the menu 6 times next year, so multiply that by 3 breasts a meal and I’ll need 18 chicken breasts for that meal. Same with Biggest Loser’s apricot chicken, cherry chipotle bbq chicken, etc. I also had to calculate how much I’d need in meals like casseroles and soups. When I totaled up all the meals that call for chicken breasts, I needed something like 280 pieces of chicken. I know that a family pack of chicken *usually* contains 7 pieces of chicken, so 280 divided by 7 = about 40 family packs of chicken that I’ll need for the year.
Dear heavens that was the nerdiest paragraph I’ve ever written. I almost can’t even bring myself to proofread it, you guys. My high school self is mocking me right now asking me if this is the life accomplishment I’m going to highlight at the next class reunion. “Well I have 3 kids and I count pieces of chicken in my spare time. What have you been up to??” Who in their right mind says things like “I operate on number of breasts.”!? I couldn’t even type it without inappropriate jokes running through my head because I am twelve. Fix it, Lord.
Aside from being the nerdiest, that’s basically THE most complicated part of this process and it made my brain hurt a little bit. If you need to just stare blankly at your menu for a while, that’s fine. No judgment. The other meals are pretty straight forward. I use a pack of thighs for honey sesame chicken- so 6 times a year I just need 6 packs for that meal. Ham? Need 6. Pot roast? Just need 5 roasts. I’m not sure if more examples will be helpful or confusing so I’ll just stop and we’ll move on to the next step. Here’s a picture of a bunch of math I did for a reason I can’t remember:
When you have all your numbers figured out, this is going to become your master list. I got as far as meat and pasta before I got tired of my life, but if you want to plan everything down to the number of butter sticks you need…more power to ya and congratulations on being Type A, this world needs you. Here’s my list:
I wasn’t kidding about the scribbles- they’re everywhere! I have been thinking about a better way to organize all this and *think* I have a plan, TBR. (That’s “to be revealed” for those of you not familiar with the acronym I just made up.) Since I don’t have an extra freezer (yet), most likely I’ll only be shopping for 3 months at a time. And, obviously not all of this meat is going to be on sale at the same time, so I’ll need to keep track of this list for a loooong while, if not an entire year. I can’t even keep track of a pair of flip flops for a summer, let alone a random piece of paper for a year, so I may have to treat myself to something pretty to keep track of it…ya know, for motivation’s sake
Next post we’ll be talking about shopping and budgeting!! In a perfect world I’d be referring to clothes shopping and having a limitless budget, but obviously this will be way more exciting to chat about at my 20th high school reunion. But for real, I’m a little bit excited about how this is working in real life and will share all my strategies!