Changing My Grocery Philosophy :: Shop to Stock

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Changing My Grocery Philosophy: Shop to Stock :: Vintage Kids | Modern World

If you do a search on our blog for food-related posts, you’ll realize that although we AREN’T a food blog, we do focus a lot of our articles on food – as it relates to nutrition and your children, snacking, cooking and maintaining your sanity!

This particular post has been brewing in my head for a while, and I’ve made mental notes for the last few weeks for that eventual time when I would sit down and write it.

Although NOT an alarmist, I think the time is sooner rather than later, and although this post feels a bit unfinished to me (and I will probably amend it in the weeks to come), I at least want to get the wheels in your grocery-shopping brain turning.

Rusty and I have frequent discussions over the dinner table about certain items that we want to stock up on – I saw butter on sale, I told him, so I grabbed a few extra pounds.  I’d like to get a bushel of apples and do some canning, I said, just to stock up.  We know that the world isn’t ending tomorrow, but I also know that grocery prices continue to rise, and having food on hand isn’t being an alarmist, it’s being wise.  

One night last week, over meatloaf and mashed potatoes, Maddi, our oldest, asked why we were “stocking up”.  After all, we live less than a mile from the closest grocery store.  I realized that night at dinner that my generation – all the way down to my 7 year old daughter – never really needed to think much about stocking up.  It’s a foreign concept to us because we didn’t live through The Depression or WWII and we’ve never – thankfully – suffered from a natural disaster.

This was my time, as a parent, to embrace raising a vintage kid in a modern world.

Rusty and I went on to explain to her the wisdom of preparation, of being safe, saving, prudence vs. convenience, and how we were making non-mainstream choices.  And the crazy thing is, I think she got it.

However, if you’re like us, bulk shopping and stocking up isn’t always feasible on a week to week basis.  We have enough money in each paycheck for this week’s groceries, and as much as I’d like to plan ahead, we never seem to reach a financial windfall, thus allowing me to stock up to my heart’s content.  I kept waiting for said windfall, and I had to come to the glaring realization that I needed to have a plan, no matter what our income looked like.

Now, here’s where I am still working out some of the kinks for our family, and your family is going to look different and buy different items than mine.  However, hopefully this will give you a starting place and then you can tweak it as you go…

So here is how I am now approaching grocery shopping:

I am no longer making out a menu plan before I go grocery shopping.

GASP.

I now make MOST of my menu plan AFTER I go shopping and I plan from what I have in the pantry; I now Shop to Stock.

Before, I did it the other way around – I’d look for exotic new recipes to try and then I’d make a corresponding grocery list.

I am now allotting the majority of our grocery budget to staple items that I am using to stock our pantry.

Then, once I have the basics, I am spending the remaining amount on produce and specialty items (specific ingredients for certain dishes that I DO pre-plan, leaving some wiggle room for treats and sales or a particular meal that we are craving that week).

I realized that we are creatures of habit, and although I like to think that I am a cutting edge chef, the reality is we have about 10-12 favorite meals that we rotate.

{Case in point:  This summer, I headed out the door for my weekly grocery run and  I *thought* I grabbed my grocery list when I left.  I found it in my purse and proceeded to fill my cart with the listed items.  About 3/4 of the way through, I realized that this was the previous week’s grocery list.  So many of the items overlapped or repeated themselves that I didn’t notice until I was almost done!}

So, here’s how it works: (roughly)

  • 65-70% of our grocery budget now goes to stocking the pantry with staple items that we use all the time.
  • 20-25% (though often times more) goes to produce, dairy and perishables
  • remaining 10-15% (or less, if there was a great sale on produce!) goes towards specialty items

Does it mean that we are eating a lot of the same meals? yes.

Did we do that anyways? Yes.

I do most of my shopping on Fridays and Saturdays, so does it make me worry that come Thursday night, we’ll be left with nothing but dry goods and we’ll be eating popcorn for dinner? Sure. But hey, who doesn’t love popcorn?!

Here is a (very rough) list of what our family stocks up on and how I implement my new grocery shopping philosophy:

Produce/Dairy/Meats

  • These things vary depending on the season, what’s ready to harvest in my garden, and what I can find at our local farmer’s market.
  • Our dairy, eggs and meat come from the Amish, and these are purchased weekly as well.

Specialty items

  • These are meal-specific items, treats, desserts (although I tend to error on the side of making chocolate a staple item), specialty spices. Setting aside a small chunk of each week’s budget gives me a little wiggle room to take part in sales at the Market and the grocery store.

Pantry items

  • This is the biggest category and receives the majority of our budgeted money right now.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are the things that I am buying weekly or bi-weekly:
  • flours (gluten-free)
  • oats
  • rice
  • dried legumes
  • olives
  • nuts (for snaking and making nutbutters)
  • dried fruits
  • sweeteners (raw honey, coconut sugar, maple syrup, and sometimes sucanat)
  • tea and coffee
  • baking essentials (baking powder, baking soda, vanilla, etc)
  • GF pasta
  • spaghetti sauce (and/or any other canned items that I didn’t get around to preserving myself this year…remember, we had a drought…I’m buying more than I’m comfortable with…)
  • oils (olive, coconut and sesame)
  • soaps, toothpastes, etc.
  • spices
  • canned tuna/salmon

Again, this is definitely not exhaustive, but these are items that are on my list almost every week now.

Then, once I get home and unload everything, I spend the following day making out my menu plan from what I have on hand.  Yes, there are times that I have completely forgotten something and so I make an extra trip to the store.  I’m still figuring out how this looks for my family, but I’m starting to get into the new groove and it’s actually working!

I was able, without changing my grocery budget, to start stocking my pantry, by shopping first to stock my pantry, and then meal planning based on the contents of my kitchen.  Now, if we lost power, or, heaven forbid there is a terrible storm, I won’t be joining the rest of humanity in storming the grocery store for the necessities!

Have you ever tried this method?  I’d love to hear from a veteran grocery-shopper!  How do you manage to stock up on a budget?

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26 Responses to “Changing My Grocery Philosophy :: Shop to Stock”
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  1. Thank you!

    That is how we have been shopping for a while now. Partially that is because we live in rural Iowa and if we ask our local grocery store to get anything organic we must commit to buying a case. A case could mean as much as fifty pounds of potatoes or as little as six pounds of beef. They do not carry non-factory pork at all so we buy a hog once a year from a local farmer and stock the deep freeze.

    The trendy thing now is to shop to the tune of a menu, and that just does not work in our world, either.

  2. Kelsi, you seriously need to pick Steve’s brain. He is a MASTER at doing this kind of shopping and has honed his skills over the past 30 years or more. And we have always done this, I think because we both grew up in families who canned A LOT of produce from the garden (100’s of quarts) and having all of that wonderful food waiting to be eaten sort of oozed over to other staples.

  3. I have a sneaky suspicion that if I get him started, he might not stop! 🙂 confession: I have done some dry-canning, but I usually dehydrate and lacto-ferment most of my produce and I have yet to learn how to actually can food! I’ve never done it! I think we should arrange a blog-interview and tutorial at the Olde Buffalo Inn 🙂

  4. Saeriu

    When I go grocery shopping I rarely have a list and end up shopping to stock. My husband hunts so we buy very little meat. We have our staples, of course. Typically, depending the sale of the week, I spend about $20-30 on just stock items. For that little you can really get a lot–10lbs of rice, beans, flour, peanut butter, pasta, sugar… I can or freeze most of our veggies from our own garden. Last week we found an apple orchard just a mere 15 miles from us–totally awesome since I’ve been searching for one for 4 years. We are likely to go back to get more apples. My boys have fallen in love with homemade apple sauce–love at first bite. My goal is to start canning more ‘ready made meals’ like soup, stew, sloppy joe mix, and beans. Although beans last a really long time dry, in the possible event of an emergency it will take far less energy to cook the canned beans vs dry beans. I guess we’re always try to be prepared…not prepers, just cautious of what tomorrow may bring.

  5. Marissa in Oregon

    What a great topic. I am not sure if your readers know, but the Federal Reserve just agreed to print even more money again. This means our dollar is going to be worth even less than it already is. Inflation is coming everyone agrees, it’s just how bad it’s going to be is the question. I honestly don’t want to fear monger. I just think if we can afford right now to buy 25lbs of pinto beans, it might be wise to pick up a few bags….or more =)

  6. Totally agreed Marissa! When the Fed passed QE3, I realized that this might be a good time to write this post! Printing money doesn’t mean that you’re wealthier…it simply means that things get more expensive…

  7. carla

    I have always been a “make a menu..shop”….kind of girl. Lately, I have just naturally started more shopping without planning a menu. I have been absent-mindedly stockpiling. We spend less but always have what we need. This is a big change for me. I was raised in the country. We had a HUGE garden, cows, pigs. Everything we ate, we grew – raised. I am a “city” girl now and as I teach my children I have realized that we need to get back to some old-fashioned basics!!

  8. Thanks for this! I’ve been struggling to find my ‘groove’ because we don’t like eating the same meals over and over, and we’re going grain/seed free except for nuts occasionally. It’s a challenge!! Thanks for the list though, it helps. 🙂 How do you get your dairy/eggs/meat from the Amish? I’ve been trying to figure out how to buy things like fermented cod liver oil, coconut oil, organic butter/milk/cheese, and it’s so tough with a small budget!

  9. Kelsii,
    I’ve found if I stock up on things we use all the time when they go on sale, I have more money later to keep the cycle going AND buy some of the “special” things that seldom go on sale. It’s a great topic. Thanks for posting.

  10. Denise

    Really good post. I have been shopping to a weekly menu for a long time. I’ve been looking for ways to start saving money with our food budget. I think this might be a great thing to try for a month and compare to my old way!! I’m going to do that for October and see how buying what’s on sale and planning with that can effect my budget. Thanks for the thought provoking post!!

  11. Denise, let me know how it goes for you! And just a small warning, the first 2 weeks were rough as I tried to find the balance and I’m pretty sure I went over budget the first few times because I kept forgetting things! remember there might be a bit of a learning curve – this is a total paradigm shift in grocery-shopping!! Let me know how it goes!! – kelsi

  12. totally agreed – we try to stock up on sale items when we can, and if it’s a really good sale and it’s something I know will keep for a long time, then sometimes we put a little extra into the grocery budget and buy over and above. thanks for stopping by!! – kelsi

  13. Jasanna, finding your groove is the hardest part with this and there was a learning curve for me as I figured out a good pattern and rhythm for my family. Honestly, one of the most helpful things were finding some frugal cookbooks that feature staple items as the bulk of the recipes. We are not grain free (although I’ve flirted with the idea!!) but we are gluten free and it’s VERY expensive if you’re not careful. We’ve simply started treating the expensive things like “treats” that are just for the weekends or a special occasion. We have little ones (7, 4 and 18 mos) and they’re great eaters and have adapted amazingly to simpler meals. Don’t give up…it’s tough but worth it. Another tip is that we always allot a portion of our tax return to larger ticket items (1/2 or 1/4 cow for the freezer, bulk coconut oil, fermented cod liver oil) etc. (A note on that: my kids play outside and plenty of vit. D during the summer, so we don’t start taking FCLO until Sept/Oct. when we start to spend more time indoors and cold season kicks in.) As for the Amish products, we live in a HUUUUGE Amish community, so it wasn’t hard to find connections. Ask at your farmer’s market or a local meat processing business (those are your best place to start), or at the local feed store, tractor supply store, mom and pop hardware store – anyplace that it well established locally is more likely to have tips and contacts on where to source things locally/raw. You could also opt for a local butcher. All your information will come by word of mouth, so just start asking around! Hope this helps! it’s hard, but enjoy the process! – kelsi

  14. Carla, I was a city girl too – but was raised here and am learning the old-fashioned ways so that I can figure out how to pass them on to my kiddos! it’s quite the experience but SO worth it in so many ways! thanks for stopping by!!!! – kelsi

  15. As our deep freeze empties out in the winter as we use up the garden produce. So I buy dry beans and cook them in large batches to fill the void. The freezer runs more efficiently full and our house can use the extra humidity and heat in the winter. Then in the summer months, all I have to do is set them out on the counter and let them defrost rather than heat the house boiling beans. Not to mention in the summer I’d rather be out in the garden than standing over the stove.

  16. Buying Amish is all about the word of mouth. We have an Amish Bulk store nearby and I ask there when I’m looking for a bushel of peaches or something. Also ask at the farmer’s markets or around town.

    There are often small operations of non-Amish too. Try http://www.localharvest.org and see if there are any farmers near you. We have a three farm stores out in the country that you would never know are there with out some one telling you. I befriended one of them and I now have a work for food arrangement. I give about six hours a week in exchange for a share of the vegetables and meat.

  17. By the way this is exactly the type of post I would love to see at the Eat Make Grow blog hop! We are always looking for folks who write about gardening, cooking, crafting and kids to link up.

    Stop on by if you get the chance:
    http://foyupdate.blogspot.com/search?q=eat+make+grow&max-results=20&by-date=true

  18. Jodi S

    HI there, Great post! This is how I have always shopped, but I just figured it’s because I’m too lazy to meal plan for the week. Also, my husband and oldest son are real Foodies, so if I were to plan a meal, it may sound totally gross to them when the day actually arrives. This allows me to come up with something really fabulous I guess. (No pressure!) Also, my oldest son has food sensitivities to wheat, gluten, barley, rye, oats, soy, (ok, all grains) beans, garlic, dairy, eggs, to name a few…..I have to make everything from scratch and get creative with herbs and spices. I do have to spend a good $100-$150 extra for gluten free flours or breads, things he can take “on the go” and for non-dairy milk. Boooo! I’m still trying to figure out how to do this all for my particular family and their peculiarities and stay within budget. But after reading your post, I no longer consider myself a lazy non-menu planner! Thanks a bunch!

  19. Jodi S

    Sorry, meant to add that we have 4 children….I find it hard to shop on a budget considering our food issues at a reasonable budget!

  20. Nice post! I have been planning meals from the pantry for a long time. Because we live in a very convenient neighborhood–where I can simply get off the bus two stops early, step into the grocery store, and then walk home–we do sometimes pick up additional ingredients to go with our staples, but many meals come from what’s on hand, including perishables that were on sale.

    I’ve always been inclined to take advantage of sales, so I can’t say I’ve ever shopped “on a budget”, but we don’t live paycheck-to-paycheck; we keep our routine spending much lower than our income so that we always have some extra money available for stocking up (and for big expenses like replacing an appliance). We spend less on groceries than the average family, but our spending fluctuates a lot from month to month.

  21. Kelly Mayor

    I really loved this, as I am a stocker upper too, and never meal plan because who knows what I will be hungry for on what day! (Since I’m the cooker, I get to decide, right?! 🙂 ) I never realized that I was just on the opposite of the meal planners, so thanks for that! I did also see that you buy toothpaste and thought you might want to try the inexpensive kind…baking soda, sea salt and essential oils. Oh, and I started using Xylitol in it since it’s supposed to help keep cavities at bay. Anyway, I make us each our own little pot because when you think about it, a tube of toothpaste shared by everyone is a great way to spread around those winter germs! Thanks again, and I loved the photo at the top!!!

  22. You’re ahead of the curve! I always hear that people did menu planning, so…uh…I did it too, because that’s what moms do, of course! as for the toothpaste, great idea on making individual portions! I actually did make my own for awhile and tried several different recipes. alas, I have a family of toothpaste snobs! no one liked it, so we went back to the store-bought natural brands. However, we just discovered Earthpaste (clay-based paste) and we LOOOOVE it, so that’s our current pick!

  23. Ebby's mama

    I have always been a shop to stock; tried to meal plan but it doesn’t work nor make sense for our family. we eat traditional foods from our culture and I find that I’m at ease when I just have a pantry full of lentils, flours, oils, dried fruits and nuts we eat our spices and all the meat and dairy I need to make what my family loves. the only things I will plan for like you are treats or special nights like burger night or if we decide to make a pizza.

  24. Nicole

    This is how I shop and meal plan too. It just makes more sense for our family and our budget. I’m really enjoying your site. Thanks for the great content. I love the vintage kids theme. My desire too!