I received a reader question the other day which I thought was a great one to answer publicly on the blog:
Here is the question:
Is it better to shop each week, or monthly. I noticed I shop monthly and I spend a lot of money in drinks, soda, milk, tea, and use up my budget on those, meats, and essentials. Then 2 week into the month I need milk then 3 weeks into the month, I need little things to go with my meal, like more potatoes. Then our local stores will have a sale and we will spend more to stock up. There is just 2 of us to cook for, but we do coupon. I wasn’t sure how to make this plan work if you shop monthly or should I switch to weekly?
I LOVE this question because there are so many different ways to answer it. First, let me tell you what we do. When Mark was working we got paid bi-monthly (every other Friday), we would take out the money that we needed for groceries for the next 2 weeks in cash and put it aside in an envelope marked groceries. I would then shop every week and use only half of the money. Taking out cash bi-weekly still seems to work well for us.
I am not an advocate of using 100% cash all the time, but for groceries I think that it is absolutely the best way. Setting a grocery budget is difficult to stick to, especially when you have your debit card and don't mind going $5.00 over budget. That $5.00 adds up over time, so sticking to cash will help you stay within budget.
I think that you should try to shop weekly as much as possible and here are my reasons why:
If you are unfamiliar with the term loss leader, you can read my post about it here. These are items at rock bottom prices and are the ones that I usually stock up on every week. When using my 1/3 rd budget system you will be stocking up on these with the last third of your budget. If you shop once a month or even every other week, you will be missing out on these opportunities to stock up on some great deals and put aside for later.
I saw a statistic that said for every extra minute you are in the grocery store, you spend an extra $1.75. What does this mean for single ingredient trips? It means that you usually don't stop in for just that 1 thing, you normally come home with a few other impulse buys in your cart. This costs you money in the long run.
By shopping every week you can stock up on lots of fresh fruits and veggies and eat them before they go bad. I know many people who shop monthly typically run out of those items by the last week, so they are left without fresh produce until they go shopping again. If you do choose to shop once a month eat the produce that will go bad first, then save the produce that will carry a month until later in the month (apples, oranges, potatoes etc)
We take out cash for 2 weeks, and split it in half so do my shopping every week. This allowed me to shop around our weekly schedule, meal plan and stock up on the loss leaders for that week.
Another factor to consider is how far away you are from the grocery store, and how much in gas it will cost you to make weekly trips. We are fortunate to live very close, but I know that some of you live in rural areas and may have to drive a half hour or more to go grocery shopping.
I've tried shopping once a month and failed miserably, but I am sure that many of you have success shopping monthly. Why don't you leave your comments below on what things you do to make monthly shopping a success.