Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Grocery Shopping Staples for a Well-Stocked Home

With a great pantry (and linen closet and laundry room), grocery shopping any given week is usually a pretty straightforward task — produce, dairy, some meat, a few freezer goods, a few dry goods.  James and I purchase most of our household needs in bulk on a less frequent basis, roughly every four to six weeks, usually from Costco or our local grocery store, choosing by price.  By keeping these items always in stock, shopping for them all at once (in a quantity to last until the next bulk shopping trip), and being flexible to also stock up when they are on sale at a great price, we save money and time on the weekly shopping trips.

Pantry

  • Sparkling Water
  • Soda
  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Coffee
  • Black Beans
  • Baked Beans
  • Ketchup
  • Olive Oil
  • Pasta
  • Pistachios
  • Marinara Sauce
  • Salsa
  • Sliced Almonds
  • Craisins
  • Cereal
  • Oatmeal
  • Granola
  • Parmesan Cheese

Freezer

  • Sandwich Bread
  • Hamburger Buns
  • Hot Dog buns
  • Ground Beef
  • Chicken Thighs
  • Frozen Burgers
  • Frozen Peas
  • Frozen Corn

Bathroom / Laundry / Cleaning

  • Diapers
  • Baby Wipes
  • Toilet Paper
  • Paper Towels
  • Trash Bags
  • Body Wash / Soap
  • Toothpaste
  • Tampons / Pads

I’m not an extreme couponer (more of an occasional couponer), and I have some very strong brand preferences.  But I still save money on my groceries by knowing what a good price is for any individual item and how much of it we’ll use.  For the past several months, during COVID-19, I’ve been keeping my receipts from grocery store trips and tracking individual item purchases and prices on a spreadsheet from Costco as well as our three area grocery stores.  I’m generally loyal to Kroger in order to maximize fuel point savings (and their prices seem lower on the whole than other non-bulk grocery stores), but I also visit Publix sometimes since it’s more conveniently located to our home as well as a standalone brand store that specializes in local ingredients with great weekly deals.  

By tracking our grocery purchases closely for several months, I’ve been able to do a deeper analysis on what we spend our grocery budget on, how much of different items we consume, and how much the prices vary.  As a result, I now have a much better sense of how to manage our pantry on an ongoing basis.  I’ve created starter shopping lists for what we buy every time we go to Costco and can reduce our shopping trip frequency from roughly every two or three weeks (depending on what item we run out of first) to every four weeks (or even every six weeks if I really want to reduce trips).  

I know that a bag of coffee lasts us about two weeks, so if I’m only going to Costco every 4 weeks, every trip, I should buy 2 bags of coffee (and maybe 3 the first time, to ensure there is a supply buffer).  Similarly, we go through one large pack of chicken a month, so I’ll buy one of those every time I go to Costco.  I also know that in my area, milk and eggs are least expensive at my local Kroger, so even when I’m doing the bulk trips to Costco, I don’t bother buying the week’s supply of items like those.  I’ll still need to go to the grocery store and I might as well save some money by getting those items at their cheapest.  

Bulk buying does require storage considerations.  We don’t have a full-size cabinet or walk-in pantry, but we do have some extra space on a bookshelf in the kitchen, in our laundry room, and in our linen closet.  We also have a stand-up deep freezer in the garage.  The food goods all stay in the kitchen on those shelves or in the deep freezer in the case of breads and meats.  The giant case of paper towels is split between the laundry room and the linen closet so that we always have an extra roll available whether we’re upstairs or downstairs.  

We are not a minimalist family, but we work really hard to minimize food waste.  We’ve learned, over time, what foods we eat regularly and how often we want to branch out to try something unique.  We don’t let our pantry, fridge, or freezer get full of “maybe we’ll make that” items.  By using a list on the weekly shopping trips, I limit ‘extras’ and have relatively few specialty items in our pantry that we won’t use (or will use very slowly) taking up precious storage space.  If I do find myself with a few specialty items on the shelf, I’ll plan the following week’s menu around using a couple of them.  

Recently, I realized we had canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce in our pantry and it had been there for a while.  We had used a can a few months ago for a recipe and when I was buying them, I decided to get two cans, to have one in the pantry.  Turns out, canned peppers is not something that often pops into our usual recipes (despite our love of mexican style food).  So, the following week, we planned for a couple meals that could use the can — fajitas with chopped chipotle peppers cooked into the sauce, and shrimp tacos with an adobo sauce sour cream and spicy adobo coleslaw.  Now we know to just buy enough of this item when our menu specifically calls for it.

Everybody’s go-to meals are different, but with some light analysis of what those are for our family, we always have a few meals on stand-by in the freezer/pantry.  The weekly shopping trip is focused primarily on fresh produce and dairy, making for a very quick in and out of the store — good for minimizing exposure during COVID-times and saving time so we can get back to the fun stuff.

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