Two weeks ago, I attended a financial independence meetup about where we discussed our food budget. A couple mentioned their strategy at a low-cost grocery store like Grocery Outlet. They go inside and look at what’s on sale. They prepare food based on the deals and bargains they picked up.
I used to shop like this too. Buying odds and ends without a plan, I cooked what I had based on intuition and experience. Sometimes, dishes turned out horribly. Usually, it turned out edible, albeit, uninspired.
Why is meal planning more efficient?
- Leverage: Reuse the work from last week.
- Cuts waste: I don’t buy excessive amounts because I know I need less from my plan.
- Save money: Spend less using a reverse shopping list because I am immune to impulse buys.
The final pillar of the meal planning system is the reverse shopping list.
What’s a reverse shopping list?
How do most people create a shopping list? They think about what they want to eat. They look up the recipe, and they put the ingredients on their list. They often don’t check if they already have the item in the pantry. They add extra items as they pop into their heads.
There is no system.
Instead of throwing items on a list, first I ask myself, “what I already have in the fridge, pantry, and freezer?”. Then I ask, “what ingredients I need to complete my meal plan?”
Once the list is compiled, I ask myself, “what can I get rid of by substituting ingredients or simplifying recipes?”
It’s a reverse shopping list because the goal is to remove as many items as possible.
What do reverse shopping lists look like?
On a typical week, there are fewer than 10 items on the list for each supermarket. Usually, we go to 1-2 stores per week.
|chinese rice noodles||1 packs||99 Ranch|
|cilantro||1 bunch||99 Ranch||y|
|dumplings||2 bags||99 Ranch|
|tofu, noodles||2 bag||99 Ranch||y|
|green onion||3 bunch||99 Ranch||y|
|shiitake mushroom||1 lb||99 Ranch||y|
|peas, frozen||1 lb||TJs|
|puff pastry||1 box||TJs|
|sour cream||1 tub||TJs||y|
|heavy whipping cream||1 tub||TJs||y|
|chicken legs||3 lbs||TJs||y|
|canned corn||1 case||Costco|
|cauliflower rice||1 bag||Costco||y|
|cheese, gruyere||1 block||Costco||y|
|chicken broth||1 case||Costco||y|
|dried mango||1 bag||Costco||y|
|jerky, pork||1 bag||Costco||y|
|peanut butter||3 packs||Costco||y|
|tofu regular||1 box||Costco||y|
|trash bags, compost||1||Costco||y|
|sausage, hot italian||1||TJs||y|
Here are little tweaks to increase productivity while shopping in-store:
- Color code: Group or sort the items by the store to make it easier when you are checking items off the list.
- Location in store: Sort the list based on where the items are located.
- Fear test: does the list look too short? Are you scared you’ll run out of food? If you don’t feel any fear, you’ve got too many items on the list.
The reverse shopping list allowed us to spend less than 20 minutes in and out. Plus, only Alex needs to go. It frees up my time to focus on prepping food at home, doing chores, or enjoying hobbies.