The first thing I needed to do was develop a price book. Click here to learn more about the hows and whys of price books. I used a spiral bound notebook and wrote down the sale items each week from fliers of each of the major stores. I also tracked the prices of items that we purchase on a weekly basis. Each product was labelled by name, size, price, and unit price.
Unit price is a way of determining cost per unit of product ie. per toilet paper sheet, or per diaper. Example: a box of 80 diapers is $29.99. Divide total cost by number of units = unit price.
$29.99 / 80 = app. 37 cents per diaper.
Using the calculator on my cell phone, I can calculate the unit price on a product right in the store. After several months of watching prices, you will see some recurring sale items, and some patterns in the pricing of those items. You may notice that typical baking items (sugar, flour, etc.) will go on sale every 6-8 weeks or so. Or that a certain brand of coffee will only go on sale every 6 months. Having a price book will help you to anticipate when products are more likely to go on sale so that you can purchase enough of a particular item just until it goes on sale again.
Knowing what things your family typically eats and how to reduce costs on those items is important. For example, we eat kidney beans in several of our favourite dishes. Reducing the cost for that item proved to easier for us by switching from cans of beans in liquid to buying dried kidney beans at the bulk store. When I need them for a recipe, I soak a cup of beans in water overnight, and gently boil them until tender before including them in my recipe. I purchase bulk spices and mix them together at home for chili seasoning, seasoned salt, Italian seasoning, and taco mix.
I keep a running list on the door of the fridge of items that are almost gone, like body wash, or dish soap. When a sale comes along that I can get a great price on those items, I buy 6 of that particular item. I consult my price book to see what the item sold for the cheapest in the past 6 months. If it is the same, or less than that price, then I buy. You may find that 6 of a given item is too much or not enough for your household, but as you work through it, you will figure out how much of anything you really need to have on hand.
Another tactic we use to keep our items from running out is to simply use less. Every time I'm in the shower, I reduce the amount of shampoo that I squeeze from the bottle into my hand. I note mentally the size of the dollop in my hand, so that I know how much to use (the size of a dime instead of the size of a quarter). Too often, most people use way more of a product than is actually needed to produce the required results.
Menu plans have their place in achieving your financial goals as do making things from scratch. If bread or rolls are something that your family eats frequently, learn to make them yourself. The cost of the ingredients and your time are typically less than of commercial bread products. Make your own stock from chicken carcasses, meat bones, or from vegetable scraps.
I don't have the privilege of having a backyard, so I am unable to grow our own produce. If I did, I'm sure I would be growing our own tomatoes and peppers at the very least. If you've never had a vegetable garden before, try growing one thing that your family will eat, like potatoes or onions. These are virtually goof-proof to grow.
These are most of the things I do to keep our home well stocked with the things we eat, and the things we use regularly. Feel free to add comments with your own methods. :)