Traveling full time with 2 growing kids, you can imagine what the grocery bill can look like. Trying to stay as close to attractions as possible can leave you in some pretty rural areas where grocery stores tend to be small and expensive. We have found that taking the time to buy in bulk can be a huge money saver. So once a month we take a day and travel to the nearest town that has larger shopping chains and we hit it- HARD! Sams Club and Walmart are our two big stops, but we will check others as well. This means that for the rest of the month I only have to run into my local supermarket for a couple of things. Nice huh? I’m not a huge shopper, never have been! I like to get in, get out and go home. Buy in bulk and save money is my new motto!
We are members of Sams Club, we used to be with Costco but they are so much harder to find so we let our membership lapse and stuck with Sams Club. There are times when Sams Club is close by which is lovely but for the most part, it’s usually some distance away. This means that I tell the kids to bring something to keep them occupied in the car and I pack some lunch and nibbles for the journey. We are currently in Idaho, 20 minutes outside Yellowstone and the nearest Walmart is nearly an hour away in Rexburg. Sams Club is another 40 minutes away in Idaho Falls. Does it seem ridiculous to have to drive so far for groceries, I don’t know, maybe it is, but we have been doing this for over three years now so to us it’s the norm. We get up and get out early so we still have some time to play when we get back. We NEVER EVER go on the weekends.
The best thing I ever did was to sit down and come up with a meal plan for the entire month. I do one for Breakfast/lunch/dinner, it not only saves me money, but it means that I don’t have to think about what to make every day. All I have to do is to check my schedule on the fridge and it tells me what’s on the menu! This has been huge for me! Hubby keeps asking me to find an app that would help with this, but I haven’t found one yet that incorporates everything that I need in it. If anyone has one, please share. So I use an excel spreadsheet, (I told you this was really simple), I use the previous month’s plan and then I pull from different months to change things up. I’ve been doing this for 8+ months now, so it takes very little time now and pulling from previous months helps a lot too. This will change depending on the sales that we come across at the different grocery stores, depending on our location – Winn Dixie, Publix, Fry’s, Ingles etc.
TIP: I feed the kids a big breakfast because I know we will be gone for most of the day as we leave first thing in the morning. I also bring several of their favorite snacks to keep them happy and full.
Update: I have since signed up with the $5 meal plan, I freaking love this plan. They send me my meal plan AND a shopping list every Friday morning or you can sign up for the 6-week meal plan and choose from a variety of plans such as slow cooker cooking, vegetarian etc. This has drastically my stress level and the amount of time I spend on meal planning. You can read my full post here.
One of my favorite things about our 5th wheel is the fact that we have a residential fridge! When we had our travel trailer, we had a tiny RV fridge and ended up going to the store every 3 days or so. It was expensive, time-consuming and took a lot of time away from the things we love to do. The residential fridge gives us opportunities to save that we would not have otherwise. It may make boondocking a bit more challenging, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The cost of extra batteries and gas for the generator has been covered many times over by the savings in food. Just load up once in Moab or West Yellowstone and you will know what I mean.
Once on the road, we will typically stop at the local grocery chain first to check the sales. Depending on the chain, there is almost always something on BOGO or sale that we use. So far Winn Dixie in the Southeast is the best place we have found when it comes to meat sales. When we were in Pensacola for 4 months, we had a Winn Dixie about 10 minutes from the campground. We would shop there all the time, during one shopping spree we picked up two spiral hams, 2 London broils and 2 top roasts’ – all BOGO!! That’s a huge saving, plus my freezer was nice and full. Since Sam’s Club pricing stays fairly static it is easy to determine whether we should get things like meat at the grocery store, or wait for Sams.
Getting around Sam’s Club with 2 kids can be a bit of a task, so here is my top tip for shopping Sam’s and NOT losing your mind! As soon as you get there, get a kids trolley and head to the books. Let the kiddos choose a book to “borrow” while you are in the store. Once they are settled, I can now focus on the task at hand. If I have hubby along, he pushes the kiddie cart, aka the ‘fun cart’ (most Sams Clubs have a cart the kids can sit in), so I can focus on my list and we can get done faster. If you can, try and go towards the end of the week, that’s when they have the sample yummies out and this keeps the hubby happy.
Pretty much everything. Seriously, I buy most of my groceries here. I still have to run out from time to time for milk and fresh veg, but for the most part, my monthly shopping gets done in one day! It’s a long day and you can be sure that I reward myself with a nice, large glass of wine (from the Franzia box- $11.99 at Sams- NICE!) at the end of it. I’ve earned it right?
This is a list of all the stuff I will buy at Sams Club that will last for the entire month.
Milk X 3 – I will freeze one, serve the kids their favorite cereal for a week, make muffins in bulk and make anything else that needs milk.
A large block of cheese – I can use this for sliced cheese for picnics, or shredded cheese if I ever run out.
Eggs – I buy two 2-packs of eggs ( we eat a lot of eggs).
Butter – I get a large country crock butter that lasts me about a month.
Yogurt – I get a large Yoplait Strawberry yogurt when they have it. Also, the Vanilla is good but it is usually at Walmart.
Breakfast biscuits – Not every Sams Club has these, but when they do I buy two. You can also always get these at Walmart. (FYI the Great Value brand is just fine)
Sliced Bread – I buy 4 packets of sliced bread, I freeze two and use the others for lunches and toast.
Croissants/Muffins – The kids love either of these and it’s a little treat for them for being so good.
Tortillas – I pick up a couple of packets of tortillas here. Quesadillas are one of our favorites and they are a great way to clear out left-overs. Just about anything smothered in melted cheese is just fine with the kiddos.
2lb Sausage – I make shepherds pie with sausage (my sister-in-law’s recipe and it’s so good). You can also use this to spice up spaghetti sauce, etc.
Stouffers Lasagna – I buy a pre-made lasagna because by the time we get home and put everything away, I am exhausted and not in the mood to cook anything. It is always good to have one of these in the freezer for one of THOSE days.
Fruit/ Vegetables – I pick up 3 different types of frozen vegetables that I can pull out of the freezer to cook with dinner these come in really handy and taste really good. Most of today’s vegetables are processed and frozen within hours of picking so they are really fresh tasting when served. Our kids LOVE vegetables so these are a great money saver and the kids get LOTS of vegetables in them! Fruit is the same way – we usually get a bag of frozen mixed berries to have for breakfast.
Turkey Meatballs – We almost always keep a bag of frozen meatballs in the freezer. They are easy to heat up with some BBQ sauce and the kids just love them. They are perfect for days when we get home late and I can still have dinner on the table within minutes!
Chicken – I buy two packets of chicken cutlets, I split them up into bags and freeze them so I can pull them out as needed for recipes.
Turkey Mince – I buy 4- 3lb packets of mince, I use these for spaghetti bolognaise, meatloaf, tacos etc. They always come in handy and they fit nicely in the freezer.
Beef – Not too much these days- it is so expensive. But if there is a good sale or we are DYING for some beef…
Pork- Alway something on sale. Pork loins or shoulders, ribs, etc. I cook pork loin in the crockpot several times per week, we have some for dinner and leftovers for lunch.
Cereal – I pick up 3 double boxes of cereal, they are nice and big and last much longer than the normal grocery store. We use these cereal boxes to keep them in, they fit perfectly (the one in the middle goes upside down), and keep everything fresh
Granola – We eat a lot of granola in this house so I typically pick up 2 boxes of Nature Valley granola bars to keep us going. We use them for breakfast and for hikes, snacks etc. I heat up some frozen mixed berries, crush some granola over them and serve it with yogurt. This is my daughter’s favorite breakfast, it’s ridiculously yummy.
Fig Bars – I buy a box of Natures Bakery fig bars, they have them in raspberry and blueberry flavors and they are great for healthy snacks.
Kids Snacks – I used to pick up a couple of boxes of different snacks the kids love, then I realized I was going slightly overboard, so we pick out something they love (cheeze-its,) and then I pick out a smaller box of fishes/animal crackers at Walmart.
Popcorn – Yes we buy popcorn in bulk. The boxes at Walmart are so tiny that we always run out, if I buy at Sams we never run out and we all love some popcorn with a good movie.
Salad – I will usually buy a large packet of pre-made salad knowing that I need to use it up within the next couple of days, this works well for tacos, chicken salad etc.
Mushrooms – I buy a large packet of mushrooms knowing I will use them in my spaghetti bolognaise and sheet pan chicken within the next few days.
Peppers – Peppers are expensive at the grocery store so I hardly ever buy them, I can get a packet of 6 peppers for $6 at Sams so I do.
Potatoes – Every couple of months I will buy a bag of either regular potatoes or sweet potatoes, again knowing that I will need to use them up before they go off. These work great for mashed potato, baked potato lunch days and breakfast with onions and peppers. Yummy!
Fruit – I don’t buy “fresh” fruit at Sams period!
TIP: Bring a cooler of some kind with you. We purchased a collapsable cooler at Sams Club that has three sections for you to divide your food into. This has worked great for us. To transport food home. It can be a long drive depending on where we are.
After Sams, I do a quick run through Wal-Mart to pick up the rest of my groceries, things that I don’t want or need in bulk. If there is a grocery store near the campground, I will do this another day but if not, we make another stop! By this time, we will stop for lunch and take a break. While I am running around Wal-Mart, Frank takes the kids to the toys area so they can have some fun and I can focus on the task at hand. This is a quick run as I only have to pick up a few things such as bagels (much cheaper at Walmart than Sams Club), yogurt (Sams Club doesn’t have the Vanilla yogurt we like), sliced cheese (cheaper at Walmart), individual sauce bottles, lunch meat and wine! Never ever forget the wine!.
Coming home with a pickup truck full of groceries is always fun. NOT! The kids and Frank unload the food into the RV and I start to put away stuff. Everyone has a job they have to do and we all know the sooner we are done, the sooner everyone can go do their own thing. The kids start working on putting away all the dry goods, while hubby and I work on the refrigerator. As I was saying earlier I love my residential fridge, and more importantly the freezer – you can fit so much food in there. Well, at least hubby can. I hate to subscribe to male-female stereotypes, but in this case, it is true – my man can pack MUCH more efficiently than I can. I am the type to just start cramming and slam the door shut. Hubby will actually take the time to flatten everything out and stack it up in an orderly fashion. He gets WAY more in (but if you tell him I said that I’ll deny everything!) We pack things like chicken breasts, sausage, meatballs into meal size freezer zip locks, so they can be packed easily and thawed as needed.
The next day I will make up several meals so I have them when needed such as Shepherds Pie, Lasagna, Spaghetti Bolognaise, shredded pork. I pop them in tupperware in the freezer and I’m set for the month!
For storage, besides the cupboards in the rig, we use a door-back hanging organizer for snacks and keep some of the boxes of cereal etc. in a space next to the kitchen island. We use large Tupperware containers to hold cereal once we open it so it stays fresh, which it does. I had oxo containers previously but they didn’t keep the cereal fresh. The granola and fig bars get stacked neatly into drawers, the popcorn fits into a drawer and the overflow into the hanging organizer.
We usually end up with about 2 bags of trash/ recycling material once we are completed so once that is taken care of, we are done. This is typically when one of the kiddos says “I’m hungry, what’s for dinner?” At this point, I cut up some apples and send them outside with a fig bar each, I get the lasagna in the oven and that gives me 70 minutes to put my feet up!!
For the cold food, obviously not everybody has a large refrigerator, but even bulk shopping just on the dry goods can make a big dent in your cost. We have seen online quite a bit, people keeping a small chest freezer which is also a great idea.
How do you save money on the road? I’d love to hear your thoughts about what works well for your family. Comment below with any tips or tricks you can share.