As I’ve mentioned before I’m not a huge coupon user so I primarily use meal planning as my method of saving on groceries. I’ve found it’s pretty easy to spend under $100 each week. And some weeks, like this past week, I under spent my budget. However I do have some weeks where I’ll spend more, especially if I’m stocking up on a staple for our house that’s on sale at a really good price (I’ll talk about stocking up later).
So how do I decide what to make each week? First I scan the ads from the major stores where I shop to see what’s on sale. If there is a particular kind of meat on sale (besides the usual chicken breasts and ground beef that we eat all the time and I usually keep a stash of in the freezer), like a side of beef or pork chops I’ll plan on that for at least one meal.
Then I’ll plan the rest of the meals around what we have in the freezer. I keep a running list of meals and recipes we like in an Excel spreadsheet (I know, gasp! You can hardly believe I use Excel to track something!). So when I’m trying to think of what to make I refer to that list and pick something we haven’t had in a while. I do try to keep it varied during the week, like some chicken and some beef, some Mexican, some Italian, etc.
The other thing I keep in mind when meal planning is leftovers. Chad takes leftovers for his lunch at work. We used to buy frozen meals for him, but realized we could spend less money and get a healthier meal with less artificial ingredients by him taking leftovers. And he likes leftovers better than the frozen meals. So when I’m trying to figure out what meals to have what nights, I try to put meals that will give us lots of leftovers earlier in the week so he has them to take to work. The girls eat PB&J, tuna fish, grilled cheese, quesadillas or hot dogs along with fruit, yogurt and/or macaroni and cheese. I’ll eat leftovers if we have too many or I’ll make myself the same as the girls.
Also when planning what to have each night, I have to take into account what activities we have going on. If I have an activity that evening and won’t be home for dinner, I try to plan a Crockpot meal or something Chad can pop into the oven without having to do any cooking. Not that he can’t cook (well, if you count making quesadillas as cooking), but I’d rather have him be able to deal with the kids rather than worry about cooking dinner.
So after I have my meals all figured out, I look at each recipe and figure out if any call for ingredients I may not have on hand and jot it down on my list. Then I look back at the ads and see what fruits and vegetables are on sale and add them to the list. Now during the summer we grown some of our own vegetables and I try to buy local (i.e. farmer’s markets) and all year round I try to buy organic when I can, but when it comes down to it our family has to pay the mortgage and cost does have to rule. But I’ll cover organic and healthy eating on a budget in other posts. Finally I check to see if any staples we carry in our house might be on a good sale.
How do I know how much I’ll be spending? Well after shopping this way for some time I pretty much know how much most items cost. Like a gallon of skim milk is around $3.19. And right now a dozen eggs are $1.49. Cans of tomatoes are around $.69 to $.89. If I plan to go to multiple stores and I know one store carries something I need a lower price, I plan to buy it at the store where it’s cheaper. So it makes it pretty easy to track how much I think I’ll be spending that week. What I find amusing is that some days I can’t remember what I ate for lunch that day but yet I can remember the price of eggs at Price Chopper. Sheesh. Momma needs some more sleep.
And how do I keep track of the anticipated cost of my shopping trip? Ding ding ding, that is correct! Yes, my list is in Excel, and I type in what items I need in one column, how many I need in the next, how much they are in the next, and then multiply through to get the total. Now if I was really good I’d have a running list of items, how much they all are, and have some fancy drop downs and what not, but I’ve never have gotten around to that. But now that I’m thinking about it, I may have to think about trying that…. Ahh, it’s the little things that get me excited. Yes I’m such a dork.
I also figure the sales tax into the total because that’s a pretty good chunk of money. If your tax rate is 8% and you want to spend $100 each week, then you will have to limit your actual grocery purchase to $92.59 in order to stay under that $100 limit.
Meal planning is one of the things about taking care of our household, our finances and our health that I enjoy the most. Because it’s not laundry. Ugh. Laundry. That’s why you’ll find many posts about it (meal planning, not laundry) from me and I’ll share lots of recipes and other ways I’m trying to feed our family nutritiously but without spending a fortune.
For those who do meal plan, do you have a tip on how to plan what to have for your week? For those who don’t, what kind of tips or information do you want to know more about?