I have read that meal planning is one of the better ways to save money on your grocery bill. I only make one or two big grocery trips each month (of course I have to do smaller ones to replenish produce/milk/bread, etc). When I first began meal planning, I would write out each day and plan a meal for that day, plan for leftovers, and be sure to plan easy meals for nights I would be home late. I ended up not wanting what I had planned on a specific night and swapping days around, though, so now I just make a list of meals to eat until the next time I go grocery shopping.
To plan my meals, I pull out my recipe box and Pinterest and try to plan things that we didn't eat in the last rotation. I also try to plan a variety of meats, as well as a variety of time-consuming, crock pot, and quick meals so I am prepared for all kinds of evenings.
I do not plan for a certain number of days, but this one happens to cover half a month. It will actually last longer because we will eat out occasionally.
This process already takes a lot of time, so I do not take the time to look at sale ads to plan my meals around them. I figure planning my meals and buying only what I need for them saves a decent amount of money because I don't have groceries that go unused.
My Grocery List
We keep a running list on the refrigerator of items we run low or out of. Hubby is learning that if he just tells me and it doesn't get on the list, I will usually forget to buy it. This is the list I use when I go to the store between my big shopping trips (things like toiletries, milk, produce, spices, etc).
When I make my grocery list, I use this and my meal plan. I also like to write it by section or type of food (and sometimes even in the order I go through the store). If it is not organized, I usually skip things and have to backtrack, which is aggravating.
I look at my meal plan and first write down all of the meat I will need, followed by produce, canned and boxed food, frozen food, dairy, etc. I add in snacks/breakfast foods/condiments that we need. Before I say it is finished, I try to go through the pantry and refrigerator to see if there is anything else we are about to run out of, but inevitably I will not notice something that will go on the running list.
I don't usually write the category, but I did today so you can see how it is organized.
You won't find everything for each meal on this list, because I keep a lot of staples on hand, like herbs and spices, bread crumbs, etc. If I already have plenty of it, I am not going to buy more!
How do I save money?
- After I create my grocery list, I go onto coupons.com to check if there are coupons for things I am already going to buy. I generally do not buy things just because I have a coupon.
- I buy the store brand of a lot of things I buy, especially frozen vegetables, dairy, and pasta, although I do have brands I prefer for other things.
- After I get home, I portion the meat into enough servings for just me and Hubby. I will show you how I do this in another post.
- We eat leftovers.
- I use the food we have in the house. If I do buy extra food (say there is more chicken in a family pack or extra pork chops), I have enough staples on hand that I can create other meals that I didn't plan for.
Of course, there are always ways that I can save more money and eat healthier, but we're a work in progress. I don't think I will ever be perfect at this, but this is the system that works for me.