The trick is called meal planning.
Before my husband and I got serious about repaying our debt we would go grocery shopping on payday throwing essentially anything and everything we wanted into the cart, with no real plan. We’d get home, unload the six boxes of granola bars, block of cheese, some apples and package of chicken wondering what to cook for supper.
We were spending close to $1,000 per month on food for two people! And the biggest reason for this was our lack of planning.
Oh how things have changed. Even the thought of entering a grocery store without a full, very detailed list gives me serious anxiety. I have actually avoided doing a grocery run all together because I didn’t have my chicken-scratch list with me. My list and meal plan is my security blanket and my saving grace. I can honestly say that meal planning has saved us thousands of dollars per year by cutting our food bill in half, saved my waistline because I have time to plan to eat well rather than out of convenience and has removed on of the biggest working-full-time-person’s stressor, eliminating the dreaded ”what’s for dinner” question.
Proper meal planning requires effort. Don’t let this scare you though! Once you get really good at it you’ll speed up (yes, this is like an Olympic sport) but plan on it taking one to two hours per session (I do ours every two weeks). It’s not as simple as just writing a grocery list and looking at the store sales, you have to detail everything.
If you don’t plan properly, this whole thing could smack you in the face. You forget a single green pepper for tomorrow night’s dinner and you find yourself back in the grocery store for said pepper but somehow manage to spend $40. Doing it right the first time is the only way to do this!
To start, look through your cupboards, freezer and fridge planning meals around stuff you already have that needs to get used up. If you have a bunch of fresh produce that needs to be used up, maybe plan a stir-fry and add only missing ingredients (maybe chicken or a sauce ingredient) to your list.
After you’ve gone through your home and planned meals around using up what you have, and only adding items to your grocery list that are required to complete the meal, look at local sales and if you can, plan the rest of your meals around sale items. For instance this week lean ground beef might be on sale, look for recipes that include this meat (stuffed peppers, tacos, meatloaf for example). This will vary greatly around dietary preferences and requirements too but you get the drift, if it’s on sale, and you eat it, plan to eat the particular item this week.
Make you list and check it twice! Make sure you’ve added every single detail! If your recipe requires a pinch of thyme and you don’t have thyme, add it to the list, you need to make sure you buy everything.
The only exception I make to my regular meal planning, which is done in two week blocks, is that I buy produce weekly. I do one big grocery run and the following week allocate about $40 to top up a few items like bananas and lettuce since we usually consume it all or it ripens beyond eating.
With proper meal planning and sticking to our grocery budget, we spend, on average $400 per month for three mouths. This includes everything from our k-cups to bread. It requires effort but is the single best way to keep our budget under control!
Do you meal plan? Why/Why not?