We started the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University a couple years ago and the first part of the program is assessing what you’re spending and then creating a budget. Actually looking at where you spend your money is scary!
Like most families, we spend a lot of money on groceries and eating out. We learned from the exercise we were spending almost $1,000 each month between eating out and groceries. Even worse… we were throwing away food that was spoiled or unused. Clearly, we needed to adjust our spending to meet the financial goals we had in place.
Cutting our grocery and restaurant budget didn’t happen over night. There were a lot of failed budgets, and there are still failed budgets today. However, we are consistently keeping on budget with meal planning. We’ve been able to cut our total grocery budget from $1,000 a month to only $600! For a family of five, with two growing boys, I’m happy with our savings.
Here is How I Meal Plan Each Week:
I take a look at the pantry, are there enough ingredients to make one meal from what we already have? My goal is to make at least one “pantry” meal each week.
Plan which day we’re going to eat out. We usually eat out with my mom and grandfather, so I’ll ask what works for their schedule too.
Write down our “go-to” meals we eat every week. Generally we have Taco Tuesday, and homemade pizza each week. I jot these down and list out the ingredients I need, and what I have on hand.
I start planning the remaining 3 dinners we’ll eat according to what’s on sale. I never plan a meal where the majority of the ingredients aren’t on sale. Once I have the idea for the dinners, I go back to the pantry or freezer and see if I have ingredients on hand. I list what we have on hand, and make a list of items we need. Beside the ingredients we need to purchase, I make a note of the sale price (or general price if not in the flyer). This helps me to know how much I am spending and if I’m staying on budget.
It’s time to plan breakfast and lunches for the week. I try to stick with 3-4 options for both breakfast and lunch. Breakfast during the week is quick and easy since we’re eating before work and school. I plan for cereal, oatmeal, baked bread, or toast. Lunches are usually packed and include sandwiches, cereal, left overs, etc.
Lastly I add to our grocery list the staples we need whether on sale or not. We always need milk, eggs, and bread. Again, I put the general price of these items to the side of the ingredient on our list.
It’s time to see if you have coupons for any ingredients on your list. This is the fun part for me! I usually calculate the grocery shop with regular prices first and see how low I can get the total after coupons and sale prices. Just a little fun to see how much I save!
Meijer offers Mperks, which are online coupons and rewards. These are my go-to coupons. I start by taking a look at the Mperks online and clipping those that match my list. Next, I check the coupons in the newspaper and do the same thing. Make sure to read the fine print on all your coupons.
After my coupons are all clipped and organized, I now subtract my coupons from my overall cost. This gives me an idea whether I am over budget, under budget or right on target.
If I’m over budget I will usually try and adjust for less expensive ingredients, or see if I can stretch one or two meals for left over night (lasagna, chili or tacos work wonderful for this!)
If I’m under budget I take a look at the lost leader items and see if I can stock pile anything. If spaghetti sauce, noodles or veggies are really cheap, I stock up since they have a good shelf life.
After dinner each night I take a look to see if we can save and freeze any of the leftovers. This helps stretch the budget for the future. If we have lasagna or other casserole type dishes for dinner, I freeze the left overs right away. Once every three months we try and have a freezer/pantry week. During this week we eat meals only from our stockpile. Here’s a list of our go-to stockpile meals:
- Taco Meat (for tacos or taco salad)
- Cheesy Chicken and Rice Casserole
- Spaghetti or Fettuccini
- Breakfast for Dinner
- Tuna Noodle Casserole (fresh, I don’t think it freezes well)
- Soup and Sandwiches
Share your tips for meal planning and stock piling in the comments below!