Tips For a Cheaper Menu Plan

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll have probably seen my Grocery Haul Posts (You can see a couple of them here, here, and here). I haven’t continued doing them because there is usually a lot of similarity week to week, and I was feeling a bit repetitive.  If you would like to keep seeing Grocery Haul posts, please let me know!

That is not what this post is!  This post is about my menu and grocery list planning, because if you’re looking to trim your grocery budget, planning is where it’s at.  In this post I’m going to share a few of the things I do to stick to our budget.

Right now, our grocery budget is $100 a week for 2 adults, 2 kids, and 1 toddler/baby.  It also has to cover everything we need for the house–diapers, soaps, etc.  I’ve been trying really hard to keep our actual expenditure at $70-$80 per week with varying levels of success.  I did great through January, actually only using $300 of the $400 we budgeted for the month, but this week I have to buy diapers so we’re going to start February off with the full budget for this week and hopefully rein it back in through the rest of the month.

My basic premise is that I will only buy the least expensive things that fit what I need, and I will try to buy what we need on a week to week basis unless it is a fantastic deal and I can skimp on something else in order to stock up on the sale item.

First: read your sale ads!  Wherever you shop, see if they have a weekly flyer or an app.  I haven’t been able to get postal sale papers here for whatever reason, but I have apps for Kroger and Fresh Thyme on my phone, and those provide the weekly flyer, as well as coupon opportunities.  Whatever your method, go through the flyer(s) and take notes of the sales.  I have a few benchmark prices that I refuse to go above unless there is NOTHING else or I’m shopping for a special occasion.  If your store offers coupons that are loadable to a loyalty card, or if you have paper coupons, now is the time to pull them out and see if you can score any phenomenal buys. Disclaimer: I am not a couponer.  I do always look for coupons that fit with the sales, ESPECIALLY for diapers and other nonfood household supplies, but if it isn’t for a food that is healthy and hits my benchmark prices, I won’t buy it.  Healthy food is perfectly affordable as long as you don’t get sucked into buying “normal” food along with it.  

Second: put your thinking cap on and make a menu based on what is on sale.  Example: if pork loin is on sale for 1.57/lb, that is probably going to be the only meat I buy this week, so I’m either going to have to rely on different meats from previous weeks that I may have stocked in the freezer, or I need to come up with a variety of ways to eat it.

Third: use a variety of sources to look for recipes, especially if you’re trying to make several unique meals out of a single type of meat.  Look through different cookbooks and search it on pinterest until you can put together your menu for the pay period. As long as you’re careful to not add too many “special” ingredients for those unique dishes, the savings will keep piling up and the ol’ cooking skills will get a turn around the room–which is always a win, of course 😉

Fourth: Check your cupboard!  And the fridge, and the freezer, and the spice rack.  I find that if I look over it all right before I start putting together the actual grocery list, I’ll remember what I have better throughout the shopping process. I am not perfect about this by any means.  I regularly have to call my Superman up, (if he happens to be home while I’m shopping) and ask him to double check on specific things in the larder.  As long as you’re aware of what’s going on in the cupboards/fridge at some point before you hit the checkout lane, you’ll be fine!

Fifth: Make the grocery list.  Look over the menu you’ve just created very carefully and compare what you have in your cupboard with what you need, and write down everything.  Seriously!  Even if you’re sure you would never forget it, just write. it. down.  Trust me on this.  You will forget something, sometime, anyways.  Why set yourself up for that situation when you’re sitting right there making a grocery list?  I didn’t think so.  Once everything is written down, do a quick check with a calculator and make sure you’re where you want to be as far as money goes.  If you’re over-budget, now is the time to figure out what you want to change to make it more achieveable.  If you’re underbudget–awesome!  You can decide whether to just save the excess or buy a little extra of a really great deal.

Sixth: If it isn’t on your list DON’T BUY IT!  I’m sorry I had to shout, but seriously: Unless it is the world’s best deal and you can replace something on your list for it, don’t touch it, don’t pick it up, don’t put it in your shopping cart.  I know how it is–you walk in the store, and the first aisle has a display of something that looks super cool or handy, or you see something you “forgot” to put on the list.  Just don’t.  If you didn’t think of it during the crazy ordeal of sales-shopping, menu-planning, and grocery-list-making you can probably live without it for one more pay period.  If it’s really important, make a note of it and get it next time. Most of the time, (at least in my experience) it’s not even memorable enough to remember at the end of the shopping trip, let alone next week when I’m doing grocery planning again.

Seventh: Use a calculator in the store, or keep a running total on your pad of paper if you’re old-school (like me!)  The action of either holding a calculator, or tallying your total is both a physical and a mental deterrant to buying anything just because you see it.  It keeps your hands fuller, so that grabbing random stuff requires at least a little juggling.  Plus, if you’re adding every single purchase to your tally, you’re very involved in watching that total go up.

So there you have it. Those are the main things I keep in mind when I’m preparing for and grocery shopping.   It takes me at least two hours on Tuesday to get everything in order, and then shopping on Wednesday can take between 3-5 hours depending on whether I have the kids with me or not. Most of the time I do shop with them, and I can tell you from the mothering standpoint–having a thorough list is life-saving if you’re trying to shop with 3 little kids.  Without a list, keeping all 3 kids contented and corralled while I try to make good decisions about food and sales on the fly just doesn’t happen.

Am I missing anything?  What does your grocery shopping routine look like?