There are lots of reasons to meal plan. For me, the biggest draw remains stress relief. However, it’s hard to ignore the fact that meal planning saves money – or at the very least, spends it more efficiently.
Today I wanted to talk about money and meal planning. I’ll have to admit that using our money in a responsible way is critical for our family. While my husband and I both love what we do, you don’t go into ministry or writing for the cash. 😉 We have goals. We have long-term plans. We need to spend every dollar in our budget in a wise way. I am sharing with you the system that I use, and a few tips/strategies that work for me.
I meal plan three weeks worth of meals at a time. When I menu plan, I plan for 21 dinners, 21 breakfasts, and 6 treats or snacks. I buy everything I need to make the planned meals, as well as items for lunches, and any other staples that need to be replenished (flour, sugar, vanilla, etc.) I go grocery shopping once every three weeks, with one supplementary run (for ONLY milk and produce.)
Cutting down the amount of time spent at the grocery store saves money. We’ve all walked into the store intending to only buy eggs, and came out with $30 worth of groceries. This system works for me and the way I menu plan. (I’ve learned to embrace the comments I get EVERY time I shop about how much I’m buying.)
Things To Know About My Family:
On average, I spend $300 on groceries every three weeks. (If you want me to be really specific, the last two 3 week shopping trips were $264 and $314.)
We are a family of six. We have four kids, 2,4,6, and 8. I shop for three weeks worth of meals at a time. That means, we only spend $100 per week for a family of 6!!! (That’s pretty affordable!)
My $300 budget (for 3 weeks worth of groceries) includes EVERYTHING but diapers, toilet paper, and K-Cups, which we purchase at Costco every few months. But, the money does include non-food items like paper towels, shampoo, soap, etc.
One of the biggest questions I get is, “What if you run out of something?” I will say that we typically will make a milk and produce run once during the three week period. However, it is SUPER important to stick to JUST the milk and produce during that shopping trip. The $300 average includes these occasional trips to the store.
I do NOT coupon. I simply have no interest in investing the time required to gather newspapers, codes, etc. I shop at one store, and shop once every three weeks, not when things go on sale. It’s just what works for me.
We have a large garden in the summer, and during those months, our food cost typically goes down a bit, as we enjoy produce from our yard, rather than from the store. We do a bit of canning, and use our homemade marinara sauce, canned veggies, jam, etc when we can throughout the year.
Here are my money rules:
1. I don’t buy things I don’t need.
To this end, I don’t do a lot of “stockpiling.” This is a strategy many shoppers employ. When canned soup or dry pasta goes on sale, they stock up – purchasing dozens at a time. While this strategy may work for some families, it just doesn’t fit in with my meal planning/food budget system. For example, olives might be on sale for $0.40 a can with coupons. If I stock up, I may end up with a ton of cheap olives, but I can’t serve olives for dinner for the next week. If it’s not something I use EVERY meal cycle or something in my pantry staples, I don’t stock up, and never really buy more than 2 or 3 when I do.
2. I shop at the town’s cheapest grocery store.
I do not shop at the most convenient grocery store. There is a store down the street from our house. It takes me less than a minute to get there. However, I grocery shop at a store that takes me between 20-25 minutes to get to. Why do I do it? The store across town is WAY cheaper. I spend a tiny bit more in gas, but more than make up for it in the savings on my grocery items. If you have choices in where you can shop, do a little bit of research and find out who has the best prices. (*For those of you in the NW, I shop at Winco, and love it.)
3. Know the Market
I take the current economic market and season into account when I meal plan. For example, beef is CRAZY expensive right now. Towards that end, I’m not planning any stroganoff or Swiss steak. I know that I can get ground turkey cheaper than ground beef, so I make that substitution. I love using produce in my meals, but know that many of our favorites are out of season right now. Do I love strawberries? Yes. Do I want to pay an arm and a leg for them so I can have fresh berries on my waffles? No. If it’s too much, I don’t plan to buy it.
4. Figure Out YOUR Family’s Needs
This one may take a bit of time. If you plan to try this system, and only do a big shopping trip once every two or three weeks, you’ll need to learn what and how much to buy to make it through. It’s easy to plan for the dinners, breakfasts, and treats, as you write down exactly what you need to prepare those things. However, you’ll need to purchase things to account for lunches, snacks, and things that just come up. Figure out what snacks get eaten and what sits in the pantry. How many packages of lunch meat will you go through? How much juice will you need to buy? Figure out about how much of things your family goes through. Take note of what foods you typically end up throwing out due to spoilage. Notice which crackers end up sitting on the shelf, never getting chosen. What are you always running out of? What do you seem to buy too much of?
In time, you’ll get into a rhythm and not need to create a list for these items – you’ll just know. I know now that Goldfish will get gobbled up, but Wheat Thins will just sit there. I know that we use ham faster than turkey. I know how long my coffee creamer will last. You’ll start to see your patterns and just KNOW what you need that isn’t on the list for the meal planning items.
Next in the meal planning series, I’ll be walking you through HOW I meal plan – step by step. Don’t forget you can check out the Weekly Menu Archives for menu ideas.
If you still need a reason to give meal planning a try, you can check out the 10 Reasons I Love Meal Planning.