A Step-by-Step Guide To Save Money And Time On Groceries
The other day, I was watching videos on YouTube looking for ideas to start meal planning and save money because my grocery shopping, and bill, are a disaster. Honestly, I spend a lot of time and money at the store, and I can’t seem to put together a few meals for the family each week.
So, scrolling the search results, I stumbled upon on a video headline that read something like this: “Grocery shopping for $25 a week”.
That is crazy! What do you feed your family for $25 per week?
Intrigued and anxious to learn the secret, I started watching the video. But instead of feeling inspired, I got frustrated.
This vlogger’s $25 weekly grocery shopping strategy consisted of pulling out of her three deep freezers previously-made frozen meals and buying some milk and garnishments.
I am still rolling my eyes.
I don’t have a deep freezer. The only frozen thing in my fridge is ice cream and a three-year-old package of fish.
So, after watching for a whole 10 minutes waiting for the magic $25 grocery shopping recipe, I moved on disappointed.
And because I do not want to let you down, let’s get to the point of this blog post.
How do you really save time and money on groceries while still managing to feed your family? The answer: Meal planning.
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Ultimate Meal Planning Guide For Beginners
After our mortgage, groceries are our second-largest monthly household expense. We average $1,100 per month on supermarket expenses, including food, toiletries, cleaning supplies, and anything we need to function at home.
That’s a lot of money! And, knowing where I am coming for, there is no possible way I could feed my family on a $25 a week budget. At least not in America, and I don’t think anywhere else either!
But I do believe that I can save a few hundred dollars every month at the store if I become more intentional and smarter with my spending.
What Meal Planning Is, And What It Is Not
Before we get into the meat and potatoes of grocery planning for beginners, let’s define what meal planning is and what it is not.
I define meal planning as the conscious effort of deciding what your family will have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner before each week begins.
Meal planning is not making a shopping list of what’s missing at home two minutes before you head out to the store. Which, by the way, that is exactly what I have done for most of my married life.
I am rolling my eyes again!
But finally, sixteen years into buying groceries for my family, I came to the following enlightening realization. Are you ready for this?
A shopping list is not a meal plan.
Come on! Read it aloud with me.
A shopping list is not a meal plan!
This simple fact is significant! Because understanding this truth can end up saving you thousands of dollars and hours doing grocery shopping.
What Is Your Grocery Budget?
Before you make your plan, you should know how much money are you allowed to spend on groceries every month.
If you are not doing a monthly budget, you need to do that first. Make sure to check out my step-by-step budgeting guide, get a hard copy of my net worth and budgeting workbook, or check out my cash envelope system.
You need a unique budget for every month of the year because although most of your expenses are recurring, the amounts will always vary.
Knowing what your monthly allowance for food or groceries is, divide it by the number of weeks in the month. That is the amount you can spend per week at the store, whether you go one time or ten times.
Also, for your meal planning to be effective and budget-friendly, you need to put it in writing, on what will become your meal planner.
I am such a nerd that I created my own Smart Grocery Shopping And Meal Planner Workbook. You can learn more about it watching this video.
The Smart Grocery Shopping And Meal Planner Workbook
But you don’t need a special book to get started, although if you wanted to get a copy of mine you can do it here. Just get an actual notebook, one that you recycle from your children’s unused school supplies will work just fine, and label it “Meal Planner.”
You are going to create your monthly plan, week by week, on paper, and on purpose, and you will keep it all together on your planner.
PRO MEAL PLANNING TIPs!
Commit to using your notebook for the following year if there is enough room in it. You must keep your weekly food budget, meal plans, and shopping lists in one spot.
Your meal planner will become your guide when you are budgeting, planning meals, or when you are out shopping.
Now you are even thinking about using different markers to color code your planner (did I read your mind?), is time to get to work!
Meal Planning In Three Simple Steps
Follow these three simple steps to create a simple meal plan that will save you a ton of money and will bring more peace to your life and kitchen.
Step #1: Make a list of the items that you already have at home
Check your pantry and fridge and take note on your meal planner of the ingredients that you already have.
I don’t like to waste food, but sometimes I end up doing just that. I forget stuff at the back of the pantry or fridge, and when I remember, it’s either expired or growing green stuff.
Using the ingredients that you already have at home should be a priority in your meal planning.
Step #2: Plan out four generous meals to eat during the week
Counting on the ingredients that you already have, and more that you need to get, plan out every single meal your family will eat for the following seven days.
I am talking about every single breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Just kidding!
It sounds daunting to think of making all 21 different meals for the week. But who said we were going to do that?
The point of meal planning is not to make 21 meals. Instead, I recommend that you plan a few options for breakfast and lunch. For dinner, four to five generous meals per week should do.
Breakfast Meal Planning
I vote for simplifying our mornings!
Between getting the kids ready for school, getting ready for work, and making everybody’s lunches, I have no time for picky eaters!
Instead, I keep it simple by offering my kids a couple of options for breakfast throughout the week. That usually means bagels, croissants, or cereal.
I got lucky with my husband because he is very grateful for whatever there is. For breakfast, he always eats cereal, so I don’t have to worry about cooking.
I have the same thing to eat almost every morning. I like fresh pineapple chunks with organic plain yogurt. Usually, I top it with a little bit of honey, walnuts, or sunflower seeds.
Only on weekends do I take the time to make eggs and bacon or something fancier for breakfast.
After all, we are busy. Our responsibility is to put food on the table, not to make gourmet meals at home.
So, my advice is that you simplify your mornings. Offer only two to three choices and put those items on your grocery list.
Make sure you buy enough breakfast food to cover for the week.
Lunch Meal Planning
For lunch, my suggestion is that you also keep it simple. At home, we always make sandwiches for lunch. And I mean, ALWAYS.
Again, I am fortunate that my husband is not picky about eating sandwiches every day. I have heard some horror stories from friends who cook fresh and unique meals three times a day. Not me!
Some times my kids take leftover soup for lunch. They love my soups! But usually, the choices are ham, turkey, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
I always buy fruit, chips, granola bars, and other snacks for them to personalize their lunchboxes.
Dinner Meal Planning
What I like to do for dinner, which is the most complicated meal of all three, is to prepare four to five generous dishes per week, at the most.
We usually eat two to three meals and the corresponding leftovers during the week. On the weekends, we also cook dinner and eat leftovers for lunch.
Have you noticed the pattern here? Keeping it simple and eating leftovers is the name of the game.
Now, you may be wondering, what about eating out?
I rarely buy my lunch, neither do my kids or husband.
Yeah, occasionally I grab lunch with a friend or something, but that is not the norm. Eating home-made meals is a habit that we adopted early in our marriage.
Dropping The Habit Of Eating Out
I had a friend that once made fun of me, wondering what we did for fun if we didn’t eat out frequently. But honestly, I really prefer cooking at home.
In my experience, going to restaurants for a family of four gets expensive quickly. My kids don’t order french fries from the children’s menu.
I have two teenagers now that eat like there is no tomorrow, especially when you put dessert in front of them. Seriously! They eat more than I can, and I like food!
We can easily spend between $80 to $100 for the four of us at a place like Olive Garden or Buffalo Wild Wings.
If we ate out once every weekend, we could be shedding between $350 to $400 a month on restaurants! That could add to $5,000 per year.
I rather use that money to go on vacation than to go out to eat and wait 30 minutes to be seated. But that’s just me, maybe it is that I have a very low tolerance for waiting to be seated.
Step #3: Make a list of groceries you need and go to the store
Now that you know the two or three options you will offer for breakfast and lunch, and the four or five meals that you will be making for dinner, it is time to make your shopping list.
Like I said earlier, you need to keep your meal plan and your list in writing in your notebook. Write down what you will eat each day, and add those ingredients to your shopping list.
Bring your notebook or meal planner to the store and only buy the items that are on the list. And that’s it!
You have completed your meal planning for beginners!
Final Thoughts On Meal Planning
I recommend that you write down on your notebook or meal planner how much you spend every time you go to the store and the dates that you shopped.
With meal planning, you should be able to reduce the number of visits to supermarkets because you are being proactive and not reactive to an empty fridge.
That’s how I ended up going to the store several times per week. I would just “run by real quick to pick up some milk,” and instead ended up spending $70 on who knows what every other day.
My goal is to reduce our grocery spending this month by $100, and what better way to keep myself accountable than reporting to y’all.
Ultimately, I would like to keep my household supermarket purchases below $800 per month. But let’s move one step at a time.
In Conclusion: Meal Planning for Beginners
As you can see, meal planning is not hard. It just requires time and discipline.
Start by establishing a monthly budget for your grocery expenses. Then divide it by the number of weeks on that particular month. That amount is your spending limit per week.
Then, take note of what already is in the pantry and the fridge to determine what can be used for your weekly meals.
Then, choose two to three options for breakfast and lunch, and four to five options for dinners.
Afterward, make a grocery shopping list and go to the store.
Don’t spoil your family so much, limit the options that you offer for breakfast and lunch. Four to five generous meals prepared during the week, and leftovers, should be enough to feed everybody.
And don’t forget the most crucial point of this blog: a shopping list is not the same as a meal plan! Get your notebook and start budgeting, planning, and shopping with intention.
- How To Eat Healthy On A Budget
- What Percentage Of Your Income Should Go To What?
- Our Family Grocery Expenses For February 2020
- How To Do A Monthly Expenses Snapshot
- How to Save Money and Stop Living Paycheck-to-Paycheck
- The Budget Pad: Organize your Income, Track Expenses & Save Money
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