How to Save Money Each Month on Groceries
If you’re like me, you’ve searched the web for how to save money each month on your grocery spending. No matter how many people are in your family, some factors affect everyone. Buying organic, non-GMO products are going to cost more. Buying steak (or most meats) will increase your spending. Eating more rice and beans will lower your costs. But those aren’t the biggest factors.
You’ve probably read lists of what to cut out to save dollars (like 13 Things to Stop Buying to Save Money in your Food Budget), and you’re likely familiar with comparing unit prices and using coupons and sales wisely. But do you know how to save money each month on your grocery spending?
The answer might surprise you.
You need to do family menu planning.
I know, I know. You’ve heard it before…
You might be thinking that menu planning is hard, and that you tried it once or twice and it didn’t work, for umpteen different reasons. But that was before you learned it could be a really simple process. I’ll outline exactly how for you today, so you can start using a meal plan and saving money straight away. If you’re feeling unmotivated, think about your goals. Reminding yourself why you’re trying to cut your expenses will help you stay focused.
My eldest daughter (Cat, 21) has recently begun sharing a household. Knowing that I use a meal plan to save money, she asked me how to create one for her home. (Because when she actually lived at here, teen aged her knew everything and Mommy knew nothing. Fortunately, that’s changed, at least a little.) This post is as much for her as it is for you. Family (that’s her) and friends (that’s you) are the best people to share with, after all.
What Is Family Menu Planning?
In simple terms, family menu planning is a relatively easy way to keep your grocery budget in order. By pre-planning what food you’re going to serve your family for a specific length of time (a few days, a week, a month, or longer) you can make all your meal choices at once. It lets you stay focussed on the task.
A menu plan allows you to create a shopping list so that when you go shopping you have a built in answer to your question “Do I need this?”
You know you need it if it’s on your list, and you know you don’t if it isn’t. If it’s on your shopping list, it is needed for your meal plan – that’s why you added it to your shopping list!
Family meal planning also allows you to ensure you’ve got basic nutrition covered. When you plan, you know you’re getting a variety of types of foods. If you or someone in your family has special dietary requirements, you can ensure you’ll have food in the house that everyone can eat.
Menu plans also help you save money by reducing the amount of food that rots in the back of your fridge. You know… like that celery you’ve had in the crisper for months because you thought maybe you’d like to make some soup, but never got around to making soup, because you didn’t have a meal plan that told you when you were going to eat that soup. (I’m speaking from experience here. If you don’t have soggy celery in your crisper, it’s some other disgusting bit of rotting food that you thought you’d use but didn’t.)
Not having that rotting food in your fridge also saves you time – you’ll spend a lot less time cleaning out your fridge when there aren’t a bunch of food items taking up space in there… and you won’t have to clean up goopy, gross messes, either. (That’s a big motivator for me… I HATE cleaning the fridge when something has gone rotten and oozed out its disgusting decomposed grossness.) I’d rather spend my time cooking (or eating) than cleaning any day.
Create A Family Menu Plan
At my house, we tend to have fairly repetitive breakfasts, snacks, and lunches, so I don’t usually do any kind of meal planning for those meals. I find it makes shopping (and meal prep) simpler to keep things similar every day – cereal for breakfast, soup, sandwiches, and fruits or vegetables for lunch, plus yogurt, crackers, granola bars, and fruit or vegetables for snacks. That’s the extent of my family meal plan for everything but supper.
Although the following steps are what I use to plan our suppers, you can follow the exact same steps for the meals you want to plan.
There are a few steps involved in planning a good menu. First, you make a list of the foods your family eats, then you slot them into days. Let’s go through that process with a bit more detail.
Although you can make your plan on any scrap of paper, I’ve made a pretty black and white Menu Planning PDF file that you can use to follow along. It’s located in the Tickle Trunk (check your last newsletter for the password, if you’ve forgotten it). If you aren’t yet a subscriber, just click the “I WANT IT!” button below. The password and link to the Tickle Trunk is within the welcome email, so you’ll have to pop over to your email to confirm, then print. Once you’ve got them printed, come back and let’s get planning!
Many people think planning supper is challenging. Too challenging. So challenging that they don’t bother planning it at all. There’s this societal expectation that supper will be something “special” – some big meal at the end of the day that needs to be different every day. No duplicates allowed.
But supper doesn’t have to be a challenge.
Supper can be easy. (Hint: duplicates ARE allowed.)
On the Favourite Family Feasts sheet from the printouts, list all the supper meals your family eats. When I first started planning, I found it useful to think back over the last couple months, because there were meals we ate infrequently, that we liked to eat, that I didn’t remember on the first list I made. Feel free to ask your kids (and spouse) what their favourite dinners are, too.
You might want to schedule them in more often if they fit within your budget. Or not.
One of Mr. A’s favourites is Hamburger Helper… cheap, but Mr. A and I have a huge difference of opinion on just how great (bleh!) it tastes. I do put it on our plan, however: Everyone gets at least one favourite a month. (I might get more of my favourites, simply because I’m the one doing the planning and shopping. Consider it a perk of the job!)
No need to be really detailed in this step. Just “pierogies” works better than “pierogies, onions and bacon, and side salad” for this exercise.
If any meals listed are only for special occasions or weekends, you’ll want to star those, so you don’t accidentally schedule them on the wrong days.
You’ll notice I included columns for breakfast and lunch. That’s just in case you want to plan those, too. You can use them for more supper ideas, or just leave them blank if you don’t want to plan those meals.
Consider your weekly schedule. Note which days you need a FAST supper, because you have evening plans regularly on that night (for instance, kids go to piano lessons, or ballet, or hockey practice, or you have a regular social outing or club meeting).
Go back to your list and highlight or circle the main meals that are quick to make (maybe a crockpot meal, or a freezer meal you previously prepared, pizza, or pasta, etc).
In the past, when I’ve created a plan, without accounting for my family’s schedule, the plan has quickly fallen apart. I would end up with longer meals on days I needed something fast, and then had to change it up on the fly. After a few occasions like that I’d stop following the plan completely because it just wasn’t working.
Don’t be like me. Account for your schedule.
At this point, you’ll need to decide if you’re going to schedule a week or a month. In the Menu Planning Package, you’ll find two weekly planners and two monthly planners.
You’ll notice on one weekly planner, you can include breakfast, lunch, and supper, and the other is to be more specific with just one meal.
At my house, I like to make sure I have a protein, a carb, and a vegetable or fruit at each meal. Since breakfast and lunch are very similar each day, I don’t plan those out on paper. If you do want to plan those, use the planner that includes those options. For supper, however, I find it much less stressful to know what I’m putting on the table, so I use the weekly planner with the food categories.
That said, I also like to plan the main part of the meal for a month at a time. (I’ve been known to do 3-4 months at a time, and just change things up seasonally.) For me, I do the monthly calendar, and then on a weekly basis (or every second week), I’ll fill in the extra details (carb, protein, veg/fruit), so I can take best advantage of any sales.
Personally, I prefer the vertical monthly planner. But I know others like the month to look like a regular calendar, so have included that option. The only difference between the two is the layout. If you’re going to plan a whole month, choose your format, and fill in the dates.
On the vertical calendar, I put the initial of the day of the week in the box. I might be odd, but I use M, T, W, R, F, S, U. That way I can easily discern whether it’s Tuesday or thuRsday, Saturday or sUnday. (The university I went to did their scheduling using these initials, which is where I picked it up. It made sense to me so I stuck with it.)
On the regular calendar, fill in the number of each day in the circles. Make sure you start on the correct day of the week.
Now that you’ve chosen your weekly or monthly calendar, let’s start filling in options.
If you’re planning breakfast and lunch, follow the exact same steps. I’m going to walk you through supper, as it typically has more variation than the other two meals. (Plus that would be a LOT of duplication to repeat it all for each of the three meal types!)
Look at your list of suppers… Specifically the meals you identified for nights you need a fast dinner. Slot those into the weekdays you need a quick meal. On the categorized weekly planner, write it into the “Meal” category. We’ll come back to the rest of the categories later.
If you’re planning a whole month, repeat the fast meals on the nights you need them in a rotation. (If you have three quick suppers on your list, and you need a quick supper once a week, you’ll have a 3 week rotation.)
For the remaining meals, jot them down in the calendar for the remaining days.
If you like, you can get a little “fancy” with your rotation if you’re planning a whole month… maybe you love pasta and want it every week, but hot dogs only once a month. Work meals in with your desired frequency by categorizing your meal list a little further.
Beside each main dish, note how frequently you prefer to prepare it (1/month,1/week, 2/month, etc).
If you’re having tacos every week, go slot that into taco night (Taco Tuesday is everyone’s favourite at my house).
If you’ve got 3 dishes that you want every second week, you can either opt for rotating every three weeks (week 1: pizza, week 2: pasta, week 3: chili, and repeat), or you can find a fourth dish to have every second week (week 1: pizza and pasta – on separate nights, of course, week 2: chili and sausages, and repeat).
Lots of options to work with.
Once you have those meals added to your schedule, fill in the holes with a rotation of the remaining dishes.
If you don’t always plan on leftovers for lunches, you’ll want to schedule a day for leftovers for supper every now and again.
If you’re using the categorized weekly planner, this is where you break down your meal into the component parts (protein, carb, fruit/veg).
For instance, if you’ve scheduled pasta, you will have already written “Pasta” under the “Meal” heading. Under the “Protein” heading, jot down what your protein is (ours is often ground meat, but sometimes sausages, lentils, or spinach). Write “Noodles” under “Carb”. Under the “Veg/Fruit” heading, write “sauce” (you can be more specific if you like). Once you finish, you’re done.
If you aren’t using the categorized weekly planner, go get a drink and relax, because you’re done. (The rest of us will join you momentarily.)
Relax, and reap the benefits of your not-so-hard work.
In the Meal Planning Package, I included a shopping list. Now that you’ve got a menu plan, it will be easy to go through the plan before you head to the grocery store to jot down everything you need.
If you keep it posted on your fridge, you can jot down things as you run out, as well. That way you won’t forget that you’ve run out of ketchup (or whatever it is for your family that always seems to be forgotten).
If you just don’t want to plan, or simply can’t find the bit of time needed to make a monthly plan, you can still find success with low-stress, lower shopping bills, and less time spent thinking about meals by subscribing to a nifty meal planning service.
The Dinner Daily is available to anyone in the USA, and is priced surprisingly reasonably. And for the low subscription fee, they create your meal plan for you – based on your eating preferences AND on based on the sales and online coupons available for the store you shop at.
They take the thinking out of menu planning and do it all for you with printable plans and shopping lists (including links to the coupons).
What’s on your plan for supper tonight?