Part 2 of this guide focuses on planning your shopping and meals. This part of saving money took me a long time to finally implement. I just didn't want to take the time but once I did, it actually saves time by not running back tot he store for needed items. And studies show that a grocery plan can save you up to 50% of your grocery money!Go over your inventory of food before grocery shopping and make a list of needed items to match your recipe plans. The more carefully you plan, the more you will save on your grocery bill. Stick to your list but leave $20-40 dollars in your budget for items that are greatly reduced. Stores may have promotions that are not advertised. But only buy sale items that you can use. Canned peas for $.15 a can is great but not if your family won’t eat canned peas. Still, carefully evaluate the items. Your family may not like canned peas but they can be pureed and added to vegetable soup for great flavor and your family will never know why the soup is so delicious
When making your meal plan (two weeks is good to start with unless you are experienced in planning for a month), determine how items may be used in another meal. Also check the sale flyers and your coupons. If pork roast is on sale for a good price but you know your family will not finish a whole roast, plan to thinly slice the rest and heat up with BBQ sauce for sandwiches a few days later. Use the rest of the bottle of BBQ sauce for chicken the next week.
You may want to spend some time thinking and researching recipes for your meal plans. Look through cookbooks or search the huge databases on the internet. If you don't own any cookbooks, check a few out at your library and scan the pages of recipes you like. I like the recipes in certain magazines too and will often cut these out for my recipe box. Look for recipes that are labeled or appear to use low cost items. Recipes with a big list of ingredients are probably not going to be cost-effective. Buying unusual spices you may not ever use again is a waste. Only do this for a meal for a special occassion. Include family favorites in your recipe box. If you know the recipe by heart, just write on a card the name of the recipe.
It won't take long before you have several months worth of recipes. Look these over to see how you can coordinate recipes to match ingredients you will be purchasing. This takes some experience to do quickly but once you have planned weeks worth of meals, you can use these plans over and over by rotating them. It will also make your grocery list easier for you to plan if you save your list. If you have some computer expertise, you may want to enter your plans and lists on the computer and print them as needed. However, writing them out and storing them in a recipe box or binder works just as well.
First, make a list of sale items that are an excellent price and the coupons you have. Or cricle the ads and arrange your coupons by categories. Then make another list or table numbered 1-14 with each day divided into 3 sections for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you can find a large desk calendar cheap, this works well. Start filling in the days with meals based on the sale items or coupons you have, and mark down next to the meal if you need to use a specific recipe. You may have to refer to your recipes while doing this to get ideas for meals. Look to see if leftovers can be used in another meal a few days later and fill those in. As you fill in your meals, add the items you need to buy on your grocery list. Your grocery list should be divided into sections such as produce, dairy, meat, etc. You can make a template on your computer and print it out or type it in while you're working your plan. Or you can handwrite it.
Once the meals are planned, you can add other items you need or are on sale and will be used at some point. Along with soaps, detergents, paper products, pet food, milk, eggs, bread, etc, make sure you include a few items for on-the-go meals and snacks. Keep snack items to a minimum and stick to your list.
Some items you may want to include for super quick meals:
- Canned soups
- Hot dogs
- Lunch meats
- Canned tuna
- Peanut butter
- Pasta and sauce
You can probably think of more items based on your likes but try not to buy frozen dinners or packaged meals as much as possible. They cost much more and most don't have the nutrtional value as foods you prepare yourself. I admit it is so tempting to just stop at a fast food restaurant when rushed but keep these visits to a minimum. Sometimes they have excellent sales or coupons so use those nights for an occassional treat. Or use those restaurants when you don't feel well or are so exhausted you can't face fixing a meal. While saving money, you can eat healthier too.
If you have children, they often come home from school “starving”. Apples, bananas, oranges or other fruits, carrot and celery slices with ranch dressing dip, peanut butter on crackers, pretzel sticks with a few cubes of cheese, etc, are healthy, and usually enough to hold appetites until dinner. Make sure they have plenty of water and juice to drink. Soda has no nutritional value and can make them thirstier due to the sugar. Even 100% juices have sugar also. Pour the juice into a pitcher and add some water to dilute it. It will still be tasty but you'll cut the sugar and also get more.
Most children do not get enough to drink during school hours and thirst can mimic hunger pains. Sometimes, a glass of milk or juice is all they need. If they seem particularly hungry, a small bowl of cereal is good or a half of a peanut and butter and jelly sandwich. Kids will drink more water if you fill a glass with ice cubes, add a spoon of grenadine syrup and a slice of orange. They’ll think they have a very fancy drink and forget that it is water. Eating the orange slice will add nutrition and you can save the rest of the orange for a later snack…or more water. If your kids insist they need soda, try the carbonated flavored waters. Discount stores have these at a cheaper price than soda. You may have to try a few to see which ones your children like. I've found some flavors such as raspberry to be somewhat bitter.
Keep snack items such as chips, cookies, microwave popcorn, ice cream, and candy to a bare minimum. These should be treats and not every day snacks. They’re not healthy but they also are more costly. Sugar-free popsicles and homemade frozen juice “sticks” are low cost and will oftentimes satisfy a child’s need for a treat. As a bonus, they don’t contain the amounts of sugar, fat and salt as other treats.
I have never liked the idea of running to several stores to buy items on sale. This is an individual choice and you may want to do this. I stick with one store that has consistent good prices and then only shop at the dollar store for other items. The only time I will go to another store is if the sale is too good to be missed. For instance, one store that usually has higher prices, had crab legs on sale for $3.99 a pound. This was too good to be missed. I bought 3 pounds and used them for 3 different meals. This took some adjusting in the meal plan but this is not meant to be completely rigid. Saving money while eating good is the main goal.
Planning your meals and shopping will also reduce your stress. Knowing you have the day's meals planned and have the ingredients you need will take a load off your mind. I still have trouble at times remembering to take the next day's meat out of the freezer but there's always microwave defrosting.