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6 Steps to Planning Dinner & Saving Money

July 6, 2016
AUTHOR: Emilie
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I’m pretty budget-conscious and, frankly, I like it that way. I have financial goals and “eat more poptarts” is definitely not one of them. When I recently moved, I knew it the perfect chance to reset on some habits, including the fact that I didn’t meal plan before.

Don’t get me wrong: I was never frivolous when it came to my grocery spending, but I have been able to keep feeding myself at about $100 dollars, or even as low as $50. Now that we’d be shopping for two, something I’d never done before, and that we were on a strict grocery budget, something Casey had never done before, I knew this would be the perfect time for us to institute meal planning.

Even though, I had heard for years that “meal planning was the way to go” (and I now espouse the same to you), I had never actually seen it done before. You see, my parents never meal planned. In fact, we ate a lot of takeout (I’m sure contributing to my warped relationship with food and my adult obesity which you can read about here). Without an example to follow, I was a little unsure of how much people did: Do you just sketch out three chicken meals plus one fish? How many meals do you plan for? Do you include lunch on the weekends? What about the sales? Let me tell you: picking up a new habit is easier when you have an example to follow.

Now, a month into my new routine, I am happy to say that I feel really good about the system we’ve got in place. What I’m going to describe below is not necessarily the best way to meal plan, but it is what works best for us right now. If you’ve got a different system, be sure to share it in the comments!

Casey and I both work pretty demanding schedules during the week, so we go grocery shopping on the weekends. I try to go on Saturdays because everyone else seems to go on Sundays! I don’t particularly love being rush or cramped or dealing with angry parents with five kids running around while I’m just trying to find the right size cereal box on sale.

Step 1: Peruse the Circular

We shop at Food Lion primarily but are not afraid to also venture elsewhere for the right deals. We get our weekly circular (the handout with all the grocery sales) on Thursdays, which means that after dinner I sit down and go through the entire circular marking up the things that I think are at Buy Now prices. For example, whenever cereal drops below $2/box I always buy three or four! This is a particularly good strategy for non-perishables like cereal, rice, soup, and paper goods.

 

Step 2: Leave no money on the table

Next, I pay what I’ve compiled from the circular with the information from Living Rich with Coupons and Coupon Mom. Most people say they don’t have the time to coupon because it’s too time consuming. These two sites will point you directly to where you can print coupons that align with the sales they are mentioning. It takes very little work but can have a huge return, especially when you get the chance to save extra money on something you were going to buy anyway. Here’s the trick: do not buy something just because it’s on sale or you might need it some day. If you wouldn’t have bought it in the next two weeks anyway, don’t buy it.

Next, I like to give Coupons.com a quick peruse before coming back to the Food Lion site where I load up their digital coupons. Here I load up any digital that I might want, even if it’s something that I won’t need this week because the digitals might not align with the sales.

 

Step 3: Shop at home

Now that I know what I’m going to be getting at the grocery store, I have a better sense of what will be in the house going into the following week. This lets me plan out actual dinner meals. I use my meal planner, like this one, to map out our dinner for the week, consulting our calendar to see if there’s anything special going on that might affect our dinners. This is where I compose our entire menu and last week it looked like this.

 

Day Meal Need
Monday Fajitas (tortillas, steak, peppers, cheese, corn) Peppers
Tuesday Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
Wednesday Salsa Chicken with Mashed Potatoes
Thursday Salmon with Rice and Corn
Friday Casey on his own (Emilie in Charlotte)
Saturday Casey on his own (Emilie in Charlotte)
Sunday Casey on his own (Emilie in Charlotte)

The only thing I needed from the grocery store for dinner that week: Peppers.

 

Step 4: Revisit your grocery list

Since I only needed Peppers for dinner, I wanted to go back to my grocery list to make sure that I wasn’t buying anything we didn’t actually need from the store. After revisting my list, I was able to cross off things that looked good but we didn’t really need, like Eastern Peaches that were kinda on sale, but not on a huge sale, especially considering I was going to be out of town for three of the seven days and I also wanted Blueberries, Grapes, and Roma Tomatoes which were all on better sales.

 

Step 5: Take your pen and list to the grocery store with you

I start any trip to the store by only walking the outside of the store. This is usually where the produce, meat, and dairy items are, so this will help me get most of my groceries. Then I only go into aisles where there are things I actually need. This helps me stay to the list and avoid getting things because they’re on sale or shiny or I want it or whatever other excuse will come to mind! Crossing things off gives me the satisfaction of know I haven’t forgotten anything. It also gives me the chance to keep a running total as I add things to my cart.

 

Step 6: Enjoy your groceries!

You did it! You meal planned and grocery shopped around your meal plan!

Last tip: I use Flipp to keep a running track of groceries as things run out or come to mind. I strongly reccomend!

Next week, I’ll be sharing how to get money back after you’ve already spent it on the groceries over on Burke Does. Crazy idea, right? Make sure to subscribe to my email list here to get all the details!

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Emilie is a data engineer by day and lifestyle blogger by night. A Jersey girl at heart, she is currently living in her fifth home in three years, Savannah, GA with her college sweetheart. She’s learned the hard way that home is wherever the Army sends them. She enjoys eating food, cuddling with her dog, and binge watching HGTV.