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One effective way to stay on top of your food budget is to plan your meals and then create a grocery list based on those meals. Whether you buy groceries once a week or once a month, having a list and sticking to it will keep your grocery costs as low as possible.
Begin by preparing a dinner menu. You can plan your meals around the meats which are on sale each week, or have themed meal days such as “Meatless Mondays” or “Taco Tuesdays”. You may already have food in your freezer that you can plan around. And don’t be afraid to incorporate leftovers. The main goal here is to have a plan.
It helps to have a good idea of the prices of grocery items if you’re trying to budget. You can check sales flyers, recent receipts, go online to store websites, or simply jot down the costs of items you purchase on a regular basis the next time you’re in the store. Keep this information handy when preparing your list.
Once you have your meals planned out and an idea of what the cost may be, it’s time to start building your list. Write down the ingredients needed for all main courses and sides; breakfast and lunch items; pet, paper or toiletry products; beverages; and any other items that may need replenishing. If you plan on shopping at multiple stores, write a list for each store (put them all on the same page in a notebook). If you have coupons, have them out and visible so they are not forgotten and sort them by store to make things easier while shopping.
Your list should consist of the items on your menu, things you buy every week, things you buy occasionally, and things you are running low on. If you work full-time, or have a lot of weekly activities that keep you busy outside the home, pick a store which will have the majority of the items you need in order to avoid having to shop at so many. However, if you’re following a strict budget, it may be more economical overall for you to go to several stores to take advantage of sales.
Here are twelve additional tips for easier meal planning:
1. Go “old school” and use a small notebook – Write your menu on one side of the notebook and what you need on the opposite page. This serves several purposes: 1) as a reference for what you’ll be eating all week, 2) as a list for shopping, and 3) as a reference for the future when you run out of ideas on what to cook. We offer a free and printable menu and shopping list just for signing up for our e-mail newsletter HERE.
2. Check your freezer, refrigerator, cabinets, and pantry for anything you can use in a meal – Knowing what you have available can save money and prevent you from purchasing duplicate items.
3. Scan weekly ads – Match ads with coupons which could get you a better deal on items you’re considering for your list. Check out our post on 8 Money-Saving Apps for even even more ways to save.
4. Plan for the number of days you know you will be eating from home – Knowing what you have on hand and what’s on sale will make this much easier.
5. Include some quick and easy meals – There are going to be days when you dread coming home to cook supper and days you will need something quick because of other activities. Knowing you have something quick to prepare will help you stay out of the drive-thru lane – thus saving you more money.
6. Make sure you include side dishes – Plan on having enough sides to get you through the week. Don’t know what to serve? Fresh or frozen vegetables are inexpensive and pair great with most meals.
7. Prepare ahead other meals – Don’t forget breakfasts, lunches, and snacks. It’s a good idea to prep these (as much as you possibly can) on Sundays to make weekday mornings much easier.
8. Beverages – Remember the milk, coffee, water, sodas, and juice.
9. Paper and toiletry items – If these are usually bought during your grocery trips, be sure to add them.
10. Pet items – Plan for pet food, treats, and litter should you need them.
11. List anything else needed – What are you running low on? List items you use often which need replenishing.
12. Take your list with you – If you don’t have a list, you’re more likely to overspend.
By following these simple suggestions, you should begin to see a noticeable decrease in your overall grocery spending. You can get my free Menu & Shopping List printable by signing up HERE.