Every week in 2013, I’ll be sharing a different way you can save $100 this year. If you do all of these things, you’ll be able to save over $5,000 this year alone! Many of these things will likely be things you’re already doing, but hopefully all of you will pick up at least a few new ideas or some inspiration from this series.
Menu Planning Saves You Stress and Frustration
Do you dread 5 p.m. because it’s when you have to try to pull something together for dinner or feel guilty about ordering takeout yet again? Do you often find yourself running to the store at the last-minute in a frazzled state rushing through the aisles and throwing random things into your cart in hopes it will magically create a five-course dinner?
The truth is, you could throw away the 5 p.m. dread and almost completely eradicate the frazzled last-minute grocery store trips if you sat down at the beginning of the week and made a menu plan.
Menu Planning Saves You Money
I can’t even begin to calculate how much we’ve saved over the years through the simple act of menu planning.
By planning ahead and buying all the groceries we’ll need for the week in one shopping trip, we save numerous trips to the store throughout the week. In addition, when you have a plan in place for what you’re supposed to be eating each meal and you’ve already purchased the ingredients for those recipes, it’s a lot harder to justify chucking the plan for takeout.
There’s No Perfect Way to Menu Plan
Everyone is going to plan their menu a little bit differently — and that’s perfectly okay! What matters is that you do it, and that it works for your family.
For the record, I’ve tried multiple menu-planning methods. Some have worked better than others and some have worked better for us in certain seasons than in other seasons.
Free printable Weekly Meal Planner from Gifts We Use
My Current Menu-Planning “Method”
I always start by planning my menu around what I have on hand and what’s on sale at the store. I’ve found that freezer cooking definitely makes menu planning easier since it means you have meals already in the freezer ready to go.
I also keep a running list of Recipes I Want to Try on a Pinterest Board. I always consult this when making our weekly menu plan to get some fresh ideas and inspiration.
Finally, I add in things that I know I can get inexpensively — either at Aldi or elsewhere. I’m so thankful we have the luxury of having an Aldi close by!
There are times when my cupboards and freezers are pretty bare and it seems the sales are sparse. If that’s the case, I see how much grocery money I have to work with, and I usually pull out some cookbooks to get the wheels in my head going. Or I’ll go to some of my favorite food blogs for ideas. (You can also check out Menu Plan Monday for a plethora of menu ideas from around the blogosphere.)
We keep our meals simple around here, so that makes menu-planning a lot easier. I also pretty much never follow the menu plan to a tee — I’ll usually shuffle some things around, nix a recipe or two for lack of time or because I discovered another recipe that I think will work better.
Find a Method That Works For You
You might find it helpful to take 30 minutes and make a list of 30 meals your family loves to serve as inspiration if you’re ever feeling a lack of creativity while menu-planning.
Or, you could have pre-established themes for dinners each week. Tsh, over at SimpleMom, does this and here’s an example of what her Themed Menu Plan has looked like:
Mondays – pasta
Tuesdays – soup, salad, and/or sandwiches
Wednesdays – stir fry
Thursdays – crock pot
Fridays – pizza
Saturdays – something new
Sundays – something easy
Jenna from the Newlyweds blog left a comment sharing how she plans her menus:
I try to plan two meals around items I already have at home in the pantry or freezer, and then plan some meals based on what’s on sale, and some based on what we would like to eat. I keep my plan flexible and allow for anything that will pop up. I also like to keep items on hand all the time for a few quick meals like taco soup and spaghetti. This way, if some comes up, I can whip these up in a jiffy. -Jenna @ Newlyweds
It might seem like a daunting task at first — especially if this is all new to you! — but don’t be overwhelmed. Do the best you can do and remember that it’s never going to be absolutely perfect. Over time, though, you’ll likely begin to realize significant savings just by taking a few extra steps and putting the effort forth to make a plan.
Free Menu Planning Worksheet and Grocery Shopping Lists
To aid you in your menu-planning and grocery-list-making, Joy from FiveJ’s and I put together some free downloads for you. (By the way, Joy put together a snazzy free downloads page here so you can access all the free downloads we currently have available. Enjoy!)
Meal Planning Worksheet :: This brainstorming form contains spaces to write down store deals, coupons, items on hand, and recipes that can be made from those items.
Shopping List :: Contains space for the items to purchase, the cost of the item, whether there is a coupon for it, and how much the coupon is for. Also includes a space for notes where you can record extra information about your shopping trip.
Two-Store Shopping List :: Two separate shopping lists on one page, each of which includes space for the items to purchase, the cost of the item, and whether there is a coupon for it. Also includes a space for notes where you can record extra information about your shopping trip.
Psst! If you don’t have the time or energy to mess with planning a menu, but you really would like to benefit from the organization and cost-savings of having a menu plan, I’d recommend checking out eMeals.