photo by jen maiser
Guest Post by Karen
It’s a popular refrain sung by all who would be truly frugal: “If you want to save money, you must menu-plan!” There’s no getting around it—it does require thought and… well, planning. But like any discipline, it’s well worth the effort!
If you’ve been following MoneySavingMom for any length of time, then you probably already understand the “why’s” for menu-planning. Nevertheless, a little review never hurts!
Some of the perks of a menu plan:
1. You save yourself a daily headache by knowing in advance what’s for dinner (truthfully, the biggest draw for me!).
2. You give your budget a break from all the “pick-up-a-few-things” stops at the grocer or convenience store.
3. You save time and money at the grocer when you do go shopping, because you’ve got a plan!
4. You spend far less dining out or picking up takeout.
We’re probably all in the same boat as to the “why” of menu-planning. But surely some of us simply haven’t a clue as to the “how.” Do I get stuff on sale and make a menu from that? Use what I have and shop for the rest? Plan my menu and then shop?
It can be overwhelming at first, for sure! Everyone approaches it differently; what works for me may not work for you.
However, I’ve experimented and played around over the years, and here’s what I currently do:
1) Take inventory of existing food items. This is my first priority—using what I already have (another hard-and-fast frugal rule!). This includes any meats, beverages, dessert items, everything. I try to come up with meals that I could put together with what I already have and I’m always surprised at how far my pantry actually stretches!
2) While I’m completing step 1, I also make a note of what meals I could make, if only I had _____________. Many times, I lack something very inexpensive, such as a can of cream soup, or a stick of margarine. I jot those items down, and my grocery list is underway!
3) Check and compare sale fliers and coupons. I shop at only two grocery stores now; I found I was spending what little I saved on gas for all the trips! Plus, I have 2 small kiddos. I’d swap a couple dollars for time and energy any day!
Often, the sale ads jog my memory about a coupon I have stashed or a favorite meal I’ve forgotten about. And I try to ask the hubby whether there’s something special he’d like to eat that week. He appreciates that, and he’s usually ready with an answer!
4) Once I’ve got 10-12 meals written down, I slot them into my calendar. For me, this takes up the most time, but I’ve found it to be incredibly helpful. I use a whiteboard, and I plan meals according to the specific days’ events.
For example, my husband is home for dinner only three days per week, so I plan the nicest meals for those evenings. Wednesday night is a church night, which means planning something quick and easy. On Sundays we uphold a
time-honored family tradition: Nacho Night! And I always designate one night as “Leftover Smorgasbord Night.” This practice also helps to achieve variety; no one wants rice three nights in a row!
In addition, planning out my meals forces me to be a good steward with what I have. If I don’t plan carefully, my 3-pound bag of salad greens that was on sale will certainly wilt and rot, wasting money! Instead, I’ll plan a nice big dinner salad
(with chicken, per the husband’s request!) for Tuesday, spaghetti and
a side salad for Wednesday, and then I’ll have a sandwich and salad
for lunch on Thursday.
5) After double-checking the menu plan and grocery list, making sure nothing has been forgotten, it is time for The Big Shop. I make sure I’ve got my shopping list, any related coupons, and a full belly. (Really! You’ll spend less if you’re not ravenous!)
I feel good about grocery shopping when I’ve thought through my menu intelligently. And the best part? No more feelings of panic or
frustration when the husband asks, “What’s on the menu tonight?”
When she’s not fussing over her 2 sweet girlies (and when is that, exactly?), Karen writes about a little of everything at www.karens2cents.blogspot.com.