When my husband decided to go back to school, our family income was drastically cut. Desperately, I tried to find ways to save money. One area I felt that I had complete control over was our grocery budget, so hesitantly I decided to cut it by more than half (telling myself it was okay if it didn’t work out). I had heard a lot about and even attempted couponing, but it never worked for me. Honestly, I just didn’t have the time to commit to clipping coupons and researching the best deals. However, what did work for my family and me was meal planning!
Meal planning helped our family to go from spending $250 a week on groceries to spending $250-$350 a MONTH on groceries! When I first began meal planning, it seemed impossible! Not only did I find it overwhelming, but it was super intimidating. Now, however, I have found that it not only saves me time and money, but it also minimizes my stress. And THAT keeps everyone happy!
Here are some ideas that have worked for our family:
Having a Meal Planning Calendar
I have a dry erase magnetic board on my refrigerator. Not only do we have weekly plans on there, but I keep our dinners on there as well. After trying several different options for meal planning (a day planner and meal list), I have found this works best for me. If the husband decides he doesn’t want chicken one night or I am running low on time, I can simply erase the chicken meal and swap it with an easier one from another night of the week.
This gives me the ability to make many items from scratch and have frozen meals on hand. Things like pancakes and muffins are super easy to make ahead of time and plan for breakfast. Brownies, mashed potatoes, and some breads are pretty easy to make from scratch and can save you money as well. Let’s be real, there will be days where we, as moms, just don’t have the energy or time to cook dinner. I always have a frozen meal available as an option. Now sometimes, a Chick Fila run is necessary and imperative, but for the days you want a home cooked meal without the work, you’ll have it!
Buying Meat on Sale
Since meat usually goes on sale at the same time, I buy it in bulk when we can afford it. This is usually our largest bill of the month (runs us about $90-$100). We will buy a big bag of chicken breast, some hamburger meat, a large pack of chicken legs, and maybe a roast along with our groceries.
Using What Is in My Pantry
Okay, y’all, THIS was the hardest thing for me to do! I used to buy what sounded good when I grocery shopped and then cook what sounded good. So it never failed that I would have A LOT in my pantry that sounded good but just not “as good” as something else. Now, when I write out my grocery list, I compare it with what I can use in my pantry. I strive to never allow my pantry to become cluttered to the point I can’t see what is in it. Because let’s be real . . . we don’t use what we can’t see!
Cooking in Bulk
The thought of bulk cooking used to Freak. Me. Out. I mean, who has time for that? It sounds super intimidating and VERY time consuming. But in reality, it isn’t. I promise. I cook shredded chicken, spaghetti sauce, and chili (but not when it’s 104 degrees outside) in bulk often. I will boil a huge pot of chicken breasts and shred them. During the week, I will use the chicken for chicken quesadillas, chicken and rice soup, bbq chicken sandwiches, chicken tacos, chicken casserole, etc. We love chicken (in case you can’t tell). I usually freeze half, cook with some that night, and refrigerate the
rest for another dish that week. Leftover spaghetti sauce is perfect for making homemade pizza in the same week, or you can freeze it for spaghetti another week. I also make a huge fruit salad every Monday to last us that week. I buy whatever fruits are on sale, cut them up, and mix them together but save some to replenish on Wednesday. It makes a great breakfast, side dish, or healthy dessert!
Keeping the New Recipes to a Minimum
I know, I know . . . where’s the fun in that? But while making new recipes is super fun, it is also time consuming and expensive. Don’t toss the new recipes just yet! I still make a new recipe once every week or two. I also strive to find one that only requires 1-2 “extra” ingredients that we don’t normally use.
In case you haven’t noticed, I am a huge meal planning advocate because, in the end, it saves our family a lot of money. Some of my go-to meal ideas that don’t break the bank and I haven’t mentioned are BLTs, sausage casserole, chicken pasta, baked chicken, beef tacos, beef stew and veggies. I know meal planning can be super intimidating at first, but, dear mom, you got this!