Mommy Confessions: Meal Planning and Grocery Shopping

To start off this post, I want to say that I don't consider myself an expert in saving money... I have made a lot of mistakes with budgeting in the past but when we moved a couple of months ago we decided to get REAL serious about getting out of some debt and spending our money more wisely. So this post is about some of the changes we've made recently that really seem to be helping us!


When I was a kid my parents did an amazing job teaching me about the value of a dollar, budgeting, and responsible spending!  I've done ok implementing their teaching as an adult but I want to do much better.  The budgets I've used in the past have always used monthly increments.  That works well when you pay something monthly like a car payment or a mortage etc but not as well for groceries and other expenses where you draw from that category of your budget more than once a month.  In other words, very easy to spend the month's money WAY before the month is over.  I found this blog post several weeks ago and decided to give it a shot.  You can find it here.  The Fun, Cheap, or Free Queen does a great job at explaining what she does so I'm not going to go into that here.  We have been doing the same thing for the last 5 weeks.




We are even using the same numbers for food and other.  We are using those numbers to keep our budget tight and spending a heavy amount of money on debt for the next several months.  I will admit that I thought the $100 would be impossible!  Especially since we recently moved from Kentucky where there is no food tax and the sticker shock on food was a killer at first when we moved to good ol' rocky top!  We plan to ease this up a little bit come summer (but not much).  By then, we will have a major debt paid off and will have a significant amount of monthly money freed up for other debts and to have a little more flexibility.


So, in addition to using the weekly budget amounts like this, I have also started a strategic method for creating weekly meal plans and grocery lists.  I create a plan for an entire month of dinners.  I know that sounds crazy but this allows you to do some great things like plan for nights you know you'll be out or busy, plan to use ingredients more than once a month, and plan grocery lists for a month.  I shop weekly but having a start to my list knowing all my dinner ingredients are accounted for is really helpful.  Then I just add weekly items like milk, bread, juices, lunch items, and cleaning or paper items we need to replinish. 


This is November's week 4 list. 



This month I started using this dry erase board hanging in my kitchen for planning the menu.  I hope you can read that.  I use that list space to the side to jot down things I need to add to my weekly list, like when when run out of orange juice or aluminum foil like we did this week.



Here is closer view.  Hopefully, you can see what I've written.  I really need to find a thinner dry erase marker!  Of course, I have to account for some major allergies so keep that in mind when you look at this.  We only have a few things we all eat so you'll see those repeated often, like pizza, pancakes or waffles, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and grilled cheese. 




This was October's menu.  If you notice I repeat some meals every week and others every other week.  For example, you'll see tacos twice in the month.  I make them a little different each time but I use some of the same ingredients so when I buy rice, frozen corn, and shredded cheese the first time, I have those ingredients already for the second time in the month.


Ok, so how to I plan this menu?  First I go through my cupboards...



I write down everything I can use for a meal.  Then I go through the fridge and freezers (we also have a deep freeze).  I write down all the items there and star items I need to use soon.  This is also a great opportnity to throw out expired food or get rid of old leftovers, you know clean out the fridge!  Then I sit down with my lists and write down the meals.  I write down days I know we are eating elsewhere first, like church potlucks or family meals etc.  I also include 2 nights of eating out.  I usually choose busy nights of the week or a night where we've been really busy for the few days prior trying to anticipate nights I won't feel like cooking.  When I decide on meals, I include items we have already in meals and cross them off the lists as I go.  The meals I choose are meals we eat all the time as well as new recipes I find on Pinterest or in cookbooks. 



(A quick note on leftovers... we eat them for lunch and if there are a lot of them, we have a "raid the fridge night".  We pull out all the leftovers and eat a strange combination of foods to use them up.  This really helps!  My hubby was not always a good leftover eater but after 9 years I've made him a believer!  We couple our leftovers with chips or fresh fruit to freshen them up a bit.  We don't always eat them all.  I have a piece of pizza in my fridge right now I need to throw away! ::grin::)


No judgement here on what type of meals you plan!  We have our own struggles with meals because of allergies so we make it work.  We use a combination of fresh and frozen items.  Some meals are healthier than others.  Some are made with more items from scratch and some our from a box so do what works for you.  This planning works for me because we use items we have and things don't sit in in the cupboard or freezer for months going unused.  I also only buy what I need and not just random stuff that looks good in the moment.





Just wanted to show you a real receipt to prove this is working.  This is groceries and other items.  I put all the groceries on the belt first and have the cashier total it for me before they add the other items.  I write down the total on my envelope and then I can do some quick subtraction to get a total for the other items.  The grocery total for this recipt was $62.80! AWESOME!  This is a Wal-Mart receipt.  I understand people have their favorite place to shop.  That's up to you.  I also go to Sav-a-Lot some weeks.  I can't get everything we use there and we live in a REALLY small town!  There are only a few options and Wal-Mart is one of the least expensive, plus they price match! 


I am not an extreme couponer like you see on TLC.  I just started using coupons.  I joined Sav-a-Lot's email list and they send out a $5 off $25 coupon monthly. (I think it's monthly, so far I have received 2)  I also go on Wal-Mart's website and print their coupons.  They are really easy to do!  I like easy!  The only other coupons I use are the ones Kroger sends me in the mail.  You can use the Kroger ones at Wal-Mart!  The closest Kroger is 25 minutes away so we don't get there much.  Being able to use those coupons at Wal-Mart is awesome.  I do have to go to Kroger for some things we can't get at Wal-Mart like some of the lunch items I buy for my son who is allergic to soy.


Let me know if you have any other tips!  (Soon I'm going to have my hubby guest post on the methos he uses to arrange my list for me.  It really helps make for a shorter grocery trip.  It keeps me out of isles I don't need to travel down and therefore keeps me from buying things that aren't on the list!)  I'm not new to meal planning but this new combination of things is really working for us!


And for the crafty part of this post....



This is my weekly meal chart that hangs in my kitchen.  It's great for a quick glance of what's on the docket for this week only.  I used a Norman Rockwell poster I already had (love Norman Rockwell) and painted on the days of the week and the title.  I used where's the beef since it's the only meat to which we are all not allergic (of course my daughter won't eat it yet but whatever).  Then I framed the poster and I use a window crayon to write on the board.  You could use dry erase markers but I like the thicker look of the crayons with the print I used in the background.  Art and functionality are friends!



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