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Meal Planning is Annoying but Worth It

by Amanda on January 23, 2009
category: Feeding,Finances

supermarket.jpg Now that I am a stay-at-home-mom and I don’t generate a paycheck anymore, I feel like the way I contribute financially to my family is by managing the budget. The biggest budget items that I have control over is our Grocery and Dining spending.

Before I go to the grocery store I create a list, because I will completely forget it all while I am constantly trying to keep my toddler entertained and seated in the cart. To make my grocery list I first check the sale ads online. Then from there I think up 4 to 5 meals based on what is on sale, what we already have on hand, and what we feel like eating. Then I make sure that any ingredients I need are on the list.

My family works on a cash envelope system for groceries and it works. It gets filled twice a month and it is easy to see when we only have ten bucks to feed us for the next three days. Then I know we might be having breakfast for dinner one night. It also took us a couple of months of tracking where our money goes to determine what to set the monthly amount for our groceries.

I have recently discovered that there is a whole world of frugal mommies out there blogging about sales, what they spend, and how they create meals.  A few of these moms buy in bulk or stock up when things are on sale. They also buy meats on sale and freeze them. If what I need is on sale, then great, if not then I’ll live. I know I could be even more frugal and think ahead better, but I don’t know that I want to spend time thinking that far ahead.

Our cash system based around sales and cheap meals works for us.  What I want to know is how do you manage your grocery budget? Do you buy in bulk and stock up on sale items and is it working for you? Is it a lot of work? Do you stress over your grocery bill?

22 Responses to Meal Planning is Annoying but Worth It

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Katie
    January 23, 2009 @ 6:23 am

    I’m not sure that I actually manage the grocery budget very well. I do make sure that I have a specific list when I go shopping. But I like to buy a lot of fresh produce, so I’ll buy whatever is on sale if it looks good. I also try to make sure that I don’t buy too much because I found that sometimes we were wasting food. Now we don’t waste food, but produce is still pricey. I have noticed that the grocery bill is up 25% less when I make sure to bring a list. The other method that I use to save money is limiting take-out.

  • Comment by Dawn
    January 23, 2009 @ 9:54 am

    We always go over our grocery budget, every month. I think a cash evelope system is probably what we’ll have to do.

  • Comment by Amanda
    January 23, 2009 @ 10:55 am

    Katie – I am sure you do a great job! Even just making a list a huge step in the right direction. Yeah, I love fresh produce too, but I agree we sometimes waste it, when we don’t eat it right away.

    Dawn – Working in cash is great, because I feel more constrained to stay under budget at the store. I don’t want to get up to the register and not have enough money. I sometimes plan which big items I would ask to take back, if I happen to go over my limit. I just don’t want to be embarrassed by going over or having to have things taken off.

  • Comment by Amelia
    January 23, 2009 @ 12:11 pm

    We do meal planning and I usually plan a few vegetarian meals during the week that are also cheap to make. Beans and rice, beans and salad, lentils and rice with veggies etc. I have several goals in mind to reduce some of our expenses…making my own bread more often, eating oatmeal when the cereal runs out…

    We usually go over our grocery budget and I want to try the cash system too. Are your “household items” (cleaning supplies, diapers, sponges etc) included in your grocery budget or is it solo food?

    My thing is…what is a decent grocery grocery budget for a family of 5? Does anyone know? What is a frugal grocery budget and what is an abundant grocery budget?

    My meal planning usually consists of the following criteria:
    *easy to make

    We do a lot of frozen veggies so we don’t waste them. Other than fruit and salad supplies we don’t do a whole lotta other fresh produce.

    I love the idea of couponing but we don’t eat a lot of processed foods (which is what a lot of coupons seem like they are for) and I don’t want to buy several Sunday papers so I can stockpile the freebies you can get. I wish I could shadow someone who does that amazing couponing. One of my friends does it and she got $180 of groceries for $55. A lot of freebies. She has 5 kids and I have no idea how she manages to do all that grocery planning. Maybe I should ask her….

  • Comment by Dawn
    January 23, 2009 @ 12:51 pm

    Amelia, to answer your first question: our “grocery” budget is a catch all for all family needs. It includes cleaning supplies, soaps, toothpaste, tp, batteries, light bulbs, socks, dog food, diapers, even GAS for our cars. It’s all the same pool. That’s why it’s so easy for us to go over. There’s always a need for something.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Trina
    January 23, 2009 @ 1:27 pm

    Our grocery budget is most likely more than most. As a family we have decided to to go only organic. To afford this I have to make list/meals a head of time. I also try to go through my freezer a lot. I tend to forget everything I have on hand. When I buy in bulk I think I end up spending more, so for our family of 3 I go once a week and I have a set amount I am allowed to use. I use the cash system as well and leave my card at home so I am not tempted to use it.

    Also, I love fresh fruits and veggie but like all of you I was wasting so much. So I started the One fruit a week and 2 Veggies a week plan. That way I use what is on sale and we us it all up. It has also made me more creative ways to use the fresh veggies and fruits.

    I usually shop at whole foods where the Everyday Organic line I feel is not a bad price. If I stay to what is on sale that week and plan my meals around them we stay on budget.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Heidi
    January 23, 2009 @ 5:18 pm

    Jacob and I love to eat, I love to cook, we eat out rarely; therefore, we both agreed not to have a grocery budget when we were budgeting for everything else. I’ll typically do a large shopping run 2x/month, but like everyone else, always stop by the store every week for fresh produce and fruit. I find it unbearable (towards the end of my shopping trip) going grocery shopping with 2 kids in tow, so it is necessary for me to plan meals 2 weeks in advance. I spend less time at the grocery store as a result and only buy what’s on my list.

    What I do buy in bulk (mainly from Costco) are non-perishable food items that we consume alot of, as well as household/toiletry items. I typically wait until I receive my Costco coupons in the mail because then the prices are really cheap. Lately though I have been contemplating the idea of buying a food scale as well as a Food Saver machine so I can buy meats in bulk and freeze them. I’m just not sure whether it’s worth it.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Trina
    January 23, 2009 @ 6:55 pm

    @ Heidi- I have a food Savor and when I bought from Costco and took the time to use it was worth it. But, I would always forget what I had or forget to take out of the freezer so it was never worth. I was working at the time we did this. So I am planning to try using it again since I stay at home now and plan more. But it really did save a lot of time and money. I have seen the food savor bags at Walmart for super cheap!

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Amy
    January 23, 2009 @ 9:40 pm

    Check out http://www.homeeconomiser.com/index.html There are some great ideas for saving money on their site. We bought their book too – awesome! I highly recommend it. One thing our family does (family of 6) is buy in bulk and freeze a lot (especially when meat is on sale. You can also freeze milk if you pour off about 1 cup from the top so it doesn’t explode in the freezer. Just shake it up a few times during defrosting). Shop the sales, buy store brands, eat out less, stop buying junk food and soda (that’s a hard one for me :) ) I’ll also make double recipes and freeze the extra meal for when I don’t feel like cooking. We spend about $400 a month on groceries (gas is a separate line item, but cleaning supplies and toiletries go with groceries). Dawn, we should talk :-) I miss you!

  • Comment by Amanda
    January 23, 2009 @ 10:12 pm

    Amelia – Our grocery budget includes everything: all household cleaning supplies and baby supplies, some make-up, etc. We have a separate bucket for gas. I have no idea what a budget would be for a family of five. I think our grocery budget is pretty large. Food costs a lot. We’ve just come to terms that about 15% of our budget goes to household supplies and feeding our face.

    According to an older Larry Burkett book I have for newlyweds – you should spend 11% to 14% of your income on food, depending on the amount of your income.

    @Amy – I am simply AMAZED that you can feed a family of 6 on $400 a month!!! I am certainly going to check out the website and book. You have inspired me to lower our monthly grocery/dining budget!

  • Comment by Amanda
    January 23, 2009 @ 10:17 pm

    Awesome. My library has the book Amy recommended: “America’s cheapest family gets you right on the money : your guide to living better, spending less”

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Trina
    January 23, 2009 @ 11:46 pm

    @Amanda- Let me know what you think of the book. I am curious.

  • Comment by Sharon M
    January 24, 2009 @ 12:59 am

    I wish I could say we did something similar, but unfortunately, with currency exchange rates fluctuating all the time, it’s almost impossible. Last year, for example, the USD dropped from almost 4 shekels to the dollar to 3.25 (low point, sometime over the summer. It has been steadily increasing since then). I know that doesn’t sound like much, but when your salary is in USD, you suddenly have a decrease in purchase power of almost 20%! We ate a lot of beans and rice, and didn’t eat out much during that time :)

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Steph
    January 24, 2009 @ 1:46 am

    We’re working the debt snowball right now and also use the envelope system too. Have you tried FoodSupport? They partner with local grocery chains and offer $250 cards for groceries. You can find them at http://www.FoodSupport.org

  • Comment by Amelia
    January 24, 2009 @ 7:09 am

    I guess we spend about 450 a month on our family of 5. Not too bad but I would love to get it down to 400. That is about 25% of our income. But if you do the math our income is pretty small! $50 makes a big difference on such a small budget :)

    Gas is a separate deal for us. We do disposables at nighttime with the kids so there are a few paper products and since we shop at walmart for most of our big trips there are often other household goods included in that.

    I’m going to check out that website. I found the names of a few others to help save $$ but I haven’t looked at them yet. thefamilyhomestead.com newharvesthomestead.com budget101.com and I have heard about cooking once a month and how that can save money.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Amy
    January 24, 2009 @ 12:17 pm

    What’s changed our over-spending habits:
    1. Making a list of what we’ll spend with each paycheck (groceries, clothing, a lunch out, etc). Then we never overspend. If something comes up, we can budget for the next paycheck.
    2. Using cash for everything (no more credit cards!).
    3. Helping the meal-planning along with Dream Dinners. We love the way Dream Dinners has helped us plan our week, save time, and save $.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Wanda
    January 24, 2009 @ 6:39 pm

    I used to work hard and cut coupons and shop everywhere, but now I only buy what HEB has on sale and make it work for the week. If there is a really good sale on something we like, I might stock up a bit.
    There are only 3 of us, so I cook once and freeze half before serving it. I cut my budget in half by doing this. Before our leftovers would just go bad.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Jeanelle
    January 24, 2009 @ 8:20 pm

    I actually just recently developed my own three month “cookbook” complete with menus and shopping lists – I posted it on the blog, figuring others might benefit from it too. Anyway, I did it for all of those reasons. I found that I was spending more money and time at the store because I’d make short trips after deciding last minute what to make for dinner, meanwhile throwing things I didn’t need into the cart as well…Here’s the link if you’re interested…http://verwaynia.blogspot.com/2008/12/unveiling.html

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Heidi
    January 24, 2009 @ 9:15 pm

    @Trina – I’m glad someone has posted their experience with a Food Saver. I do happen to always check the inventory in our deep freezer, so I now think purchasing one would be beneficial to us.

    @Amanda – I always wondered what the average monthly bill would be to feed a family of 4, so I’m glad you gave the figures of 11%-14%. I thought our monthly grocery costs were high, but according to the figures from the book, we’re spending less than 10% of our income. Knowing that makes me feel better.

  • Comment by Dawn
    January 25, 2009 @ 7:58 pm

    I have really been inspired by all of your insights, everyone.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Rhonda
    January 25, 2009 @ 8:26 pm

    We definitely do meal planning (in fact, I even made a website with our meal planning—www.familymealplan.com). I match up my meal plan to the sale ads and coupons. I stock up on things if there is a really good sale and I have a coupon for it. Feeding a family of seven (including a couple of teens with big appetites) is pretty expensive, so I look for deals whenever possible!

  • Gravatar January 25, 2009 @ 11:10 pm

    [...] Friday I shared my grocery shopping philosophy and I wanted to know how you shopped and budgeted for groceries. We had a great discussion in the [...]

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