Tip 1: Meal Planning
Caveman and I spent, oh, let's just say A LOT, of money on unplanned meals when we first started out. You would not believe how much McDonald's we had! The poor guy at the drive thru started to recognize us. When we realized that we couldn't afford to do that forever, we started going to the store when we were hungry to find things to make; usually mac and cheese or pasta (cheap, easy and so very unhealthy!). In the process, we would wind up finding 10 other things to spend twice as much on. Surprise, surprise! That didn't work for us either. We discovered that meal planning would not only help us shop better, but save money too.
There are different ways you can go about meal planning. You can try to plan out a whole months’ worth of meals, or you can take a smaller approach, like one week at a time. Theoretically, the farther you plan out, the more money you'll save, but I find that to be a little unrealistic.
I personally prefer to do every two weeks; that’s when the paychecks come in. As you can see by the pictures (yes, I’m a pen and paper kind of girl), I keep my plans in a note book. Yes, I have lost the notebook, on many occasions, and always start in another. I do try to keep it in a specific drawer, in the kitchen, but sometimes it gets forgotten in the car, or "misplaced" on Goomba's desk.
In that drawer, I also keep a binder full of recipes my family likes. It’s not too detailed; it has less than 25 meals, but it keeps me from drawing a blank.
Before I write my list, I check my freezer (to see what’s left in there) and then local sales flyers (I do this step online). Try to keep an idea of prices so you know what is a good sale. That will definitely take time, and experience. You will probably make mistakes, but it’s ok. Some people (not me) keep a running price lists. I find that incredibly tedious, but it would make for the best prices. If you would like to know how to do that, check out this link.
Once I’ve checked the local flyers and my current inventory, I start my meal plan. First, I like to make notes on things that may affect what I can make that day; the first day of school, or a Pledgies meeting. Then I whip out my binder with the favorite recipes and choose away. First priority goes to recipes that include main ingredients I already have on hand, then, to things on sale. Finally, I fill in the blanks, and then make my shopping list.
I typically only list dinners for each day. The reason is twofold. My lists tend to be more a guideline, and I find Caveman and Goomba like being more “free-range” when it comes to breakfast and lunch. In fact, Caveman doesn’t usually breakfast. I have, in the past, planned out exactly what we will have and when, with disastrous results. I would say, beginners, go for it. I personally like to keep a running list of lunch/breakfast ideas, and keep the items on hand.
Another thing I do that really helps keep me from running to the store often is a "needed" list. We have a white board on the fridge where we write down anything we will need as soon, or have run out of. It keeps me from having to remember two weeks’ worth of needs.
Kita , Caveman, Goomba, Gummy Bear and Peanut are native New Englanders, who are working to live more self sufficient and sustainable lifestyle.