Most people who are on some kind of grocery budget hate the idea of feeling like their paying too much at the store. It seems food prices keep climbing every time we go the grocery store to do our shopping, especially on basics such as milk, cheese, bread, fruits and vegetables. This fact probably won't change. However, the way we shop for groceries and how we plan our daily meals can change.
Here are some guidelines to dramatically reduce your food costs; help you plan your meals more efficiently; and just as important as saving money, save you daily stress and time! First, create a monthly calendar system in your kitchen. This can be a white board calendar, a printed or hand made calendar hung up on the wall or tack board, or a small calendar you keep in a daily planner. I keep a white board calendar hung up on the wall of my kitchen because I can easily erase each month, create a new one, and never buy a new calendar for each year. However, any kind of monthly calendar works.
What's important is that it fits your lifestyle and taste. Second, once you have your calendar in place look through your food pantry and refrigerator. With a piece of paper, write down all the meals you can make with what is currently in stock. They can be quick and easy meals, more involved, or a combination of the two as long as they make up an overall healthy diet. If you also think of meals that might require one or two extra ingredients from the store then just write down the ingredients you need on a separate grocery list. Later on, you should discover that you and your family will naturally eat healthier when meals are already planned out.
In addition, planned out meals dramatically cut down on the stress you feel in having to think up and create multiple meals in a given day. This is incredibly helpful for today's busy woman, no matter her circumstance. Third, take out your monthly calendar and start placing the meals from your list onto different days on your calendar. I would recommend planning no more than 2 weeks out at a time because daily and weekly schedules can change so rapidly. Also, when your weekly schedule changes you can switch meals around on your calendar as needed. You can allow further room for flexibility by including "eat out" days on your calendar.
I usually plan a couple of meals out each week, usually on nights when I know I am going to be extra busy or tired. Once you have scheduled meals from your list, fill in the rest of the calendar with meals you will need to buy ingredients to make. On your calendar you can choose to plan and schedule all three daily meals and even snacks, or stay a little simpler and just plan dinner meals for each night. Again, the important thing is that your meal plan fits your schedule and lifestyle so it can most effectively reduce your grocery budget and stress level.
Fourth, and this is where you will really see the savings, is to go shopping! Take your grocery list comprised of ingredients you need to complete all the meals that you've planned and go to your favorite grocery store to buy them. And, if you have a few extra minutes and want even more savings, look through your coupons and see if any apply to the ingredients on your list. Also, many stores, like Wal-Mart and other large chains, price match any competitor advertisements. So that means you can take your grocery advertisements from your Sunday newspaper and go to only one store and get all the great deals from all the other stores without the running around! By using the meal planning method explained above you should see a dramatic decrease in your spending at the grocery store.
By shopping for only the ingredients needed to complete meals that you've already planned you will have a definite plan of attack when entering the grocery store and therefore you will not be so inclined to buy more food and snacks than you really need. However, it is always good to stock up on regularly used items, especially when you can use coupons or price match. Use this method for a month and you will see the dramatic savings! You will also love not having to stress over what you're going to cook night after night and worry about what you have in the fridge or pantry.
You can relax, because you already know.
Kari Hoopes: Journalist, Developer of the Sweetly You Bath & Body product line, and editor of womens.yourbetterbuy.com