*This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own.
Before we became parents, we ate out at restaurants a lot…like several nights a week. Not only is that more difficult with a baby in tow, but babies aren’t cheap…we needed to make a lifestyle change and start eating at home every night instead to save some money.
While I was still working outside the home, our “grocery shopping” consisted of one of us running into the grocery store after work and buying whatever we needed for dinner that night. While it may feel like this doesn’t cost any more, these five or six quick shops every week without any prior planning added up to a lot more than was necessary.
While we still don’t have a very elaborate or fancy system, we have begun planning out our entire week’s worth of meals each Sunday before we go grocery shopping. Having a plan that outlines what we will be cooking, paired with a list before we even set foot in the store has helped us reduce our grocery bill to $100 or under each week.
It’s very easy to get stuck in a rut and make the same seven meals each week. One thing I recommend doing before you begin meal planning is to make yourself a master list of all the meals your family enjoys. This isn’t to say you are restricted to only choosing from this list — it’s still fun to get creative and try new things from Pinterest now and again — but having a list of things to choose from will help jog your memory when you are choosing your seven dinner options. I was surprised that I was able to easily come up with around 40 ideas for our list. We are much more able to rotate our favorites and switch it up when we can see that many options. You can type this up and save it on your computer, or print it out and tape it to the refrigerator for easy reference.
I have also found that I like to bring the actual menu into the store with us as well as the grocery list. By having the meals listed in front of me, it’s easier to make sure we are buying everything we need if by chance we left something off the list.
I am someone who likes to write things down with a pen and paper. (I’m more than a little obsessed with checklists and to-do lists.) Some people may prefer to keep lists on their phone, and that’s fine too. But if you’re like me and like to physically write things out, I whipped up a little free printable meal planner and grocery list for you to use!
(*Bonus tip: Laminate the planner or throw it in a frame and use a dry erase marker to reuse the same one over and over.)
I’ll be honest, I’m not a coupon shopper. Every time I receive a coupon with a receipt or clip a coupon from the newspaper, I end up forgetting it at home when we go grocery shopping, and then it ends up expiring before it gets used. If you enjoy cutting coupons (or even extreme couponing) more power to you! I admire you for doing it, and it’s a fantastic way to save money, it just doesn’t seem to work for us. I do, however, have a few other tricks that help us save money beyond just planning ahead.
I may not use paper coupons, but we do like to pay attention to what items are on sale each week. If there is a great sale on pork chops for example, we’ll buy a larger package and use our FoodSaver sealer to pack them up for the freezer. Having a stock of meat or other staple pantry items allows you to not only take advantage of sales, but it helps plan future weeks if you know you have options already in the house that you don’t need to buy.
While we don’t do it every week, we occasionally glance through the sale flyers to check ahead of time if there are any outstanding sales that help us decide on our menu. If a certain protein or produce item is cheaper than normal, you can build meal ideas around that to maximize your budget.
I also recently started using the Ibotta app while we shop. Once you download this on your smart phone, you can receive cash-back on in-store or mobile purchases using receipt or purchase verifications. The reason I like this app is because I can either scroll through on our way to the store and see what items are eligible that week for rebates, or I can look up specific items while we’re in the store.
The process for receiving rebates can vary based on the store you are in. For example, we generally shop at Hannaford, so we select the items we plan to purchase, and then have the cashier scan our My Hannaford number in the app. Within a few days, I receive a notification that we’ve received rebates for the items. Other stores require you to submit photos of the receipt, but it’s super easy to do. Within the first couple weeks of using the app, I had already racked up nearly $30 in rebates. You can redeem the rebates for gift cards to restaurants or other stores, or you can have it deposited right into your PayPal account as cash!
If you sign up through my referral link below, you’ll be eligible for a $10 welcome bonus once you redeem your first rebate! (I’ll receive an incentive as well for referring you, but I promise you, this app is totally worth the little time it takes to use! Otherwise I wouldn’t recommend it!)
With only two adults and a one year old in the house, another problem we fell into when we didn’t plan was wasting food. Creating a menu allows us to see ahead of time how we will make full use of the food we buy. For example, in the meal plan above: if we use sandwich or pretzel rolls for burgers, they can also be used for rotisserie chicken sandwiches. The tortillas, seasonings, and sour cream we buy for tacos can be used again at the end of the week for quesadillas. And the rotisserie chicken that we buy on Friday — this gets bought the day-of, of course — can be shredded up and used in the chicken quesadillas. This in turn eliminates waste and saves money!
Things happen, plans change, and sometimes we just don’t feel like making whatever is on the list. That’s ok. We often have a frozen pizza or something similarly simple on hand for nights like those. But having some sort of structure and plan will go a long way. Having a plan before you go to the store eliminates the “eh, this looks sort of good” moments in the aisles, and having an idea of what you’ll be cooking throughout the week eliminates the scramble of “oh crap, what am I going to cook tonight?”.
This is what works best for our family, and I hope this helps you develop a system that works best for yours!
Don’t forget to grab the free printable menu planner to make the process even easier, and I would love to hear your favorite go-to meal ideas in the comments!