I have found several practices that have helped me reduce my grocery budget, and one of those is meal planning. This requires some up-front thinking on your behalf, but it really does help save money at the store.
I sit down at the end of the month, and plan meals for the entire next month. Some people find planning a whole month's worth of meals exhausting and will only plan for a week or two weeks. However, I have tried all three and I have found that planning for a whole month helps me save even more money because I'm not running to the store every week for that week's meals. Every trip to the store equals the potential to buy something that you don't really need. Therefore, I really try to limit my trips, usually going every two weeks just to replenish milk and produce since you can't buy a whole month's worth of these two things. Or even better, I'll have Brad stop on his way home from work as he is much less tempted to wander around the store.
When I sit down to meal-plan, I plan my meals (including side dishes) on a sheet of paper. I also mark on this paper, beside each meal, the items I will need to purchase at the store to make these meals. Once you meal plan for several months, you should actually be able to have a pretty nice master meal list that you can refer to when you meal-plan. I like to try new things rather than make the same things each month, so I prefer to mix tried-and-true recipes in with brand new recipes when I meal plan. But having a master list is extremely helpful as it eliminates some of the cranial work, and the whole process becomes very streamlined and quick once you have a nice stash of meals to pick from.
I also mark on this sheet of paper where this recipe is from - the name of the cookbook, my recipe box, etc., and the page number so I will know exactly where to find it when it comes time to make that meal.
Now, grab another piece of paper or design a template on your computer with different categories to use as your shopping list. For example, my categories are dairy, meats, frozen foods, canned goods, breakfast, beverages, baking, beans/pasta/rice, snack food, produce, paper products, cleaning/toiletries, and misc. I then go through my meal list and write down the ingredients I need under the appropriate categories. This helps me to stay focused while I'm in the grocery store. The more you wander around the store, the more likely you are to cave into the temptation to make unnecessary purchases.
I also keep a running list of food items I need on a white board on my refrigerator. As we use things out of our pantry (more to come on the pantry at a later date; this is another money-saving area) I mark them down on my running grocery list. This way, I always have at least one extra of my pantry staples available. Now, go through and add these items from your running grocery list to your paper list you will take with you to the store.
I have a really cool calendar that actually has little blocks on each date for recording the meals for that day. So I take my meal list and decide which days I will make each of the meals, making sure to plan quick or crockpot meals on days when we have busy evenings, again, noting where I can find that recipe (ie - cookbook and page number or recipe box.) Some people just use their meal list and decide day-by-day which meals they will make, but I like to have this schedule so I know the night before which meat I need to defrost or whether or not I need to soak beans overnight. I'm a schedule-kind of gal, but I realize that not everyone likes the rigidity of day-by-day planned meals. So do what works for you.
Now, you have your completed grocery list to take with you on shopping day. Now the only trick is is to remember to take your list with you! I used to make lists and then forget to take them, which is completely useless! So, now I put my list along with my price-comparison tablet (again, more on that later) and any sales flyers and coupons in my purse the night before. This way it's in there already when I grab my purse and fly out the door the next morning.
Now, here are some books that I own that have helped make meal planning easier. At first, I was trying to compile all of the recipes for free from the internet, but it was driving me crazy with all the time involved. So, I figured that the investment in a few good books that were already organized for me would pay off in the end, which they have. These two books are wonderful and have healthy nutritious meals. They both also have sections on making homemade staples such as salad dressings, white sauces (in place of buying all of those chemical-injected cream of chicken or mushroom soups that some recipes call for) syrups, breads, etc. I love both of these cookbooks. The $75 Feasts book was written by a homeschooling mom of ten, and she shares all kinds of money-saving tips in addition to a bunch of really great recipes!
I also recently purchased the following book after reading the good reviews it got. I read their original book, America's Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money: Your Guide to Living Better, Spending Less, and Cashing in on Your Dreams,several years ago when I found it at the library, and it was really inspiring! I haven't read this one yet, but it's next on my reading list!
Next time, we will discuss budgeting for your grocery trip. Knowing how much money you have availabe to spend on groceries helps to keep you from overspending or overcharging.
Have a great Monday!