Ten Steps for Saving $ with a Menu Plan

     I remember…

I remember my first week as a wife in the kitchen. I was as green as they come! Fresh back from the honeymoon and ready to cook for my husband. It was a great feeling of excitement. I get to cook for him! And then came that overwhelming feeling. What in the world am I going to make???

Honestly, that was the hardest part of being the queen of the kitchen. I was thrilled to make home-cooked meals for my husband, but four o’clock would roll around, and I’d find myself standing in front of the refrigerator, back at square one…

     What in the world do I make this time?

I started planning out our menu a week at a time, mostly because it made me feel organized and “on top of things.” Now I can’t imagine running a kitchen without doing it! This little strategy saves me from the daily dilemma of what to make for supper, and it also helps me be intentional with grocery shopping and using food that is already in the pantry. The fifteen minutes that it takes to plan out a week’s menu saves us money every time! Let me take a minute to show you how…

When people (me included!) shop for groceries without a meal plan or grocery list, they shoot themselves in the foot. Instead of buying things that they need, they buy things that they think they need… which usually also means things that they want.

Without a plan, we inevitably buy more than we intend. We buy what strikes our fancy, what looks good on the shelf. And if you’re like me, there’s a lot that looks good on those shelves!

So let’s say I walk through the grocery store without a meal plan, and I buy $5 worth of groceries that I don’t need. I misguess by $5 – that’s not too terrible, is it? “That’s okay, we can handle losing five dollars in our budget.” But what if I misguess by $5 every week? That comes out to $260 per year, assuming I’m not making any impulse buys or extra shopping trips later to pick up that one thing I forgot.

And what if I misguess by $10.00 every shopping trip? That’s a yearly $520. “That’s okay, we can handle losing $520 in our budget…”  A little harder to swallow, isn’t it?

     This strategy saves us money every week! It pays to have a plan!!!

So whether you’re fresh off the boat like I was, or you’re so used to this meal planning thing that you could do it in your sleep, this compilation of menu planning strategies is for you! 🙂

 

Ten Tips for Saving $ with a Meal Plan

     Step #1 – Pick a time that works for you.

Make the menu plan part of your weekly routine. It’s a priority! The “when” of a menu plan is going to look different for every family. The important thing is that it happens! Our week’s menu is usually planned on Tuesday mornings. That’s coupon day, grocery day, and therefore also menu plan day. After all, I won’t know what to buy at the store if I don’t have any idea what I’ll be making for supper that week, right? 🙂 Every family is different though – figure out what works best for your family, and make menu planning a household habit!

     Step #2 – Write your plan down.

It starts with a choice – be deliberate, sit down with a pencil and paper, and plan your menu! Making a meal plan won’t work if you don’t write it down! Write each day of the week on your paper, and leave the empty space for the meals you plan.

  • T:
  • W:
  • Th:
  • F:
  • Sa:
  • Su:
  • M:

I keep a planner-style notebook handy to write down my week’s menu, to-do lists, and weekly appointments. It’s a system that helps me stay organized. I’ve also seen people get really creative with their menu plan, displaying it on a chalk board or dry-erase board in their kitchen. Go all out if you want too – especially if it motivates you to stay consistent!

 

     Step #3 – Check your calendar!

This tip is crucial for making the menu plan work for you. If you’re going to be out of the house all day on Thursday, make a note to plan something simple like a crock pot meal for supper Thursday night. And if you have company coming over on Friday night, make sure you plan for something bigger than leftover hotdish for your guests. 🙂

  • T:
  • W:
  • Th:
  • F:     Baked Ziti, Garlic Bread, Caesar Salad
  • Sa:
  • Su:
  • M:

 

     Step #4 – Start a new tradition! 

This may be my favorite menu planning tip. It’s meal planning made easy! Pick a meal that your family loves and make it a tradition in your home. Our family has a tradition of pizza and chips on Wednesday nights, and we also like to have a breakfast-for-supper night over the weekend. Having these simple meals picked out beforehand helps me as I plan out the week’s menu. It makes brainstorming meals for the rest of the week that much easier. (And if your family’s favorite happens to be as easy as a frozen pizza, that’s a double bonus!)

  • T:
  • W:  Pizza & Chips
  • Th:
  • F:     Baked Ziti, Garlic Bread, Caesar Salad
  • Sa:   Pancakes & Apple Sauce
  • Su:
  • M:

 

     Step #5 – Transfer unused meals from the previous week.

Sometimes we get invited out to eat unexpectedly, or I have more leftovers that I’d counted on, and we end up with extra meals on our menu. These get entered right away on the next week’s menu plan. After all, you’ve already bought the groceries you need for that meal – why buy more when you already have what you need?

  • T:    Leftover Sloppy Joes
  • W:  Pizza & Chips
  • Th:
  • F:     Baked Ziti, Garlic Bread, Caesar Salad
  • Sa:   Pancakes & Apple Sauce
  • Su:
  • M:

 

     Step #6 – Shop your pantry!

I’ll never forget The Macaroni and Cheese Sale of 2016. Mac and cheese boxes were on sale at HyVee for $0.29 a piece, while supplies lasted. I brought 14 boxes of mac and cheese home that day, and I was so proud of myself. After all, that’s an easy meal with hot dogs and brats, and it’s cheap! My husband’s comment? “I didn’t know we liked mac and cheese so much.” Well, we do now!

But here’s the clincher – if I buy 14 boxes of macaroni and cheese on sale and forget that I have them, I’m not saving my family any money! Take a peek at your pantry as you plan your menu. It’ll save you money in the bank and space in your cupboards!

  • T:     Leftover Sloppy Joes
  • W:   Pizza & Chips
  • Th:   Macaroni, Hot Dogs & Brats
  • F:     Baked Ziti, Garlic Bread, Caesar Salad
  • Sa:   Pancakes & Apple Sauce
  • Su:
  • M:

 

     Step #7 – Brainstorm simplicity.

By the time I’ve worked this far through my tip list, I’ve usually planned out 3-5 days for my meal plan. Now it’s time to start brainstorming. I try to cook on a budget, so I like to start this stage by adding one more simple meal to our plan. Please note: simple and cheap does not have to be bland! Eggs are a good example of what this looks like at our house. They’re pretty cheap, and I can turn them into frittatas, omelets, fried egg sandwiches, or scrambled eggs!

Btw, mac and cheese works for this category too… 😉

  • T:     Leftover Sloppy Joes
  • W:   Pizza & Chips
  • Th:   Macaroni, Hot Dogs & Brats
  • F:     Baked Ziti, Garlic Bread, Caesar Salad
  • Sa:   Pancakes & Apple Sauce
  • Su:
  • M:    Egg Salad Sandwiches (lunch)

 

     Step #8 – Add variety!

This is the fun part. We’ve got 2-3 meals left on our meal plan, and the recipes that we pick here will add variety to our week in the kitchen. Think of meals that your family enjoys or recipes that you want to try from Pinterest. I try to make these “real meals” – something homemade that requires more work than a frozen pizza. Sometimes we have staples like spaghetti or tacos. Sometimes I experiment with something I’ve found online. This is your chance to get creative in the kitchen!

  • T:     Leftover Sloppy Joes
  • W:   Pizza & Chips
  • Th:   Macaroni, Hot Dogs & Brats
  • F:     Baked Ziti, Garlic Bread, Caesar Salad
  • Sa:   Pancakes & Apple Sauce
  • Su:   Ham & Scalloped Potatoes (lunch)
  • M:    Egg Salad Sandwiches (lunch) / Spaghetti (supper)

 

     Step #9 – Flyers and Coupons

We usually get our grocery ads after I’ve planned out my meals for the week, so it doesn’t always impact our menu, but I do try to at least glance at the ads before going to the store. Sometimes I’ll see a great deal and work that into our meal plan. If chicken is on sale, put chicken on the menu!

 

Tip #10 – Smorgasbord!

Make sure you’re using your leftovers well. I often pack them for the next day’s lunch, which is why you see I skip planning lunches on most days. But sometimes I’ll plan the leftover chicken from Thursday night to make a chicken pot pie on Friday, for example. If you can stretch one meal into two, that’s money in the bank! During weeks when we have a lot of leftovers on hand, I hoard them quite shamelessly and have a smorgasbord at the end of the week. All the leftovers come out of the fridge, we load up our plates buffet style and throw them in the microwave. An easy meal with no-stress prep!

  • T:     Leftover Sloppy Joes
  • W:   Pizza & Chips
  • Th:   Macaroni, Hot Dogs & Brats
  • F:     Baked Ziti, Garlic Bread, Caesar Salad
  • Sa:   Pancakes & Apple Sauce
  • Su:   Ham & Scalloped Potatoes (lunch) / Smorgasbord! (supper)
  • M:    Egg Salad Sandwiches (lunch) / Spaghetti (supper)

 

10 steps, 15 minutes per week, a couple of coupons… That’s not so bad!

See, you can do this! And when you think of all the money you’re saving by having a plan? That’s definitely worth the time! These strategies are implemented every single week at our house. The result directly impacts my spending at the grocery store… and my sanity when it comes time to make supper. 🙂

What strategies do you use to plan meals for your family? Any tips to add? I would love to hear them in the comments below!

In the meantime, have fun menu planning!

~ Erin