For most families, food is one of the three biggest expenses each month. There are many different ways to save money on food: extreme couponing, very limited diets (think beans and rice and rice and beans), shopping sales, once a month cooking, and more. I’ve tried most of them, and while I can save a lot of money, sometimes its also lot of work, or makes food that we don’t want to eat. I still use aspects of each strategy, but I’ve basically distilled it down to three simple steps.
Before I go grocery shopping, I do a quick inventory of what we have in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. I take note of anything that is going to go bad, or expire, or that has just been hanging around a long time. I also check out the leftovers, and do a quick tidy and clean of the fridge.
The next step is a meal plan. When my kids were younger, it was more elaborate, with a plan for three meals and two snacks each day. Now, I just plan dinners. I start by listing meals that use the things I’ve identified in the previous step. Perhaps I have leftover grilled chicken that should go quesadillas, or there is a whole chicken that has been in the freezer for too long. Once I’ve plotted out the things that we already have, I fill in the rest of the menu. I find it easier to use certain themes: Meatless Monday, Taco (or Mexican) Tuesday, etc.
Make A List
Finally, I make a list of the ingredients I need for each dinner. I check that list against what’s already in the house, and figure out exactly what I need to buy. When I go to the grocery store, I make sure I buy the things on the list, and not much more (with the exception below.)
Bonus Step: Buying A Bargain
This isn’t part of the regular steps because it’s optional and I only do it when it works out. This step is stocking up on stuff when you see a great price. For example, for several weeks, the Commissary had my husband’s coffee at $2.22 per bag (it usually ranges from $3.99 to $4.99 per bag.) Each time I went shopping, I bought 6-8 bags at the low price. Or, maybe you get to the store just as they’re marking down chicken breasts that have a sell-by date in the near future. Grab a stack of packages and put them in the freezer as soon as you get home. These items will make up the bulk of step one, making an inventory. When you’ve had good luck finding bargains, you can often make up the bulk of your menu with the things you already have in the house, and your necessary shopping will just be fresh items and a few fill-ins.
This seems so simple, but many people tell me that they’ve never considered shopping this way. I promise you that you will save money when shopping, and be more likely to cook dinner at home, if you have a menu and a grocery list.
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