Both before and since becoming a full-time parent, I've kind of had this judgment toward SAHMs. You know the type- white women who love Jesus, watch the Bachelor, think of couponing as a legitimate hobby, and perhaps worst of all, meal plan. It's an entirely unfair judgment to have because A. SAHMs do not come in one shape or size and B. Despite the fact that I'm in serious denial about it- I'm a white woman who loves Jesus, watches the Bachelor, and while I haven't started couponing for funsies, I do meal plan.
I cringed a little having just typed that. I've never wanted to be some kind of submissive, domestic goddess. But as it turns out, I genuinely love cooking and meal planning is a ridiculously effective tool to help me stick to our $100/week food budget. (Read more about how I cut our food budget from $850 to $400/month). So if you're a meal planning skeptic like I was, or you want to cut your grocery spending, here's what I do:
Before I even start making my grocery list, I ask Chuck if there's anything in particular he's craving for dinner the following week. I also take into account any special occasions that might be happening- family get-togethers, at-home date nights, etc. $100/week doesn't leave us with any wiggle room, so if I don't budget it in from the get-go, we either have to dip into savings (we follow a zero-based budget) or go without.
Set the menu
I have a handful of go-to meals that are easy for me to fall back on- Taco Salad, Pork Chops and Veggies, Spaghetti and Meatballs, General Tso's Chicken. However, I try to mix it up with at least one new recipe per week. My husband and I each have our own food-inspired Pinterest boards that I draw from. I check out the recipe (bonus points if I already have some of the ingredients), and add them to my grocery list. On Friday nights, we usually always do a frozen pizza and then I meal plan for three meals for the rest of the week. On the nights when I'm not cooking, we either have leftovers or I'll make something simple like eggs and toast.
Sort through coupons
Kroger sends coupons to me regularly and I've only recently started getting coupons from Coupons.com, as well. I usually sort through them to see if I have a coupon for anything I need for my recipes. Then I know to get that product at Kroger rather than Aldi. Which brings me to...
Make the list
I use the "Notes" tab on my phone for my weekly grocery list. Thursday evenings, I open up the app and input the ingredients for my recipes. Then, I fill it in with all our other household essentials like milk, eggs, bread, coffee, etc. Now here's the part where you judge me and start to think I'm just a wee bit crazy. Not only do I separate my list by store- I have an "Aldi" list and a "Kroger" list, but I also type out my list in the order that the products are in the store.
My first grocery trip is to Aldi which only has four aisles, so it's not as crazy as it seems. I pretty much remember where everything in the store is located. As I put an item in my cart, I delete it from my list and I don't have to backtrack because I've forgotten something located in another part of the store. Anything that's left on the list (because Aldi can admittedly be hit or miss) goes onto the "Kroger" part of my list.
So this is pretty much how I shop: 1. Put item in cart, 2. Delete it from grocery list, 3. Add price on my calculator app. I nearly always inherently get my list right under the $100 price point, but I still calculate as I shop just so there aren't any surprises when I step up to the cash register. If I start to feel like I'm getting too close to the $100 mark, I know to put something back to stay under budget. Once I've checked out at Aldi, I head to Kroger so buy anything I specifically have a coupon for and/or anything that I couldn't find at Aldi.
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Are you new to meal planning or grocery budgeting? What questions do you have? (I promise it's not as scary as it sounds.)