Monday, April 5, 2010

Meal Planning and Saving Money

As I thought about what to write this week, I realize that one of my biggest struggles is meal planning! I am pretty good at getting the coupons cut, organized and getting to the store to shop (most days,) but I don't always make it home with items that create complete meals. UUGH!
I have mastered the art of getting "Free & Almost Free" stuff, but I am not very creative at cooking. That is a huge weakness in my life. I confess, sometimes I make it home with a lot of "good deals," but not a lot of complete meals.
God wants us to be good caretakers of the family that He has blessed us with. According to a good friend of mine, "meal time" is one of the most important times of the day, that you can spend with your family. Sooooo, here are some of the money saving tips that I have discovered over the years that help me with saving money and creating a complete meal for my family in the process. Let me say, that I am not always perfect with this... life get's busy, and I come up short often, but when I put these tips into practice, I feel very successful, and relieve a lot of stress from my life.

1) Plan your meals out!

I have created a grid with Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner across the top, and the Days of the Week down the left column. I then ask each person in my family, "What is one thing you would like for breakfast this week, and one dinner that you would like to have?"
This allows me not to have to do all of the planning. (You would be surprised what they ask for sometimes.) *** This grid also allows me to match my calendar with the day of the week, and post "Eat out," if their is a special occasion that week. (Helps keep from overbuying)

2) Post this chart on the Fridge!
By posting the chart on the refrigerator, this helps with a couple of things. First, it helps you remember what needs to be marinated, defrosted, put in the crock pot, etc. If you are like me, I get home after running children, only to here,"What's for dinner?," and my comment is "I don't know, I have meat, but it is frozen." I don't like it when that happens! It starts this vicious cycle in my head of feeling defeated and feeling like a "bad mom." Second, it is there for anyone in the family to read, ask you fewer questions, and ANYONE can get dinner started, if they know what is on the menu!

3.) Make Your Grocery List at Home!
By creating my grocery list at home, I know what I already have and what I need. I can see if I have pasta already, or if I need to pick up that extra onion. Sometimes, when I get to the store, and haven't made my list, I can't remember, so I buy it "just in case." Also, be realistic! If you know your family needs snacks, and extra drinks or ice cream, put that on the list. Maybe even give it a number. For instance 2 salty snacks, 3 juice/Capri suns, etc.

4.) Look at the Grocery Ads, to See Who has the Best Deals on Your Needs!
This is where I can look at my coupons, match them with the ads, and find the best deals. Sometimes, that means a trip to 1-3 stores. But if I go with my list, coupons and only buy what is planned, then the trip is much faster. I have already made individual lists for each store, and only buy what is the best at that store. When I can't make it to multiple stores, I usually shop at Kroger, Wal-Mart, or Albertson's (they tend to have better prices.) I still look at those 3 ads, to see who has the best sales of the week.

5.) Don't Go Shopping Hungry!
I have spent more money than necessary when I shop hungry! Everything looks GOOD! Even if it means getting something off of the dollar menu somewhere, on the way to the store, DO IT! Better to spend $1 or $2 than the extra 25% that you might spend, just by being hungry.

6.) Stick to the List!
Now that you have done the hard part, try to stick to the list. It helps you be a good steward of both your time and your money. Also, if you are like me, you will probably stay within your budget. ***When you get to the part of the unusual's, like snacks, look around for those things they might have an "in store" deal or something that you have a coupon for. Coupons are seasonal, and this will help give you a variety.

7.) Enjoy the Benefits!
Once home, you have enough food for the week, or two weeks, that you shopped for. (With the exception of milk, bread, fruits and vegetables.) Also, you will have "meal time" with your family, without feeling defeated before you start. Spend that quality time with them, and get to know them and their struggles, friends, achievements, fears, goals and dreams a whole lot better.

As I told you in the beginning, I wish that I could say this happens at my house weekly, but it doesn't. This is my goal each week, and when it does happen, I feel so blessed, and I know that God is smiling, because, usually there is laughter at our table, we are eating a little healthier (most nights,) and memories are being created.

Try it out, and meal plan this week!

Try your best to stick to the list!

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