This is part two in the meal planning on a budget series. Read part one here. Today I’ll be talking about meal planning the traditional way. I’m going out on a limb here calling it the traditional way, because everyone puts their own spin on things.
The Basics of Traditional Meal Planning
Typically, when meal planning the traditional way, you’re going to create the meal plan based off of what’s on sale at the grocery stores. If you’re a couponer, you’ll likely also factor in what items you can get free or cheap using coupons. Many people also base their menu plan off of recipes that they’d like to try.
Using this method, you know exactly what you’ll be serving for each meal beforehand. Because of this, you’ll also know exactly what’s on your shopping list before heading to the store. This is a fantastic way to curb spending on unnecessary purchases.
1. Estimate the total cost. Try to estimate the cost of each item you’re purchasing beforehand. If you buy an item often enough, chances are you’ll know a ballpark estimate of the price. For example, when I need pasta for dishes on my menu plan, I’ll go ahead and input about $1.50 per box. I often overestimate by a few cents on purpose to account for other items that may be priced higher than I initially thought. If everything is on target price wise, I’m pleasantly surprised by a lower total at checkout.
2. Use coupons. Since you already know exactly what you’re buying, it doesn’t hurt to comb through a few coupon match-ups for the stores you’ll be shopping at. If you see a printable coupon for an item you already plan on purchasing, use it. Here are a few of my favorite websites that offer coupon match ups: Hip2Save, Money Saving Mom, The Krazy Coupon Lady, Coupon Divas, Southern Savers, The Coupon Project. Be sure to check if your store has loadable coupons through the store’s loyalty card. This can be an easy, clip-free way to utilize coupons that takes no time at all.
3. Price match. Meal planning using this method presents a great opportunity to price match, since you’ll already be looking at the weekly ads for stores in your area. I’ve price matched at Wal-Mart a few times and I’ve never had any big issues. At my local store, they’re very particular about the the exact wording. So, if you’re trying to purchase carrots that come in a 16-oz package, and they only have a 14-oz package at Wal-Mart, you might not be able to price match it. Same thing if you’re trying to price match loose red peppers and Wal-Mart only carries them in a package of three.
4. Shop at Aldi. If your Wal-Mart doesn’t let you price match Aldi prices, it’s almost always worth a trip to Aldi if you have one close by. Typically, if I’m shopping for a lot of seafood, meat or veggies, I go to Aldi because the savings are worth it. If your local Aldi is a bit of a drive from your house, plug in your address, Aldi’s address and your car information on Gas Buddy’s trip cost calculator to see whether it’s worth the round-trip cost in gas. Since I’ve moved, it’s about $4 in gas round-trip for me to go to Aldi. So compare that against what you expect to save before blindly heading out and guzzling a ton of gas if you only expect to save a few bucks.
Sample Meal Plan Tutorial
I’ve created a sample dinner menu plan based off of what’s on sale in my local area this week. This is not my actual meal plan, it’s just for the purpose of illustrating to you guys how to go about planning your meals.
1. In a new browser window, open up a tab for each grocery store’s weekly ad. Be sure to enter the proper zip code for your location.
2. Click “add to list” on items that are a good deal on each ad. Keep all of the tabs open.
3. Go to Supercook.com and enter the ingredients that you plan on buying + whatever you have in your fridge/pantry. There are other websites like this. This is just the one I use. (Shout out to my bestie for introducing me to this site!)
4. Scroll through to find the recipes that you want to try. I try to give preference to the ones that say “you have everything needed for this recipe” because I won’t have to purchase additional ingredients. If you’re missing an ingredient it’ll tell you what you need. You can also click “categories” to search specific types of dishes.
5. Create your meal plan based on the results. Based on my ingredient search, my dinner menu plan for the week would look something like this:
Monday: Pork Chops Creole
Tuesday: Inside Out Ravioli
Wednesday: Lemon Roasted Potatoes with spinach stuffed chicken and veggies
Thursday: Sausage, Pepper and Potato Skillet
Friday: Veggie stir fry served over pasta
Saturday: Leftover Inside Out Ravioli
Sunday: Eat Out or Order Pizza
6. Go back and delete the items you won’t be purchasing. Also add the additional items you’ll need.
7. Copy the items onto your grocery list (take note of the items that you’re price matching). Then head to the store.
This is my version of a more traditional method of meal planning on a budget that doesn’t require a lot of time. This can be done in under 30 minutes – even less when you get used to the system. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below!