Having to create a menu plan is one of the weekly tasks I do not care for at all, but it is the simplest way to save money. If you can create a menu plan, you can save money. It is as simple as that. There are two main reasons that a menu plan can save money:
- You don’t eat dinner out as often.
- You know what to buy at the grocery store.
Let me explain how each of these really can affect your budget.
THE DINING OUT SNEAK ATTACK
See if this relates to your life: You are heading home from work and look at the clock. The time says 5:22 p.m. As you look ahead, you notice that traffic has slowed down. In that moment, you realize you are still at least 30 minutes away from home.
You finally tear through the door at 5:50, the first thing you hear is “What’s for dinner!?!?” or “I’m starving!!!! When are we going to eat?!” After the hectic day you’ve had, you realize you have no clue what you are going to feed the family. So, you say get into the car – we are headed out to eat! In that moment, you will drop $20 (or more)….for the 3rd time this week.
Now, imagine reliving that same scenario 8 – 10 times per month. That means you will eat out more than 200 meals in a year. Put a dollar value to this ($20 per meal) and you will have spent more than $4,000 dining out! In the moment, $20 isn’t too bad, but when you take another look at what you spend annually, it can be shocking!
Dining out is great, but not several times a week. Establish a weekly dinner out budget and stick to it. That may mean one meal a week out. We started doing this when we were working ourselves out of debt (you can read Parts 1, 2 and 3 of our own debt free story). For us, it is normal to fix dinner at home and something to which we are accustomed.
Your menu plan helps you know what you will make for dinner every night. There is no worry that you have to come up with a new idea. The list is there telling you exactly what you need to make. It is one less thing you have to worry about night after night.
THE LOWER GROCERY BUDGET
The other way I have noticed that we save money with our menu plan has to do with my weekly shopping trips. Before we had a menu plan, I would walk the aisles of the store with my list, while trying to figure out what I might have for dinner that week.
Of course, despite my very best efforts, I always found myself forgetting items. That lead to more return trips to the store during the week. And, when I did that, I would often toss additional items (that we did not necessarily need) into the cart. I was spending more money than I needed to!
When you create a menu plan, you know every meal and snack you will have for the week. Your menu plan then becomes your guide to creating a shopping list. The list will include all of the items you need for every meal and snack for the week. You end up with a comprehensive, workable shopping list.
HOW TO CREATE A MENU PLAN
When it comes to learning how to create a menu plan, the key factor is planning. You absolutely must plan ahead. Menu planning is not difficult and really is not that time consuming, when you have some tools and tips to help you do just that.
Sometimes, it just isn’t in the cards to do your own and you need some help. It is simple to plan your own weekly (or even bi-weekly) menu yourself, but you will need to take a few things into consideration before you do.
STEP 1 – CHECK THE FREEZER, PANTRY & REFRIGERATOR
The first thing you must do when coming up with a menu plan is make sure that you use any foods you already have available. After all, if you have foods that may spoil soon, it is a waste of your money not to use them for your meals.
To start, look at items that may spoil or expire soon. Come up with a meal where you can use these items before you end up tossing it into the trash.
Next, check for items you have on hand. You may have found a great deal on noodles last week and stocked up. That means spaghetti might be something to have this week.
You should also look for ways to make multiple meals out of one item. For example, you may have roast chicken for dinner one night. That will result in left overs. Later that same week, whip up a batch of chicken and noodles with the left overs. You’ve used all of the chicken and will have not wasted food.
STEP 2 – CHECK THE GROCERY STORE AD
You might have several items on hand to make 4 meals, but that still leaves 3 more to plan. Rather than make what you want, look at the store flyer to find items on sale. You may see that ground beef is on sale, so that may lend itself to grilling burgers.
Even better than looking at the entire ad, check the front cover and any shorter sales dates. These items are the best deals you’ll find (often best deals you will see for weeks). You should not only plan on making meals with items you can find here, but also stock up on these (so you have them on hand for future meal plans).
STEP 3 – ASK YOUR FAMILY
This can actually be included within steps 1 and 2, but ask your family for input. If you find a package of chicken breasts in the freezer, ask them what chicken based meal they’d love to have that week.
This helps you come up with new ideas, but also helps you know that you are selecting meals your family will actually enjoy.
STEP 4 – PUT YOUR PLAN IN WRITING
When you create a menu plan, it is very important that it is in writing. You should also plan for every day of the week — Sunday through Saturday. Don’t forget to include your breakfasts, lunch (even if packing them for school or work) and your snacks, in addition to what you will have for dinner each week.
STEP 5 – DON’T PLAN TOO FAR IN ADVANCE
There are many who like to menu plan for a month. While that can be good for some, I don’t recommend this. The reason is that you need to check the weekly ad to ensure your meals use items that are on sale. Planning out meals for any period longer than two weeks can result in missing those key sales when prepping your meals.
STEP 6 – MAKE SURE YOUR PLAN IS VISIBLE
The final step is to make sure you plan is visible. If you and your family can’t see it, you can’t use it. Rather than tuck it into a drawer, put it on your refrigerator, where you see it every morning. Then, before you leave for work, make sure that any frozen items get thawed properly so you can use them to make dinner.
I actually recommend that you print out the menu plan you wish to use and then head to the UPS or office supply store to have them laminate it for you. Pick up flat magnets to place on the corners and then, you have a form you can use over and over again.
Another suggestion is to print one form. Then, visit your copy store and get it reproduced in black and white. This can be less expensive than using ink and paper to print a new form each week.
It took my family and I a little time to get use to the menu plan, but now that we use it, we can’t imagine NOT having it available to help us plan our meals. I still am not a fan of sitting down to plan out what to eat each week, but when I am done and realize the time (and money) am saving because of it, I always smile and then hang the plan back on the fridge.