Saving Money with Meal and Grocery Planning

Meal and Grocery Planning

“Do you feed your kids?”  

I was at a family gathering a few weeks ago when my sister in-law asked me this. We were discussing grocery shopping and how much we spend each week.  My sister in-law gasped when I told her how much I spend; she said she spends twice as much, with my other sister in-laws confirming that they did the same.

“Seriously, how can you only spend that much?  There is no way.”

I felt that the need to justify myself.  I felt ashamed. . . did I feed my kids? They looked pretty nurtured and healthy to me.

I answered back: Yes, I do feed my kids.  Yes, I even buy junk food, but not an excessive amount. Yes, some weeks I spend more, especially if I am buying a lot of cleaning supplies or toiletries.

The truth is saving money on my groceries has become a game to me. I claim personal victory when I can come home with a week’s worth of groceries at a bargain price.

So how do I do it?

I will share what I told my sister in-laws (with additional detail).

1. Establish a grocery/food budget.

My husband and I have a family budget that keeps us financially-focused. Our savings, mortgage and other bills, summer camps, vacations, gas, and groceries are all accounted for in this budget.  The 2008 Recession prompted our diligent budgeting.

That Recession had a detrimental effect on our family’s finances. It is a time in history that I never want to live through again—a time that could have made us crumble as a family. Fortunately, it made our marriage even stronger. Together, through a lot of communicating, my husband and I were able to get through it and is something neither of us will ever take for granted.

2. Use a Cash System.

This simple system (take out cash in the amount of your allotted budget) makes it so much easier to stick to a budget. Seriously — there is something about SEEING the cash and knowing how much you have left that allows you to stay conscientious in your spending.

We tried keeping to our food budget without the cash system, but it was too easy to lose track of our spending without it.  All those little trips to Starbucks, the fast-food drive-in when you are running late, or eating out ADD UP.  You don’t realize (or we didn’t at least) just how much you can spend without really knowing it.

The Cash System is also a good motivator for our children when they ask, “Can I have? Can we get?”  I show them the money and say: “This is what we have left.”  I want them to see that money does not grow on trees; that you need to HAVE money in order to spend money. As my youngest would say, “Just go to the bank.” Umm, no son, it does not work that way.

3. Plan your meals for the week.

Planning out my meals for the week is probably one of the largest contributors to how I save money when grocery shopping.  The reason is simple: I buy what I need and only what I need. I used to go to the grocery store without a plan–I’d stroll along each aisle and just throw in what looked good or what seemed to have the potential as dinner. I didn’t know what I was making for dinner and I certainly didn’t know how much I was spending until the cashier provided me with my total. . .Oh my gosh! No!

Weekly Dinners Landscape

Now, I PLAN using the above Weekly Dinners printable. Click here to download a free copy.  As for dinner inspiration, I use a couple of methods:

    • Prepare “freezable” meals a head of time such as the ones listed on One Hour — Seven Dinners. Freezing meals that can be “dumped” into a crockpot or baked later saves a lot of time and can ease a lot of stress.


  •  I just discovered this clever app, which provides a whole slew of recipes based on the ingredients you already have at home. You simply click off food in your kitchen, click, and recipe options appear.

4. Write up a strategic grocery list.

For the most part, I always sit down and plan out my grocery list before heading out to the store.  My planning includes several tactics:

    • I list out any ingredients needed for the meals planned out for the week.


  • I write out items needed for the following categories: lunches, breakfasts, snacks, desserts, produce, toiletries.  My boys know where they can find the mom-approved snacks including the ones found in our special middle refrigerator drawer (I love this middle drawer!).  This is where we quickly grab items for lunches as well.Snack draw in refrigerator
  • I check the store’s circular for sales and inserted coupons. If one of the items has a sale price, I put a circled S next to the listed item; for items with coupons, I put a circled C next to the listed item.  Be sure that you are signed up for your store’s Bonus Rewards Card. I save an average of $5 each week on just the in-store coupons.

5. Take advantage of coupons, rebate apps, and websites.

When many people think of using coupons, they envision someone scouring the newspapers for coupons and clipping them. Today’s technology makes this process a little easier.  Here are some of my Go-Tos for instant coupons or future rebates.

    • I spend no more than 5 – 7 minutes quickly browsing for anything that I currently use. I simply click the images of products that I may want, and then hit Print when done. Voila — coupons at my fingertips. I may not always use the Coupons on that particular trip, but will save them for the next. I also compare the sale items against other similar items—the coupons are NOT always the best deal.
    • bottaIbotta and Saving Star.
      I just used both of these apps for the first time and found them very easy to use. I figured why not get a little extra reward for what I am already purchasing. How to use:
      (i) Downloaded the apps on your phone and set up an account.
      (ii) Click the stores you frequent and the items you typically purchase. This includes alcohol, which has fairly large rebates (smiley face, smiley face!)
      (iii) To claim your rebate, you will need to scan the barcode of the product and then upload a photo of your receipt. Your rebate can be placed into a PayPal account or paid out with a gift card.

    6. Use store scanner if that is an available option.

    scannerThe use of an in-store scanner is THE thing that definitely keeps my shopping intact. I realize that not all grocery stores have this option, but if they do, I highly recommend taking advantage of it.

    With this handy device, I know EXACTLY what I am spending. I almost have it down to a science and can estimate how much I will spend in each department.  Another added benefit: I can go in the 10 and Below aisle regardless of how many items I have since the items are already scanned.

    7. Sign up for gas rewards.

    gasCheck to see if your grocery store has partnered up with a gas station to provide rewards. My store partners with Shell Gas Station and provides discounts on gallons of gas.  Often my grocery store mails flyers with coupons including ones for extra bonus gas points. To me this is free money. On this very rainy morning, there was a bright spot—I received a .60 cents per gallon discount, which equated to over $7.20 in savings. 

    Please do not be intimidated!  If I can do this anyone can—it really is NOT time-consuming. In fact, planning ahead of time saves me a lot of time (and MONEY!) in the end.  Make grocery planning a game and be competitive with yourself. Make it your personal victory to save, save, save!

7 thoughts on “Saving Money with Meal and Grocery Planning

  1. I love your tips! I realized just how much budgeting is necessary when I moved away from home to go to college. I live in an apartment with two roommates and I work throughout the summer and then budget that money through the school year. I started using the cash system because it’s very easy to stay on top of your budget when you see exactly how much there’s left. 🙂

    1. Haha, College was definitely a time for budgeting. I would have some cash and say, “should I eat or drink, eat or drink?”

  2. Great tips! We do have a budget but the problem is sticking with it. My one tip? Don’t go grocery shopping hungry, seriously! And we used to do coupons but after getting side eyes from everyone in line because we were taking too long to finish, we kinda stopped 🙁

    1. Thank you for reading! I don’t have a ton of coupons, but enough to see a nice savings. They scan them pretty quickly which helps (that and I use the store’s scanner). 🙂

  3. it can be challenging to be this organized at first but once you get used to it you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner…great post!

    1. Yes, I agree. It honestly does seem more challenging than it is. I really do save a lot of time in the long run. Thanks for reading!

Leave a Reply