Thursday, April 4

organization: my money-saving meal-planning process.

In January I wrote about my organization goals for this year and briefly mentioned couponing and meal planning. This month (as tax day draws closer) I want to share how I plan our meals each week in a way that saves us money.

Step 1.  Let's pretend you're starting from scratch, with a bare pantry, empty cabinets, and a clean refrigerator and freezer.  There are some basic staples that I always try to keep on hand.  Your list might be different, but these are the things we'd have a hard time making our favorite meals without:

- Unbleached all-purpose flour
- Ground flax seed meal
- Rolled steel-cut oatmeal
- Italian bread crumbs
- Table salt
- Ground black pepper
- Cinnamon
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Vanilla
- Granulated white sugar
- Brown sugar
- Baking soda
- Baking powder
- Extra-Virgin Olive oil
- Vegetable oil
- Apple cider vinegar
- Soy sauce
- Chicken broth
- Jasmine rice
- Whole-wheat penne
- Whole-wheat linguine
- Whole-wheat bread
- Whole-wheat tortillas
- Rice cakes
- Raisins or Craisins
- At least two bulbs of garlic
- White or yellow onions
- Natural peanut butter
- Canned tuna
- Canned beans (black and kidney)
- Canned black olives
- Protein bars

- Unsalted butter
- Almond or coconut milk
- Eggs
- Grated parmesan cheese
- Ketchup
- Lettuce
- Tomatoes
- Green onions

Step 2.  Find out what's on sale! 
I check the online weekly circulars for both local grocery stores so I can compare prices.  After shopping on a budget for a year, I've developed a sense of what is actually a good deal on a given item.  Then I look for coupons on the store site.  I love that both grocery store websites we use have the option to load coupons straight onto our store cards - I was not a good couponer when I actually had to cut them out, but I'm a great digital couponer.  When I have extra time, I also like to check coupon blogs like Southern Savers and sites like CouponMom.

Step 3.  Find out what's in season!  
Locally-grown produce from the farmer's market may not always be less expensive than what's at the grocery store, but local food has lost fewer nutrients than the produce that was flown in from another country, and I appreciate the opportunity to support my local economy and know exactly how my food was grown.  Here are even more reasons to buy local.  For readers in the US, this Epicurious map may be a good place to start.

Step 4.  Look for recipes and plan meals.
Pinterest is my favorite meal planning tool.  I pin recipes throughout the week, and I have my boards organized by main ingredient to easily match up with what's on sale - if chicken's on sale that week, I've got all my chicken recipes in one place.  

My meal planning Pinterest boards

We pick the recipes that look tasty, pair them with a starch and a veggie if they don't already include those, until we've got 6-7 meals - I try to make sure one is a slow cooker meal for the weekend that we can freeze and enjoy for several days.  Then I add any other ingredients we'll need to our grocery list.  I don't assign meals to a particular day yet, but I do try to keep in mind which produce items need to be consumed first - the "Eat Them In Order" list from Blissful and Domestic is helpful.

Step 5.  Organize lists and head to the stores.
I organize our grocery store lists by department and make notes of any special rules we need to follow to take advantage of deals, then we head to town.  We try to make our second stop whichever store we're buying the most perishable products from, but we still put a cooler of ice in the car for anything that needs to stay chilled from store #1.  

Step 6.  Be flexible.
Keep in mind that the "deal" in the weekly circular might not actually be the best price for a given item - often, a brand name product that was advertised in the circular still costs more than the store brand.  Sometimes it's worth the splurge, but usually the quality is about the same.  Additionally, check the price per unit on items.  Often, a bigger container of a product is actually a better deal than the size that's on sale.  Buying in bulk is a huge money saver - pun intended.  Finally, don't forget about the dollar store - if you can't find the beauty products, baking supplies, canned foods, or cleaning products you want for less than a dollar at your grocery store, buy them at the dollar store instead.  I have never had an issue with the quality of dollar store products.

Step 7.  Don't forget to scan your store card!  I don't offer up my card until the cashier is done scanning because I love to see money rolling off the total price :)

Step 8.  Keep a running list during the week.  We use a dry erase board on the refrigerator to keep track of what we run out of during the week and erase meals from our meal plan as they are prepared.

I hope that my process was helpful!  How do you save money on groceries or make meal planning more efficient?


  1. These are all awesome tips for meal-planning! We have just recently gotten in the habit of doing all our shopping for the week on Saturday or Sunday mornings. I hang up all the recipes for the week in the kitchen on a cork board so I know what the plan is!

    1. Thanks Margaret! I think keeping the meal plan in a visible place is important - otherwise I tend to get lazy and order pizza or pop a bag meal in the microwave.

  2. Thanks Heather, this is so helpful! I've really wanted to get into couponing and get better at meal planning but so far I've been slacking. Thanks for the motivation!!

    1. Thank you Rachael! I swear by store cards and the option of saving coupons to the card - for me, it's so much easier than clipping coupons and remembering to take them to the store.

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