Wednesday, April 13, 2011

how I spend less than $200/month on groceries by meal planning

Many people have asked how I spend so little and how I meal plan, so I thought I'd take the time to write it all up so that I can quit repeating myself. :)

Meal Planning:
  1. I start by printing off a calendar each month. I usually just do a Google search of "May 2009 calendar" or whatever month I need.  Updated:  I now just have a calendar in Excel that I just add to.  No more printing it out for me!
  2. Then I get out my binder of recipes (This is full of recipes I've found online or in magazines that I cut out and put in a binder. I have arranged them by type to make them easier to find. I also have gone through all my cookbooks and made a list of all the recipes I love or want to try and arranged them by type as well with the name of the cookbook I can find it in at the end. This makes meal planning super easy.).  update:  I also have lots of recipes pinned on Pinterest that I will go through.
  3. I go through all my recipes and just plug them into different days. I try to do Meatless Mondays and FFY (fend for yourselves, aka leftovers) on Wednesdays or Thursdays, depending on when I have bigger meals that will have more leftovers. I also try to not put similar foods right next to each other, like no chicken 2 days in a row, etc. Lunches are always leftovers, which saves us lots of money.  update:  no longer stick to the meatless mondays.  :)  They fall on any old day of the week.
  4. As I go through and plug in the recipes, I also make a grocery list on Microsoft Word as I go along. I separate it into weeks. I don't write down what I know I already have, but I do write it down if I'm not sure if I have it or not. 
Saving Money:
  • Now that the grocery list is complete, I go to each grocery store's website to check out the sales. I put everything on sale in bold with the price next to it, as well as the name of the store where it's on sale. I do this for ALL of the weeks, but I don't do it for produce (except for things that I can freeze like onions and peppers) and other things that will go bad later in the month, just the current week for those. Those in FM, remember that Sunmart and Cashwise ads come out on Sundays, and Hornbachers comes out on Wednesdays.  update:  I also plug the lists into Cozi now and have them sent to my phone, rather than take the whole list with me.  My shopping lists are separated on Cozi by store.
  • Once you have bolded all the sale stuff, print out your grocery list. Go into your kitchen and cross off the things that you already have, but weren't sure if you did or not earlier.  update:  no longer print it out.
  • Grocery shopping time - We try to go grocery shopping each Sunday at either Hornbachers or Cashwise, depending on which had the best sales. B works close to Sunmart, so if we need sale items from there, he'll just pick them up after work.  update:  We tend to hit all of the stores on Sundays now so that we don't have to make extra trips with how high the gas is now.  We do, however, usually hit Hornbachers on either Wednesday or Thursday to get the stuff for Thursday-Saturday that wasn't on sale at the other stores, since Hornbachers's ad comes out on Wednesdays.
  • What to buy - Buy everything that you need for the current week, as well as everything else that is bolded on your list for the rest of the month (remember, don't bold the produce and stuff that will go bad if it's not for the current week!). Once you've bought the item, cross it off so that you know you don't need to buy it later in the month. Just hold on to the list and use it each week. Since you can't bold it when it's printed off, I'll either use highlights later in the month, or just write the sale prices down next to the items. Once you get to the last couple weeks, there's usually not much left to buy on your list!
  • Using coupons - I don't use a ton of coupons, because the generic brands are generally just as good, and they usually end up being cheaper, even if you use a coupon on a brand name item. The only time I'll use a coupon is if the item is also on sale and it will still end up cheaper than the generic brand. Remember, if you don't normally buy the product you have a coupon for, you're not saving money! Only clip coupons for items that you normally would buy!
  • When things come up - If something comes up and you're not able to make the meal you had planned on making... I just shift things over a day, or if I can, I add the missed meal to the next month. Or, if there's a meal towards the end of the month that I haven't bought ingredients for yet, I'll just omit that meal and substitute the missed meal.
  • Buying meat in bulk - When meat goes on a good sale, we get all the meat we need for the month at once. If it's not a good sale, we'll just get it for the week. Last month, hamburger was $1.67/lb, so we bought about 12 lbs. of it, I think.
  • Buying rice in bulk - We buy our rice from either a natural foods store or an Asian food market. WAY cheaper.
  • Take advantage of the summer months! Buy produce at vegetable stands or farmer's markets! The veggies are SO much yummier, and WAY cheaper! If it's not summer, use frozen veggies! Once you cook them, they taste the same. It's way cheaper to buy a mix of frozen red peppers, green peppers and onions than to buy each thing when you're doing a stir fry.
  • We very rarely buy those frozen pre-made meals. It's way cheaper to make food from scratch, and it tastes way better too!
Coupon Sites/Money Saving Blogs that I like:
Hope all this information helps and that I didn't overwhelm you all!


  1. The real trick is keeping it at this price once you add mouths! We do lots of the same things as you and B.
    I use my google calendar to plan our meals and evernote for the grocery list.

    We usually hit each grocery store for items, depending on their sales. I only plan a week at a time and don't plan until the middle of the week though because we do all our shopping on Friday mornings.

    We usually stay around the $50/week budget and we try to make that include all the random stuff too like toiletries and household stuff.

    I love your idea of buying rice at places other than the grocery store though! We've been buying GV's brown rice but I'll have to check out other places :)

    Our other "money saving" strategy is significantly reducing the amount of meat in recipes. I made sloppy joes last week with only 2/3lb of ground turkey but then added in brown rice, black beans, and chili beans and it fed us for four meals! We've found that reducing or eliminating meat altogether in some recipes has really helped and most of the time we don't even miss it :)

  2. Thanks for the info! I just went through and did some updating to this. I actually typed it out on my old cooking blog back in '09, so I have changed a few things since then! :)

    But yes, definitely check out the rice at other stores! We buy HUGE bags of it, and it lasts forever. Also, the Asian markets in town will give you a discount on top of that if you pay in cash!

  3. We range anywhere from $400 a month to our current goal of $550. When we first started keeping track of $$, I was spending $1000 + per month. YIKES! Gone are my days of 1 lb. of meat being enough for a meal...more like 2 or more. But I am not complaining. :) Cant wait for tomatoes with flavor again.