Thursday, April 7, 2011

Money Saving Tips and Ideas Part 1

Every now & then, I go through a phase of looking for new ways to save money (both on purchases and actually getting money into the savings account). To me, it's fun to create new habits, break old ones, learn new things to try out and work toward stretching our family's dollars a little further. And with the economy the way it is these days, I think we're all looking for new, better, stronger, penny-pinching ideas. Please comment with your ideas & thoughts! I suspect with a title like "money saving tips and ideas" this blog may get lots of come back & read the other comments, too. You never know when something might inspire you!

Tip #1: Menu Planning
I use the menu planning sheet on this site to create my family's weekly menu.

It looks like this.
There are plenty of other free printable menu planning forms you can use online. Google it & I'm sure you'll find one that suits your needs. Every few weeks, I go to the site & print a few copies to use in the coming weeks.

In the early years or our marriage, I went to the grocery store several times per week buying a handful of random ingredients each time. Larry & I wandered the aisles saying "Oh, that looks good!" and grabbing items, but we often got home & only had 4 of the 5 ingredients we needed to make dinner. Or we had a bunch of random things that didn't really go together. Inevitably it meant one of us would have to run back to the store just before dinnertime to get the missing frustrating, and pricey! Somewhere along the way as I became more & more OCD anal retentive organized in my grocery shopping skills, I realized that it was much easier to make a very detailed list so that I could buy EXACTLY what I needed & nothing more (but also...nothing less!).

In the early days of employing a menu plan, I did it on a legal pad or notebook paper, so you definitely don't have to have a "fancy" menu planning sheet like the one above. When I first began, I would pull out cookbooks and my recipe box & sort through them & decide which meals I wanted to cook in the coming week (that was step 1). Then I'd use those recipes to make a very detailed list of EVERY item needed to cook those meals, right down to the milk, spices, cooking spray to grease the pan, etc. (that's step 2) I would then go through the freezer & pantry and cross off the items we already had. (step 3) After I had my crossed off list, I'd make my 'final' grocery list of what we still needed (step 4). {Anybody else ever add things to your to-do list just for the sake of being able to cross them off? I think that's kind of what this was!} Eventually I learned to skip a few steps & only made 1 list--the ingredients we actually needed.

Later, the list evolved into dividing it up by aisles in the store. If you're like me, you shop in the same store week after week, and over time you come to know the store like the back of your hand. I began writing my list to match the layout of the store so that I would be most efficient in my shopping trip.

Now days, my menu planning & list making is a bit more refined & focused on money saving! (although my actual list still looks exactly like the one above) It has been helpful & well-organized and has saved us money for a long time, but now there is a real focus on utilizing the highest quality ingredients for the lowest price. It goes like this.

1. Look at last week's menu & determine whether or not there are meals I never cooked because we got busy & had sandwiches instead. (Sandwiches are our standard go-to meal when we have a busy night & no time to cook. Everyone is now old enough to make their own sandwich too! WooHoo!)
2. Look at the calendar for the upcoming week & make note of nights that there are band concerts, church events, soccer practice, football games, booster club meetings (and so on...) that will impede cooking time or that will involve eating a meal elsewhere.
3. Insert uncooked meals from last week on the meal planner sheet.
4. For the remaining nights, check the local sale ads & compare with coupons. See what I can get for a great price & create meals from those things. (More about that in another tip!)
5. Go shopping and buy ONLY what's on the list. By the end of the week, your fridge & pantry shelves will be bare, but you will not have wasted any money on unnecessary items that week and you will have saved on gas because you made just ONE trip to the store, not 10 trips!

One thing that a lot of people have told me over the years as a reason for not menu planning is that they never know from day to day what they will feel like eating each night. Maybe tonight doesn't feel like a chicken casserole night....or maybe they're not in the mood for tacos. While I do understand the point they're making (do I really have to cook the meals on the date I assigned them?), you've got to remember that you are the one making the menu. Select the foods that you know you & your family will enjoy. You don't have to stick to the menu day to day. You will just know that over the course of the entire week, these are the foods you have to choose from each night. And if it gets to the end of the week & you only have 1 meal left on the menu planner sheet and you're not in the mood for that meal, well....get over it & cook it anyway. ha ha! Seriously, quit fussing about not being in the 'mood' for the meal you planned. Food is fuel for your body. You will eat it & forget what you had within a couple hours anyway. Just eat it & shut up and be grateful that you saved money this week by planning your meals. Next week you can try to do better at your plan, but for now, hush up & eat the food!

I will be continuing this series with other tips & ideas in the coming week. Be on the lookout for part 2!


Anonymous said...

Wow u and are are alike in many ways LOL. My tip if I may suggest for many... Like in my family we eat a lot of chicken, beef and pork. We go to store section in meat section where the meat is discounted. Not sure if they do that everywhere but at king soopers/kroger/city market. They do a discounted meat section so we hit that a lot and anyway by friday I will have leftovers of all so Friday is make your own dinner night,,, Meaning sammies, quesidilla's or tacos or whatever. Just an idea to those that may read your blog! :)

Susie said...

LOOOOVE IT! :) "Get over it and cook it anyways!" :D See, now I'm *sure* we'd get along IRL!

One of the things I have done when I was on a very strict budget over the years, is buy whatever meat is on sale (NZ doesn't always do sale fliers, so sometimes I couldn't be sure before going to the store). From there I would base my meals on that meat.

This does require some flexibility since occasionally you had menu plans for beef meals, but chicken is on sale. But there's always an easy way around that. Sometimes you make pretty basic foods --- but you're not going to waste away eating basic. :)

Lauree said...

Great topic Liz! I love menu planning. Also How about choosing 1 or 2 meals to go meatless-there is huge cost savings there as long as you plan seasonal meals. :) Then there is also going back to the "basics" of cooking. Making simple but homemade meals. Much healthier for the family and you can save this way as well. :)