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Many families want to save money on their grocery bill.  For some, they need to save money on groceries.  Maybe it’s a job loss or their MasterCard tells them that they’re consistently spending money that they don’t have.  Maybe they do have the money to spend, but they simply want to put more money in their savings account.  Maybe it’s the birth of a new baby where the price tag of diapers and formula can come with quite a shock.  Maybe they’re on a budget for the first time and the realization of what they spend in a week or a month or in a year on groceries throws them for a loop.  Maybe they’re just naturally frugal and can’t stand the idea of spending any money on anything if they don’t have to.  Whatever the reason, many people come to the realization that they just want to spend less at the grocery store.

And, often, the first thing that comes to their mind is couponing.  “Coupons are the key to spending less!” they think.  But you know what?  I don’t think it is.  Coupons are great.  They’re wonderful.  They’re delightful little pieces of paper that you can give to a cashier instead of little pieces of paper with dead presidents on them. That’s nice.  But they’re only one part of the solution to a better grocery budget.  And I’ll let you in on a secret: I don’t think they’re the most powerful part.  There are LOTS of other things that you can do in addition to couponing to lower your grocery bill.

Over the next few posts, I’ll talk about some of them.  Care to join me?
Building Block 1: Plan your menu!

In my opinion, this is the biggest money saver!  Hands down. No contest.  Skipping doing a menu plan is kind of like when you try to get a college degree, but don’t look at the list of classes required for your major.  If you don’t know what classes are required, how can you graduate?  If you don’t know what you’re going to eat, how can you buy food for those meals?

When you don’t have a menu plan, you end up just wandering the aisles of the grocery store, wondering what you’ll eat.  In the cart goes chicken, milk, lettuce and spaghetti.  And “oh, those chips look good!” and “Mmmm…brownies!”.  But when you get home, you realize that you don’t have beef for the spaghetti sauce.  Now your refrigerator has 4 gallons of milk, but you only drink a gallon of milk a week.  You’re missing tortillas for the chicken tacos that sound good.

What happens next?  The milk spoils.  The frig is so stuffed (but with food that doesn’t turn into meals) that you can’t find the eggs when you need them.  You get frustrated that you “have nothing to eat”, so you order pizza or pick up burgers.  You head back to the store 2-3 more times that week to pick up missing ingredients.  And each time you’re there, something else looks good.  Donuts for breakfast.  A cake for dessert.  And there’s always a sign at the front of the store advertising their 12-roll pack of toilet paper.  You’re required to buy four to get the special pricing of $6.00/pack, so four go into your cart.  It’s really easy to see how these things add up faster than you can say “Charge it!”

I have nothing against donuts.  And cake.  And toilet paper.  I adore those things.  But they need to serve a purpose.  A menu plan gives them that purpose.

So…how do you menu plan?

Answer: Whatever works for you!

A couple years ago, I blogged about how I personally menu plan and it hasn’t changed much even though we’ve added 2 kids to the family. I basically sit down on Thursday nights and plan out the next week.  But you know what?  Do what works for you. It’s YOUR family.  It’s YOUR kitchen.  It’s YOUR budget.

You can also check out our monthly meal plans (we did all the work for you) or Nicole’s awesome two hour Meal Planning Success class offered regularly at Metropolitan and Iowa Western Community Colleges to give you a jump start to meal planning.

Do you want to do a monthly plan?  Okay by me!

Do you want to do a bi-weekly plan?  Okay by me!

Do you want to plan the meals for the week, but don’t want to decide which day of the week they’ll be served?  Okay by me!

Do you want to put a “theme” night on certain nights like Taco Tuesdays or Pizza Fridays or Meatless Mondays?  Okay by me!

Do you want one master meal plan that you just repeat each month?  Okay by me!

Do you want to plan on not cooking on the weekends and just eat leftovers?  Okay by me!

Seriously.  Just do something!  Just start somewhere!  And if you pick something that ends up not working for you, try something else!  No one ever rode a bike perfectly the first time they tried.  You’ll stumble.  And fall.  Just try again.  This is important enough that you must persevere.

Even if your menu is filled with expensive ingredients that you buy at full price, I still think you’ll save money overall.  Course, there are some better ways to pick your menu…Stay tuned for that!

How do you menu plan? What tips do you have for someone wanting to menu plan? Have you struggled with meal planning?

Jayme is a wife to 1 and, so far, a mother to two little boys. She coupons, but isn’t super extreme about it. She price matches and loves it! While she likes to cook, she’s in the stage of life where simple is usually better! She never knows how many hands she’ll have free at dinner time! You can find her at No Regrets Living.

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