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Grocery spending can add up quickly. Even though you might have the goal of saving money by cooking for yourself, it is easy to let your grocery bill get out of hand.
I know this reality all too well — I’ve spent way too much on groceries in the past and blown my budget. But I learned a few tricks and I’ve been able to dramatically slash my grocery bill with a long-term meal planning strategy. Here’s how I made that happen.
How I let my grocery spending explode
As a family of two, we were spending over $750 per month in groceries last July. Of course, it was a slow rise to the top of this budget rollercoaster. But there were a few key factors that allowed us to let our grocery spending run rampant.
First, my husband and I got married in June 2019 in a beautiful ceremony. But it required a lot of detailed planning on my part. By the time we got back from our honeymoon in Scotland, we didn’t have the energy to map out an affordable meal plan.
Instead, we grabbed whatever looked good at the store and ended up making several trips back to fill in the gaps. Although the small purchases that we needed to complete a meal weren’t too expensive, it added up quickly. Plus, it opened the door to more impulse buys while at the grocery store.
When I tallied up our grocery expenditures at the end of the month, I was shocked! I truly had no idea how quickly our grocery expenses were adding up. I decided to make a change.
How I cut my grocery bill in half
The simple answer is that meal planning was the solution to our overspending problems. But I took the traditional weekly meal planning strategy to the next level by planning out my meals for three weeks at a time.
The key to my three-week meal plan is that it eliminates most unnecessary buys at the grocery store. With fewer trips to the store, I can more easily avoid the temptation of buying another box of my favorite — but overpriced — shortbread cookies. Although I usually pick up a random item or two that wasn’t on my list, the costs don’t add up as quickly when I only have the opportunity to do this every three weeks.
A three-week time frame gives you just enough time to eat all the food you’ve bought, and I find it easier to stick to the meal plan schedule because I don’t want to let any of my food go to waste. If I deviate from the plan, I have to find a way to save my extra food, which can often be too much effort for my taste.
Plus, there is an added bonus to the three-week rule. With a meal plan in place, you might find one side effect is that you don’t give in to the impulse to pick up takeout. That can help to stretch your overall food budget even further.
Extra steps I took to cut down on this major expense
It takes a substantial amount of time to meal plan and shop for three weeks. But the good news is that you only have to deal with this chore every three weeks. Here are the extra steps I took to minimize the cost of our three-week plans:
As I worked through my meal plans, I would look for recipes that shared ingredients. For example, I love sweet potato enchiladas, but it only calls for half an onion and half of a cilantro bunch. Instead of tossing the other half, I added another meal to my plans that will need the extra ingredients.
I now have several recipes that always pop into the meal plans as a pair.
Keep the plan in a visible spot
I decided to put my meal plan in a highly visible place. When I map out our meals for the next three weeks, I put the menu on a dry-erase calendar in the kitchen. That way my husband and I both know what we should be cooking that day. With the menu right in the kitchen, I’m less likely to go off track and pilfer ingredients from other recipes.
Since I’m only going to the grocery store every three weeks, I’ve decided to split up my shopping at two different stores. I go to both Publix and Walmart to get what we will need for the next three weeks. Although it adds some time to my grocery run, it is worth the savings I’m able to tap into at both stores.
Check out the sales
The one downside of my three-week approach is that I cannot take advantage of all the sales. But I make sure to seek out any sale opportunities when I am heading to the store.
Before I arrive at the store, I scan through the sale items of the week. If there is any staple item that is on sale, I’ll usually add it to my list even if I don’t need it for my current meal plans. With that, I’m able to save on the essentials and use them when I need them.
When I take advantage of a great sale, I usually expect to spend more on groceries that month, so there is some fluctuation in our grocery budget. For now, our grocery budget swings from $335 to $400 each month thanks to a variation of sales — down from $750 last year at this time.
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