Growing up one of the things I always watched my Mom do was sit down and make a list, write in the calendar and go through flyers. My Mom was good to find deals and always knew which store had the best prices for items and where she could use coupons. As I have grown my own little family our budget and meals have expanded and changed over the last six years. When Matt and I were newly married our budget per week for food was $40, yeah $40 for two adults. Matt was in his last year of school and the money he earned we saved for his tuition and books, my income wasn't that great I made $16 an hour, but we were very blessed to be able to live in a basement suite at my in laws for cheap and we tried to keep our expenses low.
I had people ask me how we did it, lots of meal planning and making due without extravagant cheeses and ingredients. We minimized going out to eat and left that for special occasions or for it to be a real treat. You know what though, we survived and ate well and just focused on the fact that it is a short time in our lives and one day we would be able to eat fancier ( I am telling you cheese is life).
We were lucky Matt started a good job the day his graduation ceremonies happened and life changed. We were able to save like crazy so we could buy our home, but what didn't change was the planning and budgeting. We didn't want to over stretch our finances or get too elaborate in life. We just were able to buy name brand cheese verses no name brand cheese.
That time seems like forever ago but at the same time it seems like just yesterday. Now we are a family of four with two little mouths that seem to have bottomless pits for stomachs, they like their "snacks". Now my planning is even more crucial and staying on budget as well because we are a single income home. What my hubby did was sit down and wrote out a spread sheet on excel and punched some numbers. You don't have to go to those extremes but he likes excel and is good at it, I found a few websites through pintrest that have really good budget sheets along with them being cute and colourful (what can I say I like pretty things).
The one website is printablecrush.com/free-printable-budget-sheet/
Erin has some super cute stuff and I hope she doesn't mind the shout out and and link to her blog.
I am a visual person so I like having a calendar to write in, a board up to write on and lists that are in a few note books. You can go digital if you want, I just actually remember if I write it down, and then write it down again, and then write it even bigger.
So here are my tips for meal planning and staying on a budget:
Tip 1: Set a budget and stick to it!
Sit down and find what is a good budget that you know you can afford and also can stick to. The key is sticking to it, it can be really easy to lose track with little runs to the store or "oh it's only an extra $5". A couple years back in between kids I did that and then it was one of those moments where it was like "Um how did that happen" I over spent and it hurt us. So we went over everything again and tightened up so that we could get on track. So stick to it and don't justify mindless spending.... do you really need that chocolate bar or that treat, not really, especially if it puts you over budget.
Tip 2: Meal Plan
Meal planning not only helps you not impulse buy but it helps you make better choices. If you have a plan and record the groceries you need then you don't feel so lost when you are at the store, or tempted to buy that really good deal that you don't really need and isn't on your list. So here is what I do, I print off a calendar, again pintrest has tons of cute and practical ones that you can print for free, then I sit down and look at last months calendar and what worked and what I had to move around. I also plan for the whole month, some people just do a week or even two weeks, but I find a month ahead helps me manage my pantry and freezer better so I don't randomly run out of something I need (although that does still happen). I like to sit down the last Sunday of the month and look through some cooks books and pintrest and fill in my calendar. I have some things that we eat every month because we like them or we need a quick and easy recipe because we are busy. If your family has some tried and true recipes then they can be the main staples in your calendar and then fill in the blanks with some fun recipes that you can try.
I know you are probably wondering what happens when it gets to the day and I don't really feel what I have planned, well then I look through my calendar and swap with another day during the week, or I just make up a different recipe with similar ingredients.
I loved the pattern on these calendars:
Tip 3: Look at your local flyers and know the average prices for the best deal
I subscribe to all the mailing lists for the grocery stores in the city, that way I can look and know who really has a good deal or not. I only go shopping for my main run once every 2 weeks, that one I go to Costco for. There was a time when I would only go to Costco for meat runs every 6 months, but I started finding that shopping at other grocery stores my whole budget would be gone just for one weeks worth of groceries and my cart didn't look that full. I remember being so upset because prices were higher and it was hard to keep the budget where it was but feel like my family was being well fed. That's when I took a second look at Costco for full time shopping, it amazes me how full our fridge, freezer and pantry are now. I still have to do a little run somewhere else because Costco doesn't carry everything and I like to get fresh herbs, spices and certain veggies they don't stock. So compare and save, because most stores have a policy where they will match the price of the same or similar item. It is also great to get a rewards card if they offer them and that helps as well, because points add up. It is always best to know what you are actually paying for then just grabbing what's in front of you. I compare sizes verses prices and break it down to know if I am actually getting the best deal. Often times if you use an ingredient enough then buying in bulk is the best way to go, but if you find something is expiring before you finish it then you should opt for a smaller container or bottle.
Tip 3: Don't eat out often
I know this one might bug some people, I often hear "I don't have time to cook" or "I just don't know what to make" hence tip number 2. I know some people hate cooking as well but your wallet and belly will be grateful to make the switch. I am not saying don't ever eat out but limit it to maybe once a week or twice a month, or special occasions. We like to take the kids out for dinner or lunch once in awhile and we like to go on dates to a good restaurant but it is not all the time. I have some stomach issues (sever IBS: Irritable Bowl Syndrome and I also have endometriosis) so when I eat out I never know when it will hit me and I will get sick, plus I get so disappointed eating out sometimes that I prefer to not waste the money on a bad meal. It actually has become quite an epidemic I think, studies found that the average Canadian and American were spending more eating out then on groceries, when I read the statistics for it, it is scary and people wonder why they are broke and overweight. If you do eat out pick healthier options not the cheaper heart clogging ones, again I am all for McDonalds and Carls Junior and getting a juicy burger and fries once in awhile but not everyday or every week. Trust me your wallet will thank you and your pants!
Tip 4: Eat your leftovers and portion properly
We in western societies have a major problem with wasting, we waste a lot and food is one of the biggest things we let go to waste. An easy way to solve that is to know how much your family and you eat and make enough for that night so you don't end up with leftovers. If you like leftovers for lunch at work or the next day then please eat them. I hate seeing tons of food being thrown out because you can't finish it before it goes bad. Our eyes are bigger then our stomachs and we often over assume how much we can eat. A great resource is to find a proper portion guide online on how much you should be eating and gauge your meals by that, if you feel hungry later then eat an apple. I know that it helps our waste be minimized and my husband doesn't overly like taking leftovers to work, he actually just likes a PB&J sandwich for work.
These are just a few things that have helped us stay on track and really helped us control finances and the amount of waste coming out of our house. You have to find what works for your family but I swear by these four things. Being organized and sticking to a plan but allowing yourself some flexibility is important in this life. The nice thing is if you come out under budget then get that chocolate bar or in my case that extra fancy cheese or ingredient that wasn't on my list, or both! That's the beauty of staying on track because then you can have some fun money if there is some left over.
Those are my little signs I made, I used just a simple frame with glass and some scrapbooking paper and I use a dry erase marker to write on them. This hangs on my pantry door so I can't miss what it says!
A little about me