Thursday, January 10, 2013

Budget and Meal Planning Goals for the New Year

Happy (late) New Year to all! I am back in the world of blogger after a 3 week sabbatical.  We had a wonderful time in Maine celebrating Christmas and the New Year with friends and family! Good times were had and memories were made.  All of that being said, it is nice to be back home and settled back into the routine of "normal" life!

Over the holidays I had quite a bit of time to do some blog reading and perusing.  I was encouraged and challenged by several different blogging women in the area of planning and budgeting--namely, Money Saving Mom and Blissful and Domestic.  As a result, I've set some goals for implementing some new, budget-friendly and organizational ideas.

I'm always looking for ways that I can save money and lower expenses when it comes to meal planning and buying groceries.  Devin and I have done well so far--shopping once a week, looking for sales, using coupons, and buying food items that will stretch and be useful for different kinds of meals.  Even though we didn't do to bad last year, I think we can do better.  Here are some of the goals I've set to improve myself in this area during 2013:

Have a Meal Plan

Having a meal plan works wonders in so many ways.  I hate it when four o'clock rolls around and I still have no idea what's for supper!  And I'm sure you'll all be familiar with this one if you're married: "Honey, what do you want for supper tonight?"...."Oh, I don't care; anything sounds good."  Yeah...not so helpful, right?  Another pet peeve of mine is people who go to the store and browse when they don't know what to make for supper.  Usually, these kinds of people end up spending $30-$40 because they impulse buy items that they see but don't need while browsing for supper.

Having a simple meal plan to stick to will help you avoid all of the above scenarios while helping you use what you have in your cupboards and stay withing a budget.  When I first started planning meals for the week, I used this method:

This menu board was a pinterest-inspired project that was supposed to work GREAT! The idea is to have cards with meals printed on them sitting in the little box to the right.  I could then pin up a meal for each day on the clothespins to the left.  The only problem was, I never did it.  I found that it was hard to stick to such a specific meal plan.  While this might work for some, I prefer more flexibility.

I'm currently using a "themed night" meal plan, which I like much better.  The idea is to assign a theme to each night of the week. You then make a meal that fits the category for that day.  Here are mine:

Monday: Burgers
Tuesday: Chicken
Wednesday: Soup
Thursday: Beef
Friday: Homemade Pizza
Saturday: Leftovers/Spontaneous

So far this has worked really well for me!  I'm also having fun trying new recipes for each category.  My personal favorite is soup night.  Devin and I both love soups, and they are so versatile and inexpensive to make.  

To sum it up, find a meal planning strategy that works for you...and use it! This is a huge time and money saver!

Stick to a Budgeted Amount

This one is really important! With Devin in college and both us working part time, we can't afford to not have a budgeted amount to spend on groceries.  It's crazy how much money you can spend when you don't have a plan, isn't it? There are several things to keep in mind when setting a budget goal for yourself:
  1. Be realistic--Don't set a goal that is so low you won't be able to keep it.  You don't want to constantly be discouraged!  
  2. Analyze your current spending--Figure out how much you're currently spending on groceries, and average it out to a weekly amount.  
  3. Take small steps--If you've realized you need to lower your spending, don't do it all at once.  Instead, see if you can lower your budget a $2-$3 at a time each week.  It might not look like much at first, but  after a few months, you will start to see a big difference.
Money Saving Mom recommends the cash method for those who struggle with sticking to a budget.  To use this system, withdraw the amount you've budgeted for grocery in cash, and don't allow yourself to even THINK about plastic when you go shopping!  

Devin and I find that we do find staying within our budget even though we don't use the cash system.  We have a rewards system for groceries on our credit card, so we use it--wisely!  

To sum it up, figure out how much you should be spending on groceries each week and find a way to stick to  that amount.

Shop Every Two Weeks

This is going to be a big one for me this year! It's a challenge, and I'm loving it so far.  Like I mentioned before, Devin and I have been doing our grocery shopping once a week for the past months.  It works well, but going to the store that often has its setbacks.  I don't care how wise you are with your money, the more often you go to the store, the more likely you are to spend more money.  Blissful and Domestic shares how she shops only once a month--wow! Unfortunately, I don't have the freezer space for that, but I knew I could easily switch to every other week.  Here are some tips I've been using to make this work:
  1. Utilize your freezer--There are so many things you can freeze that I wasn't aware of! Bread and meat are to biggies for me.  You can also freeze things like chopped fruit and veggies, milk, butter, and so much more.
  2. Keep a list of staples--With the help of my friend Google, I compiled a list of things that I think should be in my pantry at all times.  I printed off the list and have it hanging on my refrigerator.  The items listed are staples that can be used for multiple meals--pasta, rice, seasonings, canned goods, freezer/fridge items, etc.  I use this as a checklist when I before I go shopping to make sure I have everything stocked.  This keeps me from forgetting to buy anything.
  3. Meal Plan--Well..we already talked about this one! But seriously, use your meal plan to help you fill in your shopping list.
By shopping every two weeks, I'm hoping to cut my budget by at least 30%.

Think Outside the Box

Don't limit yourself! Try new things--you might surprise yourself and like them! One of the things I'm challenging myself with this year is going meatless once a week.  The easiest way I see myself doing this right now is in the form of soups.  I've already found some that sound delicious and use...yep--zero meat! For me, this is a way I can cut spending while still having a nutritional and delicious meal.  Homemade pizza night is another way of doing this.

Keep In Touch With Like-Minded People

Talk to friends who have similar goals and encourage each other.  Share ideas, recipes, deals, and whatever else.  Keep yourselves accountable to sticking to your goals.  Also, read blogs and books to glean ideas from others who have already implemented goals like these.  Like I mentioned before, Money Saving  Mom and Blissful and Domestic have really challenged me in these areas.

Thank you for bearing with me in this long and detailed post.  I hope it has challenged you! I would love to hear your ideas for budgeting and meal planning. Do you have goals similar to mine? Have I missed anything that I should be doing?


  1. These are great tips! I did a lot of this similar to you when I was in FL. One thing that helped me was to find a blogger in my general area of the country with a coupon database. I could type in items that were on sale that week and find coupons to go with it. It was a big help!

    1. Great tip! I follow a couple of different bloggers for deal ideas in my area as well!