Menu planning has been one of the biggest changes made that resulted in a substantial savings to our grocery bill.
I have given a little background about our early years of marriage when funds were so limited. Living off John’s stipend while he was in graduate school was quite challenging. But as I shared, it helped me better understand the need for diligence in bookkeeping and frugal living.
During this time, my menu planning consisted of deciding which ONE casserole to cook for the week. With our family just starting, one large dish could last the whole week. These economical meals not only saved money but also my time! Variety was not so much an issue with my husband (provided it wasn’t bad), but each dish was nutritious and microwaveable!
My menu planning the “casserole of the week” cooking lasted up through the birth of four or five children in some form or another. But, as John’s salary increased, so I allowed our grocery budget to increase – except disproportionally. After several years of scrimping and saving, we were living debt free in our own house and driving debt free cars. Thus, I stopped writing down our expenses in my budget book. We had achieved our goals and consciously chose not to be misers – we even bought a ski boat!.
Yet, while we could have kept on without a problem, I wanted to see where our money was going and decided to dust off my budget book. Much to my surprise, I was spending $800 per month on food. Granted, we had 8 children at the time (from 0 to 18 yrs. old), but I thought $800 was excessive and wanted to reduce it.
I decided our frequent trips to the grocery store were primarily the problem (we shopped once a week while in the city for music lessons). This enabled poor (or no) plannning on my part. I could pick-up what I remembered but at the same time fell prey to impulsively buying more prepared foods. I had sacrificed healthy meals for convenience. I guess I should say something about our family meals. They are more than just pit-stops where we simultaneously feed, but rather times of reconnection and conversation as a family, not uncommonly lasting two hours. Even the young are encouraged to listen and take part as we grow together as a family. Maybe I will post more about family life later.
So to begin my menu planning, I made a list of the homemade meals we enjoyed. I then drew out a calender and filled in meals for the whole month. I placed it and others like it into a plastic sleeve and displayed it on my frig. So, at a glance, I would know what was for dinner. Now, for those of you who have entered the computer age, here is a free, downloadable weekly, 2-wk and monthly menu planner. I think it looks neat and one day I hope to try to use it!
Next, came a monthly shopping list. Checking my pantry first, I made a shopping list according to the recipes on my monthly menu. This was a bit overwhelming at first, but the results were well worth the effort. By simply planning meals for a month and shopping accordingly, I was able to lower our food bill to $400. That was a 50% savings! And that was even before I was using coupons. I must also note that eating out at restaurants is not the norm, but a treat, less than once per month.
I further tweaked my menus by figuring out the cost per serving of each individual recipe. Yes, this took some more time and effort, but what else is a mother of eight to do? I found, by expanding my recipe collection to include additional, more economical meals (red beans and rice was added) I further cut expenses to $300. This was not as big a jump, but the result was less expense with a healthier variety.
Jumping to the present, this year we were blessed with a very productive garden. My menu planning now revolves around eating out of our three freezers (2-25 cu ft and 1-17 cu ft). Now, for a family with 8 children still at home (the oldest two have moved out but others just keep coming), I am spending less than $300 per month including the feed for our chickens and milk cow. The keys are planning, using what we have on hand (garden fresh and freezers) and shopping with coupons in conjunction with sales.
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