I had tried meal planning before. I started stockpiling meat (at full price!) and staples so that I’d always have something ready. Yeah, that didn’t work. I wasn’t the least bit organized and I had no idea what I was doing. So, from hard experience, let me clue you in. Planning shouldn’t hurt. It shouldn’t be a pain in the patootie, and it shouldn’t break the bank.
First things first, take a weekend day and set part of it aside to get going. It may take a couple of hours this first time but it won’t take that long again.
1. Create a list of your most frequently bought items. Write it on the computer, categorize it (alphabetically, by grocery store aisle, by general category – whatever works for you) and then cory it into a little pocket sized notebook, one item to a page. Look through the week’s store circulars and make a note of the best price you see on any items on your list. Note the price, the unit price (divide the price by however many ounces, cans of soda, feet of toilet paper, some unit that you can compare between stores and sizes of the same product), the brand, and the date. Next time you go to the store, look for items that weren’t in the circulars and add their information to your book. Do all this in pencil so you can erase old entries. You only need to keep the best price you find. You can keep track of the best price at each store (and thereby learn the sale schedules by figuring out when it last went on sale at a great price) if you’d like. Keep this updated every week or two and you’ll always know when an item is on super “I should stock up” sale.
2. You know that list on your computer? That just became your shopping list. Print it out weekly (or however often you shop – bi-weekly, monthly…) and circle what you need. Take it with you to the store with you. It’s much easier to resist impulse buys when you know exactly what you need.
3. Meal plan. During that weekend planning session, figure out what dinners you are going to eat for the next week or two (or month if you’re ambitious). You know from checking the sales flyers what’s on sale, use that and anything you have in your pantry to make meals. You’ll be amazed at how much money this saves you. Even if you’re starting off eating pasta and frozen pizzas a lot, you’re saving money. You’re not going through the drive-thru or out to eat because there’s nothing in the house. We’ll talk about freezer cooking later. 🙂
Just those three things should start saving you money. If you can, consider shopping less frequently as well. If you generally shop every couple of days, stretch it out to a week. If it’s once a week, stretch it to two. The less you are in the store, the fewer chances they have to get you to make impulse buys.