Meal Planning 102

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Let's go shopping with Mary Jo as she teaches Meal Planning 102

Cooking Frugally

When last we talked, you had prepared your Meal Planning notebook and had all of your Meal Planning organizing done for at least a month. If you missed this, here’s a link to Meal Planning 101. Your pantry inventory is complete and you are ready for me to show you the money. Well, here we go with Meal Planning 102!

Let’s cut straight to the point: if you are an “I’ll stop on my way home after work” shopper, that needs to stop right now. Shopping once a month or once every two weeks is the OPTIMAL way to save money. Did you know people usually spend almost their ENTIRE weekly budget on that one “after work” stop? Yup. They see some BOGO and think, I MUST be saving money if I get one free. After all, the grocery store just wants to help me. OK. PUT THAT THINKING TOTALLY AWAY RIGHT NOW. The grocery store wants to make money. Period. They really aren’t doing you any favors by offering you a BOGO.

Let’s Talk Money

Did you know that you can get high-quality food by shopping at grocery stores such as Aldi, Lidl, and Price Chopper? Oh, an dyou will spend about 1/3 of what you would normally pay at “experience” stores like Publix or Wegmans? I don’t know about you, but I want my “experience” to be on an island in the sun with my family. And speaking of saving, did you also know you will save time by shopping at these kinds of stores? When you shop at stores with less inventory, it only takes about 30-45 minutes to complete your shopping trip, compared to the 2+ hours it takes at larger stores.

Time + Money = No Brainer

So, let’s start here. Make your list. You will do the same technique for your list as you do for your calendar. Write what you need on the page protector, make a hard copy to take to the store, and then erase and use again for the next time.

For this system, there are some rules:

  • Never go to the grocery store without your list. If you forget it, turn around and get it. The list is your accountability paper. You will not purchase anything that isn’t on the list.
  • Never go to the grocery store when you’re hungry. It’s true what they say that when you shop hungry, EVERYTHING (even the gross liver pate) will look amazing to you.
  • Be ready to bag your own groceries. It isn’t that hard, and if you bag according to how you put them away at home, you’ve saved even more time!
  • Take your own shopping bags. When you do this, you save some money, and also help the environment. Places like Aldi charge for the purchase of bags. Bringing your own bags helps to get to the bottom line of price savings.
  • Have a plan. Remember, the list is IN CHARGE. I cannot stress this enough. Do not deviate from that list!
  • Don’t be fooled by the BOGO or carry coupons. You will save money overall, and you will save so much time by NOT using them.
  • The grocery store cares about the grocery store. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that your grocery store “wants to help you” with your budget. Sure, they might offer some savings, but overall they are there to make money. Period.
  • Comparative shop. Plan to shop at two or three stores to get the best value for specific items.

Time to Shop!


So now that you’re in the grocery store with your list, a cart in front of you, and your bags tucked under the basket, you’re probably wondering what’s next. I’m so glad you asked!

  • Food quality matters. I believe in quality food without HFCS and other junk in it. This is why I shop at Aldi. I compared something as simple as canned tomatoes and was shocked that the “big name companies” use HFCS in their tomatoes. There is no reason for this! Because Aldi is a German-owned company, they adhere to many European rules, and we benefit from better food quality.
  • Comparative shopping. Sometimes you will get the combination of the best quality and best price by shopping at various locations. When I shop at Aldi, for example, I will purchase some produce, all of my dairy, all of my canned food, dry products, baby items, and frozen foods. I purchase my meats from Gordon foods or from a local butcher shop. This is something you will need to compare for yourself in your own town, though.
  • Utilize a deep freeze in your home. When you do this, you will be able to avoid unnecessary trips to the grocery during your allotted times. I shop once a month. I go to the produce store twice a month. When I go to the store, I purchase four gallons of milk. When I get home, I pour off about a cup of milk from each gallon, and we drink that first. The rest of the gallons go into the freezer. When we need more milk, I take one out the night before, and bam! Freezing milk doesn’t change the nutritional composition of the food. I just saved time, money, and stress in that one little action. I do this with bread, milk, cheeses, butter, and meats.

In an average month, I will spend $225 total at Aldi for the food for my family. That includes three meals and snacks. We do eat out one meal per week. If you have it in your budget to eat out, then make sure you place that on your calendar so you don’t end up with a surplus of items!

Cleaning Items

I purchase my cleaning items and laundry soap about once a month to once every other month. I admit that I’m a bit of a laundry soap snob, and will only purchase Tide or Gain. The thing is, though, that I will wait until Target has a $5 credit on these items and stock up. The prices are the same as any other store, but I will get that $5 back for purchasing three containers of the product. Most of the time, I choose Gain, as it is about $1-$2 less than Tide.

For bleach and floor cleaners, I usually just pick those things up at the dollar store. For the amount used, the dollar store is the place to get what you need. I think that sometimes people forget about the dollar stores, and the benefits they offer to save you money.

Part two of Chat And Chalk's easy meal planning/budgeting system
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Saving money helps you in the future!

Right now, our family is saving for a trip to Turkey to see our oldest child and enjoy a family vacation next summer. All of these tips will help us to save between $200-$300 a month. By doing this, we will be able to make some fun memories and see some amazing places. And that, to me anyway, makes it all worthwhile.