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Menu-Planning Made Cheap

Planning your meals ahead of time is a great way to save money on groceries. By buying everything you need for a week or two at a time, you can save lots of time and less money. Really, the more trips to the grocery store that you make, the more money you will end up spending on food. Here are some simple steps to planning your family’s menus.

1. Look through your fridge, freezer, and pantry to see what you already have that you could turn into a meal. Especially look for things that will go to waste if not used. Leftover chicken could be used for a pasta dish, casserole, soup, chile, etc. Potatoes could be used for a potato bar, or as sides for a couple of meals. Whatever your leftovers might be, take notes so you can use them for a meal before they go to waste.

2. Scour the ads. To do decide where I do my shopping, I look for great deals on staple food items like meat, cheese, or milk. I often go to a farmer’s market store for produce or whatever else they might have on sale. Then, I go to a regular grocery store for other things. You may have other discount food stores you shop from. To really save money at these places, don’t buy anything that you don’t really need.

3. Plan a menu around both what you already have, and what is on sale. Some people plan a menu specifically for each day of the week or month. I simply make a list of meals I plan on making for a week or two and post it on the refrigerator. When I am thinking about what to cook for dinner, I look at the list and decide what to make at that time. I’ve already done my shopping, so all of the items are on hand.

4. Make a grocery list for the items you still need.

5. Don’t forget to plan for lunches and breakfasts too. To save money, I like to make our own breakfasts—muffins, bread, cinnamon rolls, etc. For lunch we simply use leftovers or sandwiches. I make sure to always have things on hand to make sandwiches with. If I don’t buy enough things to make lunches out of, then instead of bringing his lunch to work, my husband has to eat out, which costs us more money.

6. Don’t be afraid to stock up on staples. I sometimes feel hesitant to stock up on anything, because I am trying to stay within a budget. However, buying extra can be a great way to save money if you only stock up on essentials. Ice cream and soda are not essentials! Check expiration dates to gauge how many items you can buy ahead of time. For instance, packaged cheese usually last months and months until opened. When cheese is $1 for an 8oz package, I buy as many packages as the store allows me to.