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Day 3: Menu Planning Tips to Help Tame Your Grocery Budget

Yesterday we discussed how planning your weekly menus could help save you time, money and stress, so let’s talk about some menu planning tips.

First, it’s important to understand that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to plan your menus. What works for one person may be a total fail for someone else.

These tips will help you get started and you can modify them to suit your family’s needs and circumstances. Obviously, you want to plan your menus before you head to the grocery store. This saves you from buying a lot of unnecessary ingredients that are just going to eat into your budget.

What do you already have in-house?

So, the first thing to do is take a look at your cupboards, your refrigerator, your freezer and pantry to see what you already have on hand. Just because they have a great deal on soups this week doesn’t necessarily mean you should stock up – especially if you already have a month’s worth on hand. (Later, we’ll be talking about sales cycles and how to plan your bulk purchases.)

Don’t overlook leftovers – as long as you can use them quickly. A bit of leftover roast beef, a few carrots and potatoes and you may only need to pick up celery and an onion to turn it into a stew. And there’s one less meal you have to shop for.

Don’t forget take-out – If you typically have a family pizza night, don’t forget to include that in your menu planning because the cost of the pizza is part of your grocery budget.

What’s on sale this week?

Most households get sales flyers from various grocery stores delivered in the mail or left on the door on Wednesday. This gives you plenty of time to plan your menu – and shopping trip – around the sale items. If you don’t get these flyers, go to your store’s website to see the current sales ad.

Pay close attention to the main items that are prominently featured, but also look at all the other items, too because sometimes there are some killer deals buried in the middle of the flyer.

Remember: Not everything in that flyer is a bargain. It may not even be on sale.  Now that’ you’re really focusing on your grocery budget you’ll start to automatically recognize when something’s on sale, and when it’s at a super-low price.

Check your coupons

Once you have an idea of what’s on sale and what you have in-house and what you need to buy, it’s time to check your coupons. Most people will tell you to only take the coupons you plan to use when you head out to the store, but we take every coupon we have.

First, do separate out the coupons you definitely plan to use so you don’t forget to use them.

Next, organize your other coupons and keep them handy.  You never know when you’re going to see an un-advertised special or a mark-down or clearance rack.

Be flexible and courageous

Some people like to map out the whole week’s menu first and then scour the ads and coupons looking for the items they need to complete those menus. If you’re flexible you’ll save more money. You might plan to have pot roast on Sunday but what if the store has a really good deal on pork roast?

Our Eakin Rd. Kroger store had pork roasts on sale BOGO at least once a month this spring. We saved a ton of money on roasts!

Learn to substitute ingredients. So what if the recipe calls for shallots? Green onions are usually half the price and they’ll work just as well. Be courageous, too. Never tried liver or brussel sprouts or quinoa? You might be surprised.

Can’t get the kids to try kiwi or oatmeal or whole grain bread? They will if they’re hungry enough. Be courageous, shop the deals and you’ll save money while opening up a whole new world of flavors for you and your family.

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