Sunday, March 9, 2008

How I feed my family of 8 on $300 a month - Part 3

If you missed part 1 of the series you can read it here, and you can read part 2 here.

Now that everyone has sat down and set up a budget, it's time to make a menu. I will say this one more time. Cut back on the amount you are spending each month a bit at a time. In fact, practice doing a few weeks of menu planning first before cutting back on the amount of money you spend. This will allow for a learning curve. Most of us get so excited in the beginning and try to do too much. This leads to disappointment and failure. Once you learn how to do this you will be able to save your family lots of money.

So, what's the big deal about menu planning anyway? Well, menu planning saves you time and money! I am a busy woman, so I am always looking for a way to make my life easier and more efficient. Also, saving time and money are two of my favorite things.

When your plan your menu in advance there is no more standing in front of the refrigerator in a panic wondering what to cook for dinner at 5:00 in the afternoon. Only to realize that once you've decided on something, that you're out of a key ingredient, so now you have make a mad dash to the store. While you're there you see those cookies that look really good, and a nice cold coke sounds great. Before you know it, you've spent an extra $10.00.

Or you might be like me when when this happened. You know how it goes, you call your sweetie on the phone and say, "Hey honey, can you stop at so-and-so and pick up dinner?" Here at our house a run to McDonald's will cost us over $35.00. A typical dinner that I make at home will cost about a tenth of that. Like I said, planning your menu can save both time and money.

This is how menu planning goes at my house. First thing I will do is ask my husband if there is anything that he is hungry for that he wants me to cook. There is nothing worse than sitting down and planning everything out, only to have to have to change something because my husband really wanted to BBQ on Saturday when I had chicken tetrazinni planned instead.

So, after talking to him I will grab one of my older girls a few days before shopping day. We will go through and do a quick inventory of what's in the pantry. I don't know how many times I have bought something thinking I was low, only to get home and find out that I had way too many already. Or even worse, I would assume that I had enough only to find that I had to make that last minute mad dash to the store. So, now we do an inventory. If you really like to be extra organized, you can find master grocery lists online and print them out. They usually have a column for what you have on hand and a column for what you need.

To make things simple, you need to know what some of your favorite meals are. You can alternate those every week, every other week, or even monthly. For example, we usually will have a taco and burrito night one Wednesday and the next Wednesday we will have spaghetti and garlic bread. We also do pizza night on Friday nights at least every other week. The key is to simplify. Most families know what they like, and will tolerate some variety, but as a general rule like to stick to what they know. I am one who likes to try new things, so at least once a month I will try a new recipe. I have found some winners and some losers.

After I know what I have, my daughter and I sit down and write out our dinner menu. My weekly breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snack menu stay the same for at least a month, sometimes longer. I make a dinner menu for 2 weeks at a time. To start off with though, I would only do one week at a time. This includes the main dish and any sides and desserts. Here at my house we like to include lots of different fresh breads. They are inexpensive, I make them with whole grains, and they fill us up!

Once we are satisfied with how our menu looks, which usually only takes about 30 minutes, we start on the shopping list. Knowing what I already have on hand makes it easy for me to write out what I need. I then write out everything I need to make all my meals and snacks. Like i've said before, when I shop, I only carry cash and stick strictly to my list. I know I only have $150 on me and I need to buy everything with that money to feed my family for two weeks.

Try planning a menu for a week and then shopping according to that menu. In the beginning it may be a little difficult. It is well worth the effort put into it, in the end. Once you get the hang of it though, it really makes things so much easier.

Next week: Shopping the weekly sales and further planning your menu from that!


Kate said...

Wonderful tips Teresa! We meal plan very similarly here. Do you ever need to buy more milk or produce by week #2?

Teresa said...

I budget for so much milk for 2 weeks. I buy half of that the first week and half the second week.
For fruits and veggies, I just pick up bananas and lettuce weekly, the rest keep 2 weeks. Or, if I find really great deals on produce i'll pick up extra. I usually have about $10.00 saved for deals I find every two weeks.

Carlie said...

I break up my produce too and save a little cash for good deals. But the milk and bread are straight from CVS. Please - don't ever get rid of ECB's!!!!