This post is part of The One Hour Project, in which you can spend just one hour to put your finances in a better place without a big lifestyle change, through frugality or other financial choices.
My wife and I generally plan a week’s worth of dinners at once for several reasons. First, it’s clear to both of us what the dinner plan is well in advance. Second, we’re able to be sure we have everything we need for dinner on hand. Third, it’s way cheaper than even making meals off hand at home – and way, way cheaper than eating out or getting take out.
It only takes an hour to plan it and get the supplies you need on hand, from the moment you’re sitting at home with a piece of paper in front of you to having everything you need for the whole week in your cupboard. Here’s what you do.
Grab the weekly flyer from your favorite grocery store. I get mine with the Sunday paper and in the regular mail. If all else fails, pick up the flyer on your way home from work, but it’s pretty easy to get your hands on one.
When you’re ready to plan, sit down with the flyer, a sheet of paper, and a pen. List the seven days of the week on the paper with enough room under it to list what you’re planning on eating for that meal.
Next, go through that flyer and circle a few on-sale items that seem tasty to you. These will serve as the foundation for your meals for the week – yep, you’ll take advantage of what’s on sale to plan your meals for the week.
When you have the items you like, come up with seven meals using those ingredients. Let’s say hamburger is on sale. You might want to have hamburgers one night and maybe beef tacos another night. Even better, look for meal ideas that use multiples of the ingredients on sale. If you don’t have any bright ideas, use the basic do-it-yourself casserole recipe and find ingredients to match.
Now, when you’ve filled in all seven slots, figure out all the ingredients you’ll need for the meals. List them out if you need to. Then check and see which ingredients you already have on hand. A well stocked kitchen should have most things you need on hand, but at the end of the day, you’re going to want everything at home.
Make up a shopping list of everything you need. List every item that you’ll need for these recipes, nothing more, nothing less. You may want to include some simple items for other meals – I generally encourage fresh fruits and oatmeal for breakfast because they’re relatively cheap, very healthy, and filling.
Then, head out to the store. Stick strictly to that shopping list – get nothing else. When you go through the checkout, look at the number on your receipt at the end and realize that your entire family will eat seven dinners (and maybe even more, including leftovers) for this amount. Of course, it is a bit more because you’ll be using stuff you have at home, but the savings will really be obvious.
Give this a try for one week, and look at that receipt when you’re done at the grocery store. When you realize that is your food bill for the entire week, you’ll feel a lot better about your money.