Finally I’ve found a few minutes to assemble another installment in my October Coupon Lessons series!
Today I want to address a question I get from time-to-time: how do you combine sale shopping with planning your meals for the week?
In answering this question, you’ll find today’s post is more of my own personal system than “lesson” per se. But I hope I can give you a few ideas of what I do to help you get started. See, I’m always trying to consider the bigger picture. If I just focus on the sales (which is easy to do), I will most likely be at the store three days later for milk, bread, and cheese. This is silly.
So here is what I do. Let’s start with my recipe book. This is a book I assembled a few years ago (and badly need to update, by the way!). It’s my go-to book of favorite family recipes and meals. I also took the time to simply write out a list of about 20-30 of my family’s favorite meals. This way when I need to plan the week’s dinner list, I don’t have to sit there and waste time trying to think.
As you might be able to tell from the picture, I’ve put all my recipes in page protectors to keep them safe from food spills. My recipe book includes recipes taken from magazines, written out by friends, printed off the Internet, and a few were even given to me at my wedding shower! It’s a great resource.
After I’ve looked at the ads that week and seen what’s on sale, I begin to strategize looking at sale items, our family recipes, and what ingredients I have on stock in my pantry. There have been some great stock-up sales recently for beans, rice, and pasta sauce, so I might let some of those staples help inspire my grocery list for the week.
Once I’ve gotten my meal list together, I’ll write out what ingredients I need to purchase that week to complete the meals. If those additional ingredients are NOT on sale, I will do my best to look for generic items or hope to find sales in the store. It’s generally best to shop at stores that offer lower prices in the first place! Another great source of ingredients has been Winco for me. They have lots of great items in bulk – pasta, rice, spice mixes, even dried fruit, nuts. It can be a great way to purchase items for cheap – and just what you need! Here are a few items I’ve gotten recently at Winco (instant oatmeal for cobbler, dried bread crumbs for meatballs, and dried fruit for healthy kid snacking). More on needs-based shopping later. Moving along…
Finally, after I’ve assembled what I need and estimated the cost, I’ll determine how much money I can carve out of my weekly grocery budget for stockpiling. Unlike stockpiling Costco-style where you spend $100-200, your weekly stockpile shopping need not total more than $10-20 at first. Just do what you can afford! Simply pick a few items that you use regularly that are on good deals for the week. As you begin to do this week in and week out, your stockpile will start to grow. And over time, the items that you “need” from the grocery store to complete your meal list will diminish.
A final point before I sign off…I’ve recently started getting into freezer meals! This can be a great way to make use of meat, produce, and other fresh ingredients you find on great sales. It can also be a way to save yourself time. For instance, last week, I found $1.59/lb chicken breast at Summit Trading. Instead of just buying 10 lbs and chucking it in the freezer, I hand trimmed it and prepped 3 Cashew Chicken Dinners and 2 Mariachi Chicken Roll dinners from one of my favorite freezer books, Fix Freeze and Feast. Not only have I saved myself money, I’ve saved myself time in the process too. It also meant that next week, I’ll have one or two less meals to worry about.
Incidentally, I do not have a storage freezer (hopefully soon!), but I’ve still found that by keeping things neat and organized, I can store quite a few dinners in there!
Over the next few days I’ll be spending some more time talking about grocery store shopping strategies as well as how to find good deals on items you need when they are not on sale. Stay tuned!