Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Becoming a Frugal Meal Planner

    If you haven't heard, we're in a recession... which probably has nothing to do with the fact that we're living on one income, have a fourth baby on the way, and own a home. It certainly doesn't help that we're no longer a military family, which means paying state taxes (Welcome to Virginia!) and medical bills. The shape of things has forced us to rethink the way we spend and even the lifestyle we've had (eating out is a definite treat now). When it started to look like we wouldn't be able to make a car payment, I started clipping coupons (and a few other things). So far, it's working for us...

1) Meal Plan. The first thing I did was listen to the advice of a much more knowledgable friend and start making meal plans. I already had a grocery list made up or I would recommend that first (this is a list of every thing you normally have in your pantry and fridge... helping to only buy things you need instead of making impulse buys). I was already halfway there, but made a HUGE mistake. I was keeping our pantry stocked, but it was OVERstocked. So I listened to a friend and started the meal plans. They're only on a two week basis (every paycheck) and if I stick to the grocery list, we only buy the things that we need.
  • Add in one night a week for leftovers and one night for breakfast-for-dinner
  • For breakfast, eat healthy - fruits, eggs, toast, and non-sugary cereals (the bulk generic variety)
  • Our kids love classic staples like grilled cheese, pb&j, half-sandwiches with chips, ravioli/spaghettios, and sometimes leftovers. It's easy to keep up with all the sandwiches if you look out for bread savings at your grocery store - our Wal-Mart often has $75 bread put out.
  • Check out sites like http://www.allrecipes.com/ or http://www.cooks.com/ to find recipes by ingredient.
  • Pick up some old cookbooks from yard sales or check them out from your library to get more ideas.
  • During the winter, soups are just what you need to stay warm - on our rotation we have: crockpot chili, potato soup, chicken stew, beef stew, black-eyed pea gumbo, tomato soup, and even Campbell's Chunky canned soup (with a $1 off/for 3 coupon).
  • Shop your meats from a wholesale source or butcher (more willing to give you certain cuts) or find a farmer's market like I do - a huge pack of ribs is only $9 as compared to a smaller pack for $20 at the commercial grocery store. I'm trying something new this go round by purchasing bulk from a wholesale vendor and letting the meat last through a couple paychecks.

2) Frugal Cooking. The next step happened when I looked at everything I was buying - high priced meats and tons of ingredients that were bringing the prices up. I was raised in the South and thought that I wasn't doing my job if we didn't have meat-and-potatoes type meals every night. But my husband was practically begging for healthier meals (though he loved the heavy stuff) and the kids love the light stuff. So I started having soups, stews, chili and gumbo several times a month (change it out and it won't get boring). I'm also getting out of my comfort zone by making homemade tomato soup, a new chicken stew, and crockpot chili. All of these are either vegetarian or use inexpensive meats like chicken pieces, stew meat, or ground beef. Taco or Fajita nights are also on the inexpensive list. One or two nights a week I throw in those heavy meals and it doesn't break our budget because of how few there are.

3) Clip the Coupons. This is pretty self-explanatory... weed out every name-brand thing you buy (If you're not buying generic already, you may have a hard time with this) and find coupons for as many as you can. Look in your newspaper or online at sites like http://www.coupons.smartsource.com/ (all you need is a printer). The product sites also have newsletters you can sign up for to get occasional savings e-mailed to you. I remember my grandmother keeping a little file folder full of coupons and thought that it was a complete waste of time but now I'm absolutely certain that she's the kind of homemaker that I want to be.

    Back in the beginning of December, I had already started meal plans but hadn't added in the coupons or the pared-down, frugal meals. I was already saving then by spending $359.16 (whereis I was spending close to $400 before) but now I'm only spending $193.30, including the meat purchase. I'm sure that as I get used to clipping coupons it will be an even greater saving, but I'm already happy with the $400 I'm saving a month and I finally feel like I'm learning how to be the frugal helpmeet that I should be.


  1. Hey, Susan! I didn't know you were blogging! :o) These are all great tips, and they really do work. One other thing I thought you might like to consider is cutting back on meat in each dish. For example, when making a casserole that calls for a pound of meat, try 3/4 lb. Or even 1/2 lb. If it's a really tight month, or I'm trying to stretch between grocery days, I've even done 1/4 lb. If you bulk up with extra veggies/pasta/whatever you can hardly tell the difference. :o)

    Making more from scratch helps a lot, too. I make my own pancake mix for quick breakfasts and a bonus is that I know every ingredient in it! You can also pre-make all the dry ingredients for other recipes (like cakes, muffins, and brownies) and label them so you can just grab a bag, add the wet ingredients, and bake away! :o)

  2. Thanks Arlene = ) I do love adding homemade breads to the soups and I always have a bag of streudel in the fridge to add to muffins. Good idea to have cake mixes ready!


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