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Although it’s not particularly fun, creating menu plan is one of the simplest way to save money. If you can create a menu plan, you can save money. It is as simple as that. There are two main reasons that a menu plan can save money:

  1. You don’t eat dinner out as often.
  2. You know what to buy at the grocery store.

Let me explain how each of these really can affect your budget.

The Dining Out Sneak Attack

See if this relates to your life: You are heading home from a long day at work and when you finally tear through the door, the first thing you hear is “What’s for dinner?” or “I’m starving! When are we going to eat?” After the hectic day you’ve had, you realize you have no clue what you are going to feed the family. So, you end up spending a ton of money dining out — for the third time this week.

Now imagine reliving that same scenario eight or ten times per month. That means you’ll dine out for more than 200 meals in a year. Say you spend $20 per meal, in one year you’ll have spent more than $4,000 dining out.

Dining out is great, but it can quickly eat up your budget. Establish a dining out budget and stick to it. We started doing this when we were working ourselves out from more than $37,000 in debt. For us, it is normal to fix dinner at home and something to which we are accustomed.

Your menu plan helps you know what you’ll make for dinner every night. It is one less thing you have to worry about night after night and it’s a wonderful way to manage your food budget.

The Lower Grocery Budget

The other way we save money with our menu plan has to do with my weekly grocery shopping trips. Before we had a menu plan, I would walk the aisles of the store with my list while trying to figure out what I might have for dinner that week.

Of course, despite my very best efforts, I always found myself forgetting items. That lead to more return trips to the store during the week. And, when I did that, I would often toss additional items that we did not necessarily need into the cart. Plus, by making multiple trips, I was spending more money on gas.

When you create a menu plan, you know every meal and snack you will have for the week. Your menu plan then becomes your guide to creating a shopping list. The list will include all the items you need for every meal and snack for the week. You end up with a comprehensive, workable shopping list.

Creating a Menu Plan

When it comes to learning how to create a menu plan, the key factor is planning. It is simple to plan a weekly or even bi-weekly menu yourself, but you’ll need to take a few things into consideration before you do.

1. Check the Freezer, Pantry & Fridge

To start, look at items that may spoil or expire soon. Come up with a meal where you can use these items before you end up tossing it into the trash.

Next, check for items you have on hand. You may have found a great deal on noodles last week and stocked up. That may mean adding spaghetti to your meal plan this week.

You should also look for ways to make multiple meals out of one item. For example, you may make a large roast chicken for dinner one night and, later in the week, whip up a batch of chicken and noodles with the left overs. You won’t be wasting food and you’ll get your money’s worth.

2. Check the Grocery Store Ad

You might have several items on hand to make four meals, but that still leaves three more to plan. Rather than making whatever sounds good, look at the store flyer to find items on sale. You may see that ground beef is on sale, so that may lend itself to grilling burgers.

When checking the local grocery store ad, focus on the front cover and any short sales dates. These items are often best deals you will see for weeks. You should not only plan on making meals with items you can find here, but also stocking up on them so you have them on hand for future meal plans.

Bonus tip? Try using cashback credit cards while shopping for grocery stores. You can earn rewards that can go towards your monthly food bill. Before applying for any new credit, it’s best to make sure your credit score is high enough to qualify. You can check two of your scores free on Credit.com.

3. Ask Your Family

Remember to ask your family for input while making a meal plan. If you find a package of chicken breasts in the freezer, ask them what chicken based meal they’d love to have that week.

This helps you come up with new ideas, but also helps you know that you are selecting meals your family will enjoy. By making things your family will enjoy, you can avoid wasting food and money.

4. Put Your Plan in Writing

When you create a menu plan, it is very important that it is in writing. You should also plan for every day of the week. Dinner is important to plan but don’t forget to include breakfasts, lunch (even if packing them for school or work) and snacks.

5. Don’t Plan Too Far in Advance

There are many who like to menu plan for a month. While that can be good for some, I don’t recommend this. When planning so far ahead it can be difficult to check the weekly ad to ensure your meals use items that are on sale. Planning meals for any period longer than two weeks can result in missing those key sales when prepping your meals.

6. Make Your Plan Visible

The final step is to make sure you plan is visible. If you and your family can’t see it, you can’t use it. Rather than tuck it into a drawer, put it on your refrigerator where you see it every morning. Then, before you leave for work, make sure that any frozen items get thawed properly so you can use them to make dinner.

I recommend that you print out the menu plan you wish to use and have it laminated. Put it on the fridge with magnets and you’ll have a reusable menu planning form.

It took my family and I a little time to get use to the menu plan, but now that we use it, we can’t imagine not having it available to help us plan our meals. I still am not a fan of sitting down to plan what to eat each week, but when I am done and realize the time and money I’m saving because of it, I always smile and then hang the plan back on the fridge.

Your menu plan is a catalyst to reducing your grocery bill and saving on dining out.

Image: RoBeDeRo

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