Weekly Meal Planning – On a Budget!

So. This week my grocery budget is a little less than 1/2 of what it is normally… Ever been in a similar situation? For whatever reason, you’re a little tight that week? What’s a momma to do?! At this stage in our life, we do ONE TRIP PER WEEK. Here’s how to maximize your budget and your OHI.

Step (1): Take stock of your OHI. What do you have that you can make meals of already? This particular week I have plenty of lunch meat, some frozen ground beef, enough quick meals for my 3 working night dinners, some fresh produce, and a few other things that I was already planning on using in dinners.

Step (2): What ESSENTIALS do you need to replace? Mentally go through all the categories: paper products, cleaning products, laundry supplies, baby supplies, then all the grocery items (Dairy, frozen, produce, dry goods, you know the drill). This list should be limited to only what you know you cannot get through the week without. Things you will MOST CERTAINLY run out of if you don’t purchase it in the next day or two. For me this week, the only things I knew I’d need for SURE were eggs, milk, butter, frozen veggies, jelly, bread, bananas, and tomatoes. *Remember to consider every meal and snack time too.

Step (3a): Go through your local grocery ad. What’s on sale? This week what stood out to me was Meijer Steamable frozen veggies, country pork ribs, Peter Pan PB (my fave!), Meijer Naturals Chicken Stock, Sargento Cheese, Spaghetti O’s, Creamette Pasta, my favorite yogurt Fage, and On the Vine Tomatoes.
(3b): Check for coupons for your essentials and the sale items. We shop at Meijer because right now, in our area, they offer the best coupon “double dip” opportunities (a double dip is where you might get something on sale with a coupon, or be able to use multiple coupons on one item, or use coupons in a quantity or sum qualifying sale [i.e. ‘buy 6, save $5’]). I search two different places for coupons: Coupon Tom and mPerks. Coupon Tom is a cross-referencing site where you can type in the product and it will pull up corresponding coupons for that item. This uses Jill Cataldo’s coupon organization method. (You can visit her free blog here for the best deals at grocery stores in the Chicago Suburbs and to learn more about smart couponing.) To check mPerks, you sign in using your phone number (Don’t worry – no spam texts or calls!) on the website and at the register using your PIN. Signing up allows you to choose from hundreds of coupons for their store brand products as well as name brand items. They have great coupons on here and lots of opportunities to save. (Last month I saved about $200 – average $50 a week – by combining sales and multiple coupons.) Bonus, they have lots of produce coupons – hooray!!
I found coupons for these items: butter, Sargento shredded cheese, Spaghetti O’s, bread, organic Portobello mushroom caps.

Step (4): First total. Using prices from the ad and your best estimate from your smart shopping in the past, add up to get the total of all your items on your list. If you’re not sure, always round up. Then make a meal plan for every day that week (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks) and make sure you don’t have any gaps. (If you do, can you fill them with something you already have? Or do you have to add to your list?)

Step (5): Adjust. Are you above your budget? Below? Can you add some more healthy items? Do you need to adjust quantities of something? Is there something you can do without? At this point I went through the ad again to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. ***TIP: Any time a manufacturer puts out a new product, they almost ALWAYS put out corresponding coupons to get you to try it.*** I ALMOST looked past the Marie Callendar’s Easy Sides. ALMOST. But – They were 4 for $5 (not fantastic by any means). But if you bought 4, you got $1 off instantly = 4 for $4. I checked Coupon Tom. Yes! There was a $.75 off 1 coupon. Score. I get 2 papers, so I can use two of those coupons. But wait, mPerks also has a coupon: $1/3. So if I buy 4, it’s actually cheaper to use the $1/3 plus one $.75/1 coupon. ARE YOU WITH  ME?!? Instead of paying $5 for 4, I’ll be paying $2.25. Yes, for that price, I will try this new product. Even on a tight budget week.
And then – Wait – WAIT. Mahi Mahi was featured at $6.99/lb. Hmmm…. I really didn’t need the yogurt as I still had a few left. I really don’t need the pasta either. Spaghetti O’s?? I really only put them on my list for nostalgia’s sake anyway. I nixed a few items to free up the $7 for some Mahi Mahi – which for some reason sparked another idea… mango salsa… I googled ‘Mahi Mahi mango salsa‘ and pulled up a recipe. Well, I may not have all the items on that list, or the budget to buy them, but I CAN make some substitutions and buy a few of the cheaper things – especially since I know I can get multiple uses out of something like a lime or a red onion.

Step (6): Double -Check and prepare. Make sure you have everything you need and you’re a couple bucks under budget to account for miscalculation and tax. Usually when I’m estimating I only count my PRE-coupon total (unless its a big baby sale and I’ll be saving $10 or something). Make sure all your coupons are loaded to your mPerks, or shopping card, or printed, and that all the paper coupons are cut and ready with your list.

Now, you thrifty little shopper you, go out and conquer that grocery store!!!

Here’s an example of a working meal plan for the week. Excuse my scribbles 🙂
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