Budgeting and Meal Planning: Part 1

I mentioned two weeks ago we were doing well on our budget and meal planning. We have always lived within ours means, paid off our credit card and put money into savings each month but it seemed lately we had no "fun money" left over and we knew something wasn't right. 

We sat down with our online back account and used a program our bank provides to organize all our expenses into categories. 

We quickly found that food was a our main culprit.  My trips to Target were outrageous. It's not that I was spending a ton it's that there were so many trips.  It seems that Target had become my place to blow money instead of save it. 
Kyle's work lunches were also bad. He didn't think he ate lunch out often but after seeing it sorted out it was a lot. 
Surprisingly our take out and going out to dinner spending was too awful but there was room for improvement.  

Since food was our main culprit we knew that something had to be done.  Here were the first steps we took: 

1.  Meal Planning- While I always had a list when I went to the store I was always adding or taking stuff away as I shopped because I would think Ohhh maybe we'll have this for dinner one night or oh I should try to make that new dip this week.  My all time favorite being the buy 2 get 1 free trick where I would some how decide that we had to have 3 boxes of english muffins.  This type of shopping had to stop. 
We now plan out breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner and only buy what we need for that week.  We take into account both of our schedules- Kyle's travel, work lunches he might have, if we have a night out, or I have a junior league meeting. 
I only plan dinners for 6 night a week to leave us one night to go out to dinner or order take out- this usually happens on Friday or Saturday nights.
I'm not going to lie our menu is boring and a little repetitive but we are saving so much money and we are not wasting food.  I don't know about you all but we were horrible about wasting food especially fruits and veggies so now we just buy one or two fruits/veggie a week and eat them until they're gone.   By Sunday our fridge and pantry are pretty empty but it's a good feeling to know that we aren't letting our money waste away in our fridge. 
2. No more food shopping at Target and Wegmans/Whole Foods.- I used to do a double trip where I would get most of our groceries at Target and then meat and produce at either Wegmans or Whole Foods.   The problem was that I was picking up a lot of extras at Target that we didn't need-  nail polish, baby stuff, a shirt,makeup, new throw pillows here and there.   Trust me you all know the Target trap- it's easy to get sucked in.   I was going to Target at least 1-2 times a week under the guise of buying food when I was really just there spending money on crap.  I think a lot of this has to do with having a baby during the winter- I needed to get out of the house and the Target is literally 5 minutes away so it was my escape that I did not realize was draining our bank account.   I am happy to say that I go to Target only 1-2 times a month now and I don't even miss it all that much. 
3.  Utilizing store specials and coupons and gas rewards-  Before Target carried food I only shopped at Safeway so I decided to go back to just shopping there since they offer a lot of in store coupons and gas rewards.  Safeway has the Just 4 U app now where you can add tons of coupons to your Safeway card and get extra gas rewards for the money you spend.  The best part about the app is that they tailor some of the products specifically for you, so they will give you an extra discount on items you buy or special sales for being a Just 4 U member.   I usually get at least 2-3 gas rewards every trip which saves me $0.10 to the gallon at Exxon per reward.  So if I have 3 gas rewards I can save $0.30 to the gallon- which is huge with gas prices right now and driving an SUV. 

So those are some of the tactics we've been using to help us save money on food.  It's really worked out well for us but I know this budget and saving money thing is still a work in progress.    If anyone has any other tips/tricks they use I would love to hear them!  (don't suggest couponing because I tried that once and it lasted about 2 weeks- I can't ever remember to bring them with me)  



  1. My stepson is in town and with camps, us working from home all the time, etc we have been eating out NON STOP. I looked at our checking account and it was very scary how much was gone just from Target/McAllisters/Chick Fil A....etc. It was NUTS. We are trying to do the same thing here. Would love to see your menu. We do go to McAllisters on tuesdays b/c the boys demolish their mac and cheese and kids eat free so I stay home and eat cereal. Otherwise I need a better calendar for food! xoxo

  2. YES - the Target trap. I was doing the same thing, buying some groceries at Target "because they were cheaper" and then hitting up Publix for the rest. Except the $1 I'd save on Diet Coke was quickly blown on the $70 worth of random crap I'd pick up on my Target trips. I now only grocery shop at Publix. I limit my Target trips as much as possible.

    I love to cook so my grocery bills easily get nuts when I get excited about trying new recipes. To keep it under control, I try to pick things to cook which use the same ingredient. So if I pick up something like cilantro, I'll try to use it in two recipes that week so I don't waste it. I also plan on eating leftovers for dinner or lunch so they don't get wasted. Otherwise, I end up tossing a bunch Tupperware containers full of food at the end of the week.

  3. Great post! Like you, our biggest spending in our monthly budget is food (and there's only 2 of us!) -- whether it be groceries or eating out. We've really pared down in the last year by changing a few things. Meal planning has been a huge help cutting down on grabbing take out and I've also reduced portions because as much as we tried, we're just not leftover people and they ended up in the trash. We used to have Safeway in Northern VA but there aren't any in NC -- going to have to check out the app you mentioned to see if it works at other stores, too.

  4. Meal planning seriously is the best - I don't even want to think what our grocery bills would be if I didn't do it! And Wegmans is actually where I do ALL our food shopping - the prices on the generics are really good, so it's worth the trip for me. Which one do you live near? I think we may live closer to each other than I thought!

  5. we came to the same revelation not too long ago! It was scary the amount of money we were eating. Would love to see your weekly menus... mine are getting dull! What do you make for lunch on the weekends?

  6. I grocery shop at either Wegmans or Safeway. I like the gas rewards from Safeway but I feel like for the most part Wegmans groceries are cheaper overall (not their prepared food section though) and I like their produce section a lot more. But our bill is still around $150/week. I have cut back on my Target trips though so that helps. I used to go once a week, now I go maybe twice a month if that.

  7. I know far too well how sale shopping at grocery stores can be such a trap -- I would like to reduce the amount of food we keep in our home to eliminate waste, save space, and cut down on costs! Great tips!

  8. Ugh. We literally went through the same thing today after looking at our current statement. WAY over what we plan out for groceries. I need to take these tips to heart. But they're so effing hard to stick to!

  9. This is such a good idea and something we need to impliment! I too am guilty of using Target as a "I had to buy food and cleaning supplies" when really I wanted to shop for myself haha! These are really great tips! PS - I'm having a Pink Blush Maternity giveaway on my blog today! You should stop by! :)

  10. Target does the same thing to me (as I expect that it does for others) so good for you for cutting back significantly on your trips! I'm great about planning dinners but should also plan breakfast, lunch and snacks so that I'm not scrambling around trying to figure out what to serve! Do you have a good farmer's market near you? In the summers I always go there first to grab fresh fruits and veggies and then supplement with all the other stuff at the grocery store. This saves us $20-40 a week!

  11. These are great tips! Meal planning isn't that fun but it makes such a huge difference. I have to follow your lead with Target. It's such a black hole for money!

  12. Great post and tips. But be careful, they could take away your blogging card for saying you don't miss all the Target shopping! :) Hee hee!

  13. Yep, planning out your meals is a bit tiresome but you save lots! I've been looking at different recipes on pinterest too to get myself out of the food rut I'm in!!

  14. I need a budget. Badly. Looking for a good phone app to help.


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