Meal Planning to Save Money on Groceries

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Whether you like it or not, we all have to eat. Which is why a large part of any budget is allocated to food or groceries.  The upside, however, is that even small ways of saving money on groceries will add up at the end of the year.  One of the easiest ways I have found to save money on groceries is to plan your meals for the whole week based on weekly sales and buy all the necessary groceries at once which will automatically save you money by reducing the amount of impulse buys. In this post, I’ll share tricks on how I plan meals for the week and save effortlessly along the way.

As always, the key to saving money is planning in advance and meal planning is an excellent example of this. Below are the steps in my meal planning process.

Determine how many meals you need for the week

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Before you can plan anything, you need to know what is happening in the upcoming week and how many meals you need and for how many people.  When meal planning, our aim is to get just enough food for the week, nothing missing, but no waste either. We take some time either Saturday or Sunday to make a plan for the upcoming week ending Friday.

We start by counting the number of dinners needed until the next Friday. There are often things that come up which means we don’t need dinner at home on a given night. Whether it’s a business trip, dinner at a friend’s house or going out to a restaurant for a special occasion. If we don’t know what our plan will be for the week, we will often plan for one less meal, to allow ourselves the flexibility if something comes up mid-week.

We then typically need 5 lunches each, every week, although a work lunch or day off could change this number.  We don’t usually count the lunches we eat at home because we can always whip up a grilled-cheese sandwich or get creative with leftovers.  We don’t get food specifically for our lunches, we eat the leftovers from our dinners at lunch time.  Knowing the number of lunches needed will however help us choose dinners that make the appropriate amount of leftovers.  For example, if we are only home for dinner two nights, but need 5 lunches each, we will need to choose bigger meals like lasagna or a big pot of chili to ensure we have enough leftovers for lunches.  Otherwise, we can get cold-cuts and buns to make sandwiches knowing we won’t have leftovers from dinner. Note that we don’t spend the whole week-end cooking but we plan to cook for 4-6 people instead of 2 for each meal, which gives us lunches without taking any extra prep time.

Check the flyers

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The next step is to look through the weekly flyer to see what sales there are in stores in your neighborhood.  My favorite tool for this step is the Rebee app.  This app allows you to get all the weekly flyers for stores close to you.  You can then select items to add to a grocery list.  The app also allows you to search for a specific item and will show you all the stores where this item is on sale and how much it costs at each store.

I typically go through the flyer of 4-5 stores close to me (including the Pharmaprix which often has some great sales on groceries) and save all the good deals to the grocery list in the app.  This will allow me to easily see what is on sale when I need to choose meals in the next step.

Decide on meals based on sales in flyers

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Once you know how many meals you need and have an idea of what’s on sale, it’s time to put that information together and decide what meals you plan on making for the week.  I typically start by looking at the meat that’s on sale for my meal choices.  For example, if I see chicken breasts on sale we could make chicken brochettes, chicken parmesan, club sandwiches or even chicken enchiladas.  To narrow down the choices we consider how many leftovers we need for lunches.  Most meals give at least lunches for the next day, but some make for many more.  And of course, you have to consider what you feel like eating!  Maybe you feel like having a nice romantic dinner with chicken parmesan, garlic bread and a bottle of wine, or chicken brochettes with a nice fresh salad!

Basing your meal choices also helps with the dreaded “What should we have for dinner?” since you have a limited choice of meats on special.  It also makes for a varied diet since the specials change from week to week.

In addition to looking for meats that are on sale, you should also consider the vegetables, cheeses, breads or grains that you will need.  For example, if mozzarella is on sale, if might be a good week for chicken parmesan while when peppers are on sale, you might prefer to make those chicken brochettes.

Make a grocery list

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With your list of meals handy, you can now make a list of all the ingredients you need to buy.  I recommend keeping your pantry stocked with staples that you use often such as rice, pasta, tomato sauce, beans, etc., buying them when they are on sale to help compliment your meals and keep the price down.

To make my grocery list, I go through the meals one at a time to make sure not to forget any ingredient.  If you are unsure if you have something, be sure to check before going to the store and ending up with duplicates that will go bad.

Once you’ve covered all the meals you plan to make, add items that you will eat as snacks such as fruits or crackers, etc.  as well as kitchen staples you might be missing or running out of such as milk, orange juice, eggs, etc.  As much as possible try stocking up on these items when they are on sale.

Plan your shopping

grocery bag

Once you’ve decided what you will be buying, it is time to plan where you will be shopping.  This is where Rebee comes in.  Look up the items on your list in Rebee to see where they are cheapest and mark the store next to the item.  Ideally the majority of the items on the list are on sale somewhere, but there will be some things that you need to buy regardless.

You then have two choices, either you go to the various stores to pick up the items needed or you can shop at a store that does price matching such as Maxi.  Simply buy your items at Maxi and at the checkout counter show them the item on sale at the appropriate store and they will match the price.  This saves you from having to shop at multiple stores and also saves you from impulse buys which will be more likely as you shop at more stores.

For the items that are not on sale, try to stick to lower cost grocery stores such as Costco, Super C or Maxi.

This might seem daunting at first, but even small changes will add up quickly.  Even if you don’t have time to shop at multiple stores, just limiting yourself to one trip to the grocery store will prevent a few dollars a week in impulse buys.  You can easily save 5-10$ a week just buy choosing meals that are based on meats and veggies that are on sale.  That adds up to over 500$ a year saved just by paying attention and planning a bit in advance.

Do you have any meal planning tricks?  Share them in the comments below!

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