I remember our food wake-up call very clearly. It was 2008 and Ross and I were living with my parents- we hadn’t been back from England very long. I was working full-time and Ross wasn’t as his visa hadn’t been approved yet. We had very few expenses. No rent, utilities, or anything much more than some food costs and gas. I thought we’d be raking in the money. I thought we’d be saving lots, quickly saving money so we could move out as soon as Ross had his visa and a job. But that’s not what was happening. We were saving some, but not enough in comparison to what I was making (which at that time wasn’t much). We sat down one night and started to add up our expenses from our bank account, and I was gobsmacked to see we were spending $600+ on groceries a month. I believe I cried. Mainly because we were living at my parents house and we’d been spending this much for about 6 months. When I added it up, I was overwhelmed at how much we could have saved or spent in other areas. We were only cooking for ourselves a night or two a week. My parents were so generous and they’d been feeding us since we moved in, trying to help us get on our feet. We were leaking money at the grocery store, and we needed it to stop.
We immediately started meal-planning. In our loosey-goosey style before, I was calling Ross on my way home, and picking up things three or four times a week, often to get home and eat what my mom made. In England, we had a tiny apartment and it was just the two of us. I cooked every night (when we weren’t ordering Indian takeaways that I still dream about). Adjusting to living back with my family meant we were disorganized. We never had a plan. Looking back, it would have been ridiculously easy, “Hey, mom! Are you cooking tonight, like you do every other night? Ok, cool. See you for dinner!” *Saves hundreds of dollars on wasted food*
As a part of our savings plan, we sat down once a week and started to meal plan. We reigned in our wasted food spending and only shopped once a week for our favorite treats or snacks, or when it was our turn to cook.
When we moved into our own place, we continued this habit. Almost seven years later, the pattern is still the same: I sit down (with Ross’s input) and we plan out our meals. I write a menu and a list, and we shop on Saturday mornings-together. We spend WAAAAAAYYYY more than $600 a month on food now (long gone are the Chef Boyardee ravioli and grilled cheese nights), but we waste very little, and at the end of the week our fridge is empty.
Here’s what a week’s worth of groceries looks like in our house.
Besides the financial savings, I also save a lot of time. I don’t have to think about what to make when I get home- I already know. Ross often helps start meal prep if I have an event or meeting after work, and it helps him know what we are making, and where to find the recipe (if I’m using one). Some weekends, I’ll pre-prep Monday or Tuesday’s dinners so when I get home all they need is reheated or popped in the oven. I also know it alleviates stress. I do not worry about if I have enough food to get us through a couple of days, and I’m not in and out of the store constantly.
Here’s a look at one of our menus and shopping list.
Our system works great for us, and I’ve talked a few friends and colleagues about our methods (which also includes freezing and labeling leftovers-hence the ‘freezer’ on Friday and Saturday- a post for another day) and I love that it’s now a machine that runs itself. Very little stress, lots of control over the spending. To be honest, it also forces me to cook different things, as having the same five things for dinner each week equals a rut. I’m forced to use the cookbooks I love to collect. We love food, we love variety, and we get it when we sit down to think about how we want our week to look. We include our food projects in at the same time. This system works for us. If you are looking for ways to save money, cut down on waste, and have better control of your meals, I’d recommend weekly menu planning and shopping.