Buckle up guys, because this is going to be a long one. I decided that 2015 would be the year of monthly meal planning. I have always planned our meals, but last year I did mostly weekly planning which did work fine for me, but I want to give monthly planning a try to see how it went. The benefit for me when it comes to monthly meal planning is mostly that I can bulk-order groceries from Coles and actually have the delivery fee be worthwhile. Last year we resorted to going in-store because we couldn’t justify the $11 Woolworths delivery fee each week for the small amount of groceries we were ordering. To be honest, I don’t mind grocery shopping, but having to try and fit it in on a Saturday morning just doesn’t work for me. I usually write up a plan the week before the new month, so on January 27th I will be planning for February’s meals. Here is a step-by-step run down of how I do it.
Step 1 – Set up the monthly plan: I keep my meal plan in an email format, and at the end of each month I write in the dates for each day for the following month. I’m sure there is a more convenient way of doing this, but this works for me because I can work on the plan during any free moments that I get at work. Once I’ve written in the dates, I go through and add in the ‘staple’ meals that we have every week/month. For example, we have steak and salad (or vegetables) once a week. Sebastian is a huge fan of steak, so I like to include this meal weekly because I know it’s something he enjoys. We have a roast every second Sunday, so that goes straight into the planner without any further thought.
Step 2 – Check the specials: I shop at Coles (I was a Woolworths girl for many years but the quality, price, and service that I’ve received from Coles lately was enough to convince me to make the change), so the week of my meal-planning I’ll hop onto their website and take a look through the current specials catalogue. I find this is a great way to save money, and can also be a prompt for meal ideas if you’re feeling stuck. For example, in the current catalogue soft taco kits have been reduced by $3.13 each. If I work soft tacos into our meal plan, say once a week, I can save $12.52 for the month. Which in the long run could work out to be a saving of $150 a year. If I can get a saving like this for 4 kinds of meals for the month, I can reduce my monthly food bill by $50. It all adds up, and I try to get as many items on sale as I can. For the most part we eat a lot of basic meals without too many processed additions, but if we’re going to have things like pasta or these kind of pre-made meals, I’m definitely going to get them on sale.
Step 3 – Fill in the blanks: As I notice things that are on sale that we could work into our weekly meals, I start to add them into the meal plan. As a general rule, I plan two full weeks of meals and just repeat them all again for the following fortnight. If you’re feeding fussy eaters, this will work out pretty well because you’ll have less options to choose from, and are probably used to repeating meals from week to week. I like to mix it up every month to keep things “interesting”. Here is an example of two weeks worth of meals for us –
Monday 2nd February – Steak & Veggies/Salad
Tuesday 3rd February – Chicken Enchiladas
Wednesday 4th February – Southern Fried Chicken & Salad
Thursday 5th February – Lamb Steaks & Cous Cous Salad
Friday 6th February – Oven Baked Fish, Chips & Salad
Saturday 7th February – Pulled Pork Rolls
Sunday 8th February – Beef Roast w. Veggies
Monday 9th February – Steak & Veggies/Salad
Tuesday 10th February – Burritos
Wednesday 11th February – Portuguese Chicken Bowls w. spanish rice
Thursday 12th February – Greek Lamb Wraps
Friday 13th February – Take Away!
Saturday 14th February – Chilli Con Carne
Sunday 15th February – Homemade Burgers
Step 4 – Grocery lists: Writing a grocery list for me (with this meal plan in place) is a breeze. I buy all of our meat and other basic grocery items from Coles online, and do a weekly shop at our local market for fruit and vegetables. With the meat that I order (mainly because we have a small freezer space available, and also I don’t like keeping meat frozen for too long), I only order 2 weeks worth. I will either pick up the remaining meat from the local market at the end of the second week of the month, or I’ll pop into Coles and do a very quick meat-only shop. (This is a lot less hassle than having to do a full grocery shop every week, let me tell you!) I start out by writing in any of the essentials that we’re run out on (we keep track of these on a running list on the side of the fridge) – which I will buy on sale wherever possible. I then go through and add in the food that we get for Breakfast/Lunch/Snacks. We’re creatures of habit, so these remain the same for the most part and I don’t have to think about them at all (eg: Milk, wholemeal saladas, soy yogurt tubs etc). I then go through the meal plan for the month and write down what’s required for our dinners for the month. Eg: Beef Steak x 2, Chicken x 3, Lamb Steaks x 2, Burrito Kit x 2. I write two separate lists – one for Coles, and one for the market (I do this part one week at a time).
Step 5 – Shopping (the fun bit): There is always a way to make money by spending money. If you regularly shop at a large supermarket chain and haven’t opted in for the available extras, now is the time. I have both an Everyday Rewards card (which is linked to my Qantas frequent flyer account), and a Flybuys card. I always log in to FlyBuys before placing a grocery order to activate any offers that are available. EG: right now I can get double points for any order that I place online, OR I could opt-in for free delivery if I place an order over $100 (plus $2000 bonus points). Which I will do, as I am placing a month’s worth of groceries (more proof that shopping monthly is a better option). These kind of points systems come in handy, if you’re really keeping an eye on your budget. Right now I have enough points to earn 2 free movie tickets. Movie tickets are $20 each, and getting two for free would impact our entertainment budget for the month. Making money by spending money. I highly recommend it. The act of online shopping for the groceries is pretty straight forward. I make my way down my list, and add things to the cart as I go. For any items that I wasn’t able to spot in the specials catalogue, I’ll search for them – sort by price, and choose the cheapest/most appropriate option available.
How I reduced my grocery bill: The first thing that made a major difference for me was of course having this meal plan in place. Having a set menu is great because it means you’re not ducking to the shop every few days to buy ingredients (which can lead to spending extra money on yummy things you spot in-store), and you can make the most of the ingredients you do have by not buying an excess of various condiments/sauces/seasonings etc that never get finished up. Having a plan in place also means that you resort to take away/going out for food FAR less often (at least in my experience). Another thing that’s made a big impact on how much I’m spending is buying items on sale where possible. It takes a little bit more time and effort, but it’s well worth it in the long run. I also buy home-branded products where possible, but this is an ongoing experiment with what can/can’t be skimped on (word of warning: do NOT buy homebrand minced garlic). Having a clearly organised and well-stocked fridge/freezer/pantry makes a huge difference. Knowing what you already have is a great way to stop yourself buying more than what you actually need. I’ve also found that eating smaller portions has made a bit of a difference. Because we’ve reduced how much food we’re eating at dinner time, there are nearly always leftovers available for lunch the following day. This has stopped me spending money buying my lunch on the way to work. Sounds silly, but it’s made a big difference. Also, eating less processed foods. The majority of what we eat will be meat/vegetable based dishes. Cutting back on “extras” = cutting back on $. The most expensive items in any grocery shop for me used to be cleaning/personal products. I now buy these in bulk every year (household cleaning) or every few months (personal products). I buy all of our personal kinds of products (soap/deodorant/toothpaste etc) from Chemist Warehouse, because everything is always on sale. If you spend over $99 delivery is free, which is why buy in “bulk” every few months. Household cleaning products (washing powder/pine-o-clean etc) are purchased in Catch of the Day sales once a year or so (I’m now at the point where I have a nice little stash in the laundry, and will re-fill what is needed when I place my annual order this year). Honestly, the biggest and best tip I can offer is to be as organised as you can. It comes naturally to be on top of stuff like this, purely because it makes my life a lot easier and less stressful when I know it’s all under control -but I know that isn’t the same for everyone.
I hope this has been of some use to some of you out there. I love stuff like this, but I know it’s not for everyone. I’d love to hear how you all plan your weekly/fortnightly/monthly meals and if you have any tips for me on saving even MORE money than I already am!