Really, it is. Simple that is.
The problem arose when I began to make a budget for my family. I know, a budget? What's that? Precisely. My husband and I are the guiltiest of the guilty when it comes to saving money. Saving? You mean, we aren't supposed to spend every penny (sometimes more)? Yeah, that. So, this budget thing. I set out to track exactly how much money we were spending and on what. And you know what happened? I discovered that we spend too much. Shocking. But the point is, I knew we could do better. Now, I tried that whole "keep track of every penny spent for a week and base your budget around that" plan. I'm sure it works for some families, but it did not work for us. It sucked. I hated it. My husband hated it. And at the end of the week, we were both VERY irritated. And we didn't learn anything about our spending that we didn't already know. The truth is, we aren't exactly interested in saving every extra cent so that we have a few million when we retire. We aren't even totally interested in saving for our kids college funds (I know, it's awful, but give us a break here, we are still a young family, and we will figure THAT part out eventually). What we really were interested in is paying off our credit cards and not spending so much at the Grocery Store.
So we decided to tackle the Grocery Store thing first. Why? Because it's tangible. We shop for groceries constantly. We have to eat. We like to eat. And we were spending nearly a $1000 in groceries a month. Yes, we are a family of 4. One Mommy (me), one Daddy (my husband, duh!), one 3 1/2 year old girl (Bobo), and one 16 month old boy (Mister). And we were shopping like a family of, I don't know, 6 possibly? 6 adults? Something ridiculous. I was determined to at least make a dent in this overspending. And I was hoping, (praying), that somehow along the way, I wouldn't be reduced to feeding my family rice and beans every night.
So the plan evolved. A simple plan. A way to alleviate that ever-annoying whine around 5 pm, "Mama (although it's really more of a Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!) what's for dinner? I'm HUNGRY!" and me, standing in the kitchen, scratching my head, thinking, "Darn it, I didn't thaw out any chicken. Guess it's hot dogs and mac n' cheese. Wait, no hot dogs, either. Guess it's mac n' cheese!" Ah, mac n' cheese, the always pleasing, dinner saving treat. What would we do without you? But, seriously, when I began to think about it, my kids were eating mac n' cheese WAY to often. Practically every other night. I suck. I can do better. So the plan evolved.
The Plan. And it is a plan. A meal plan. For 10 days at a time. I plan out what we will be eating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I write it out. I dig through cookbooks. I spot something that sounds good. Something that will appeal to everyone. I write it in the appropriate meal spot. I then make a list. And this is crucial.
The List. Obviously, every meal needs ingredients. Some ingredients are already in my well-stocked kitchen (remember that $1000 a month grocery spending). Some are not. So, I make a list of the items that I need to make these meals. I write them down. I then search through my coupon stash. I must pause here to make a GIANT note: I AM NOT one of those coupon freaks (no offense to anyone that is. I just really don't have time or patience for that. And I can't figure it out. I've tried. That whole CVS thing where mom's end up getting cash back from their purchases or a totally free shopping trip is beyond me. Beside, we don't have CVS here, but I digress). I have a coupon stash. I clip coupons every week and I print them from online. I do want to save money, remember. So anyway, I find coupons that fit the items I need. If there aren't any, I don't sweat it. The real savings will come on the actual shopping day. Here goes.
The Shopping Day. Okay, it's the big day. I am nervous. I am ready. I am thinking, "10 days, 30 meals, 4 people. I should spend about $200. That would be great!" So, I feed the kids and myself first. This is very important!!! I pack them snacks so that they won't grab stuff to eat in the store. We are very guilty of this!!! I grab my list. I grab my coupons. I grab my diaper bag. I grab my wallet, with the ever-important Club Card (don't go shopping without one!). Am I forgetting anything? Oh, yeah, the kids....and we are off. We arrive. We start to shop. We compare prices of all the brands. We opt for the less expensive (when possible...I still prefer buying mostly organic, but sometimes it's not an option). We opt for the larger sizes (especially with cheese and yogurt....this is where you can save tons of $$. Buy the blocks of cheese and shred, slice, yourself. Buy the big tub of yogurt. Compare the "per ounce" price. You'll be shocked. I was.). We buy on sale. We use our coupons. But most importantly, WE STICK TO THE LIST!!!! We check out. I hold my breath. There are a LOT of groceries on that conveyor belt thing. Of course there are! I'm shopping for 10 days worth of food...for 4 people. We receive the total....$110. Seriously? And I had purchased some household necessities, too (like Listerine and deodorant). $110! Yippee! I can hardly contain myself. Feeling pretty good! Now, for the actual cooking part!