Budget Menu Planning Archives

Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship.
~ Benjamin Franklin




 Compare Supermarket Prices With A Price Book

Have you noticed the trend in grocery store pricing lately… how fast grocery prices are increasing?  I’ll use the 5oz can of Star-Kist or Chicken of the Sea Tuna as an example.  Once upon a time this tuna sold for 4 for $1.00.  Then for several years it was $0.50 a can (through most of this year); recently tuna went to $0.67, followed by $0.88 and now one 5 oz can is $0.97 cents (some stores have it up to $1.29 per can).  I was dumbfounded when I saw the new price; the supermarket had just raised the price to $0.88.  How could they change the price again and again in such a short time?


Unfortunately economic predictions are that this is just the beginning of sudden increases in grocery store pricing.  During this time of economic unrest, droughts and other calamities it is more important than ever to know and compare food prices in order to save money and to stock the pantry with bargains when you find them.  The best way to keep track and compare supermarket prices, products and sales is to utilize a grocery price book.



PRICE BOOKWhat Is A Price Book?

A Price Book is a shopper’s best friend and one of the most powerful weapons in your financial arsenal!  It’s what sets one shopper apart from another and enables us to beat the grocery game.  A price book tracks the lowest prices paid for grocery items you regularly buy and over time reveals a product’s sale cycle.  You will use your book to compare your best prices against current store prices providing you with an opportunity for substantial supermarket savings.



A Price Book gives you the data you need to know who’s actually got the best price and when a sale is really a sale.  By knowing the item’s price and the sales cycle you can be ready to stock up when prices are low — relying on your stocked pantry until the next sale.  (Sales cycles are typically 8-12 weeks long, depending on the merchant.)



Using the price book when you’re grocery shopping is a wonderful and revealing thing, it really rocks; but I must admit, creating a price book is not so wonderful.  However you do learn a few things along the way coupled with a little shock when you see what you’ve been paying on some items at your store compared to other stores!


Putting together a price book is probably the hardest step of the whole grocery budget plan; it’s tedious, time consuming and not so much fun.  Nevertheless, it is so, so important to do!  Simply remind yourself that your price book is the single most important weapon you have for saving money and maintaining your grocery budget.  This is war and you want to win!



Putting together my price book was really an eye opener.  I became more aware of sizes, brands, how much I was paying for nutritious food as opposed to junk food, and the biggest discovery was the difference in prices from store to store.  I began to get excited about the price book and its potential.  I usually shopped at Wal-Mart but as I went through different store ads, Homeland Stores and Crest Foods had sale items at half the price of what I was paying at Wal-Mart.  I ended up solidly scolding myself for not taking this more seriously sooner and vowed to always use a price book going forward; I could have been saving hundreds of dollars!  My first trip out with just a partial price list I saved $66.00.  Best advice: Get started NOW!



*Picture this… a subtle smile on your face and a little strut to your step.  Why are you so confident and satisfied… because you know you’re the smartest shopper in the store as you sashay out the door with bags full of goodies that you bought at minimal prices!


How To Make A Price Book

  •  Select A Recording Form – Begin by deciding what form you will use to set up your price book and record information.  You can use a spiral notebook, binder or computer spreadsheet (recommended) to track price book information.  Set it up whichever way will be the easiest and most convenient for you to use.


  • Choose a Recording Method – There are generally two different methods people use when setting up a price book;   alphabetically or categorically.  Will it be easier for you to find cheese under the C’s or under Dairy?  How about Cumin – C’s or Spices?  It’s your choice; use whatever makes the most sense for you.  I simply used my master grocery list, which was set up by the supermarket layout and categories.  I set my price sheet up in Excel making it much easier to make adjustments or change layout.


If you don’t have an office program you can download Open Office free, it has a word and spreadsheet program, I have used it also and it has similar functions to Microsoft Office.


  • Headers for your pages Set-up your pages with the following columns:  Item, Date, Store, Brand, Size, Unit, Price, and Unit Price.


Example Price Book Page

Example Price Book

 **To get the unit price divide the sale price of each item by its size.  (Break pounds down to ounces)

Create a separate column for the unit type so you can set up Excel to calculate the unit price automatically.

Example Formula:  =SUM(E3/C3)  – enter the formula under Unit Price.


  •  Capture Data –  Remember all those grocery receipts you’ve been saving…it’s time to get them out so you can record the items and prices in your price book.  This is also where your master grocery list comes in handy; it lists all of the items you buy.  Jump-start your price book by grabbing local sales fliers or go online and browse their ads; begin filling in your price book with items and unit prices for things you use.  In the beginning try shopping at a different store each week, recording the information in your price book.  In a very short time you will have a clearer picture of the sales the stores run; you will get a feel for where you can save the most money and which stores benefit you the most.  I ended up with about 4 or 5 stores that I monitor and shop at regularly and a few that I monitor just in case they have a great sale on something.


You can see by the examples above the unit price is what really matters.  I do leave some things in pounds or each for my convenience; list your units in the way that works with your shopping style.  Begin by entering the best price you’ve bought an item for to date.  If you find it at a better price later, update your price book, that way you will always have the best target price for each item.


At first it may seem like an overwhelming task but take heart, as time goes by your entries will slow down and you will have built an impressive price list database for reference.  Keep in mind that it will take more than a day or two to put together, it will probably take a good month to get your price book filled and in order.  Then it will be easier to maintain, you only need to update if the price is lower than what your price book already has listed.


Shopping Magic

Your Price Book doesn’t have to be 100% complete when you start using it, even a baby price book will help with saving money on groceries.  As you’re building your price book you’ll gain skills that will turn you into a grocery guru.  Take this month and discover the best prices in your local market and record them in your price book.  You can get a lot of information with local store fliers use them to add data.  Like fine wines, price books improve with age.


Armed with your price book you’ll be able to spot an item that’s on sale at a super low price and you’ll know it’s time to stock up.  Here’s an example of how stocking up on a great deal helps others too.  Homeland had 10 lbs for $0 .15 a pound, (usually $0.40 lb) so I bought several and passed them to family and a couple of needy neighbors.  In the same week, Buy for Less had sweet yellow onions 3lbs for $0.97 (usually $2.46-2.99); again I stocked up and passed them around.  For $2.42 you’ve got two of the ingredients for potato soup and many side dishes.  It’s so empowering having my own price book, finding those wonderful bargains and a joy being able to share with others.


You’ll come to know when staples will be offered at their lowest price of the year.  Example: Brand name Mexican food items reach their lowest price around or right before Cinco-De-Mayo or May 5th, Mexican Independence Day.


When you find a must have bargain item, buy as much as your budget will allow and as much as you can realistically store without waste.  I tend to stock up on items that I can freeze or canned and dry goods for the pantry.  In the case of perishables I tend to share the wealth as in the example above.  If you stock up on a perishable items that you can’t eat fast enough and end up throwing half of it away you didn’t save money you lost money;  so be smart when stocking up.


Master Lists For Easy Menu Planning

The odds of going to the store for a loaf of bread and coming out with only a loaf of bread are three billion to one.

~ Erma Bombeck



You can make master lists for just about any area of your life, many will help organize your home.  List for the home could include a master home inventory list, house cleaning schedules, planners, budgets, family health and immunizations, checklists, and so forth.   However in this article we will be focusing on master kitchen lists.

Master Kitchen Lists:

  • Master Meal List
  • Master Grocery Shopping List
  • Master Set of Recipes – Cards, Boxes, Notebook or Binder
  • Grocery Price Book – master list of staples with best prices


What can I say about master lists?  Master kitchen lists help to organize your grocery shopping, your menu planning and your kitchen.  They give you information at your fingertips that make grocery shopping and meal planning so much easier.  Master kitchen lists are a ready snapshot of everything to do with the food in your home; what you have in the cupboards, what you buy on a regular basis, what meals your family favors and the best price for everything you use.  Master lists take some thought and time but once you begin to use them you will find they are worth their weight in gold.



Master Meal ListMaster Meal List

Trying to decide what to make for dinner each night gets old fast, especially when the family responds with the old “I don’t care, whatever you want to make” response.  In spite of the frustration we manage to get the tribe fed each day so we must be cooking something, right?


Have no fear, Master Meal List to the rescue – no more dinnertime blues or boredom.  A master list of meal ideas along with a simple meal planner will solve your dilemma.  Start by making a list of dinners that you cook week in and week out, add some other ideas from the suggestions below; this will be your master go-to list for meal planning.  Definitely make this list before you begin putting together your weekly menu plans.


You may have entrees like spaghetti, chicken alfredo, tacos, enchiladas, chili, roasted chicken, or  pot roast but don’t forget your sides like Spanish rice, mashed potatoes, French bread and salad.  You get the idea.  You want the complete meal plan.


Here are some suggestions for coming up with meal ideas.  Include meals you cook during the winter months and summer months, how about festivals and celebrations.  Many of us cook a little differently for each season and when it comes to holidays we tend to make special dishes or once a year meals.  Think Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Country, Crock Pot and casseroles, etc.  Browse cookbooks or recipes online for fresh ideas or dishes you’d like to try.  Finally include your family in the list making; they may have some fresh ideas or insight.


Which meals are quick dinners, which ones take longer?  Will today be a slow cooker meal because you are so busy you won’t have time to cook later?  Label your recipes so you’ll know which ones are quick meals for nights when you are super busy and harder meals on days that you have more time to devote.  Can any of the meals work double duty – meaning can you make extra and freeze it for a quick meal another night?


Grab a notebook or binder; use the computer, whatever method works for you.  However you decide to catalogue your list of meals I would break it down into categories for “Main Dishes”, “Side Dishes”, “Vegetables”, “Breakfasts”, “Desserts” and so on.  You can then add subcategories like Poultry, Beef, Seafood, Pasta, or themes like Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Crock Pot, Casseroles, Quick, Easy, etc. or just organize in alphabetical order whichever is going to be more useful in the long run.


Master Shopping ListMaster Grocery Shopping List

Once you have your Master List of Recipes, read through each recipe and write down what is needed to make each one.  This will be the beginning of your Master Grocery Shopping List.  Now go through your cupboards, refrigerator and freezer and add any items that didn’t make it on the list but you usually buy.  You can also add the rest of the household’s needs to the Master List so you have everything in one place.  Things like toiletries, baggies, trash bags, dog food, laundry soap, batteries, etc.  The grocery list is one of the keys to saving time and money in the grocery store.  A little work now will save you time down the road.


The next time you go to the supermarket take your list with you and note the aisle number next to each item.  Another option is to ask the store manager for a copy of the store’s plan-o-gram or grocery layout.  Organize your grocery list according to the layout of the grocery store that you frequent most often.  When you have a list organized by department you avoid backtracking through the aisles.  Be sure the frozen foods and other perishables are last on the list so they don’t melt while you’re shopping.  Set off each item with a box or bullet (you’ll find this option under the Format or Home tabs) To keep your list on one or two pages, set the list in columns (under page layout).  Once you’ve done the initial prep work, all you’ll need to do is print out a fresh copy of the list before each shopping trip.  If you’re doing this by hand keep a master copy that you can take to a local office supply and print several copies.


Getting in and out of the store quickly is one of your goals.  Studies show that each additional minute you spend in the grocery store over thirty (30) minutes costs you about $1 per minute. With your list in hand, geared to the store layout you can zip in and zip out.


Printable Grocery List Templates

Rather than making your own grocery list template you may prefer to download a basic printable shopping list.

Check out the shopping lists available on these helpful websites:


***I recommend using an office program if possible to build your Master Shopping Lists and Master Meal List; it makes life so much easier.  If you don’t have an office program you can download Open Office free, it has a word and spreadsheet program.

Weekly Meal Planning

“Vegetables are a must on a diet.
I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread and pumpkin pie”

~ Jim Davis



Colorful Chicken Meals

What’s For Dinner Tonight?

What’s for dinner tonight? A question we hear everyday and one that can send us into panic mode. Weekly menu planning saves you frustration, time and money. Get out those family recipes and get started with a weekly meal plan. You’ll be glad you did.


Okay you’ve figured out your grocery dollar budget now it’s time to customize your weekly or monthly meal planning budget.


I recommend taking the time to jot down a couple of week’s worth of favorite family recipes to use as inspiration while you’re menu-planning.  (More if you’re up to it)  After all we’re talking 21 meals a week and 1,092 a year not counting snacks.  It can get fairly overwhelming when you’re sitting there trying to figure out what to feed the tribe.



As I mentioned in “My Shoestring Story” I had gained three grandchildren whose eating habits were a mystery to me so I set about enlisting their help with our menu plan.  I already knew what Grandpa and the rest of my household liked but I was at a loss for the three children.  We spent some time together plotting our course and gathering ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.  Getting the children involved with their likes and dislikes definitely saved me some headaches going forward.  One of the children is on the road to being vegetarian while another only likes meat and the middle child weighed in as a very picky eater.  It would be a challenge to feed them from the same meal.  “R’ots of R’uck” as the saying goes!  I could see where patience and training would come into play…


We ended up with an assortment of breakfasts, lunches and snacks along with 23 or so different dinner ideas.  That gave me several ideas that I could draw from when setting up the weekly meal plan.


Everyone will need to customize the menu plan for his or her family and lifestyle.  The important thing is consistency, making budget menu planning a regular habit, and that your budget plan is accomplishing what you need it to do.


Weekly Menu Planners

Weekly Meal Planner














Planning out the weekly meals will save you time, money and lots of frustration.  It seems like having a plan makes us so much more efficient and on top of the game.

Create A Weekly Grocery Budget

He who does not economize will have to agonize.”

~ Confucius



Why Create A Grocery Budget?

The best way to begin your adventure into meal planning is to begin with a strong foundation by creating a reasonable food budget.  Making a weekly or monthly grocery budget for menu planning is the best way to know if you’re meal plan is working, if you’re saving money and if you’re on the right track.  A grocery budget gives you a workable plan, targeted spending limits, a goal; it provides you with boundaries and pushes you to find ways to live, sometimes creatively, within those boundaries.



Step #1: Average Your Monthly Food CostsMan Creating A Grocery Budget

Start by gathering all the receipts you can find from the last month or two and place them in a pile.  You will use them to track how much money you’ve spent on food at the grocery store, eating out, and those quick trips to McDonald’s, Seven-Eleven and so forth for this time-frame.  You might be surprised by your monthly spending, the cost of groceries and eating out, if so don’t panic the fix is coming.  Once you’ve collected your receipts grab your checkbook too; now add up the receipts and checks or credit cards (if you’re missing receipts) to get an idea of what you spent for food and other grocery items.  Divide the total dollar amount by the number of weeks that you found to get a weekly average.  You will use the weekly average to set your initial grocery budget.  Don’t worry this number will change as you get a feel for working within boundaries, but for now it will give you a place to start and a concrete dollar amount for your grocery budget.  From here on out you will need to save all receipts, including these,  for future reference, so find something to store them in; an envelope, a bag, or a file, just use something to keep them all in one place.

Your budget should be reviewed and tweaked on a monthly basis.



Step #2: Make Your Grocery Budget Doable

Try to be realistic when planning your working grocery budget, make it achievable.  Don’t set your grocery budget at $50.00 a week when you’ve been spending $250.00 a week.  This is not a competition; you are making a substantial lifestyle change so be kind to yourself and make the transition with small changes as you go.  Begin modestly by lowering your grocery budget 10% from what you’ve been spending.  Gradually as you gain experience you can shave another 10% off then another and another making a big difference over time.


As you are getting comfortable with your grocery budget there may be times you feel overwhelmed or frustrated because you screwed up and spent more than you planned or overpaid for an item, it’s okay, it happens to the best of us.  Step back, breathe and remind yourself you are in control, it’s a grocery budget for goodness sake not the end of the world.  As Scarlett O’Hara said from the movie Gone with the Wind –“Tomorrow is another day!”



***  In 2008 the Department of Labor estimated a family of four spends $709 a month on groceries. Adding a 4% annual increase this gives an estimate of $797.52 per month or $184.04 per week.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates about 12.5 percent of the average family’s spending goes toward food, while the Department of Agriculture puts the figure at 9.8 percent.


How to Create a Grocery Budget

Want to Curb Your Spending ?

You will need:

  • A List of Items You Currently Use
  • Compare Prices between Several Stores
  • Buy Store Brands whenever possible
  • Use coupons and catch sales
  • Plan a week’s worth of meals
  • List all ingredients
  • Storage Space

Plant A Kitchen Garden