TIPS: Keeping a Budget & Menu Planning

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Keeping her babies close!

I have been meaning to sit down and write this post for months, but life has been somewhat chaotic lately with the holidays and a sleep deprived toddler. I’ve received some questions via Instagram regarding meal planning and budgeting, so I hope this helps some of you! For almost three years now, Josh and I have been menu planning together; we sit down at the end of the week and write out meals for the following week and get our grocery lists together. We’ll look through cookbooks, my Pinterest boards, blogs and make room for our own experiments. This works for us, and here’s why:

  1. Saves money
  2. Keeps us organized
  3. Saves us unnecessary trips to the store
  4. We don’t waste food
  5. It keeps us from buying a lot of pre-packaged, processed food
  6. Reduces stress

We used to just fly by the seat of our pants and that evening scramble to figure out dinner. Trips to the grocery store would be multiple times a week (at least 3-4), we’d buy things we didn’t need and end up wasting food…which meant we were also throwing away money. We were both appalled at what we were spending weekly – which forced us to look at our overall budget. There were weeks when we were spending $250/week on groceries alone for just two people!

We rented apartments and townhouses for years, which was also in a sense throwing money away. We wanted to have a baby and buy a house, but with all the bills (student loans, utilities, car payments, etc.) we just weren’t able to save any money. After reviewing what we paid each month for the various bills, we were able to create a grocery budget. It took some adjusting and tweaking, but we figured out an amount that worked for us.

Every Sunday, we run to the ATM and take out $220 ($240 every other week) and divide the cash into fixed amounts among the following:

  • Grocery
  • Date (I’ll be honest, we’ve been on two dates since having Willow and they were lunch dates…so we use that money for either going out to eat as a family, save for a special occasion or a coffee/tea date)
  • Household (any odds and ends we may need, such as trash bags, light bulbs, toothbrushes, shampoo, etc.)
  • Miscellaneous (buffer in case we need to buy a gift for a birthday or a random item)
  • Bi-weekly allowance – Josh gets paid every other week and we each get $10. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it forces us to really think about making a purchase and live a simpler life…is it something we really want? Or we might put it towards something we’re saving for, a bigger purchase.

Keeping a Budget & Menu Planning // Be Sol-Ful

Keeping a Budget & Menu Planning

We bought a small expandable file folder with dividers (from Target for $3.99), which we use to keep the money organized and to hold receipts. We have a section for “Online Purchases” – for example, let’s say we order toothpaste for Willow, we would then take money from the “Household” section and move it to “Online Purchases” – the following week, we would take the money that is in the “Online Purchases” file and let’s say there’s $40 dollars in there, we would take out $40 less from the bank for the week and disperse it among “Grocery” or “Household.”

Any grocery money we don’t use, gets moved into the “Grocery Surplus” file – that is for items we don’t buy often, such as maple syrup, superfoods, coconut oil, rice, coffee – they’re pricier items, which keeps us from depleting our actual grocery budget.

Back to menu planning….

Planning ahead has saved us! Life just flows and has made our days easier. Having meals lined out for us takes the stress away, not to mention that either one of us can jump in the kitchen and get dinner going. Willow is a mama’s girl, so it has helped tremendously to have Josh be able to just open the cookbook or find the blog post to follow a recipe while I spend quality time with our sweet girl. It’s been great to try new recipes and discover favorites – often times, I get inspired when I make a new recipe. Most of what we eat is homemade, but we do pick up the occasional carton of organic tomato soup or Luke’s crackers for Willow because she loves them. It’s nice to have the quick and convenient option, but we don’t make a habit of it. Cooking in bulk ensures that we have leftovers as the “convenient” option.

The cash method keeps us honest and we only buy what we need…often times eliminating that impulse buy. Most grocery trips, I’ll keep a running tab of the total in my head and if I do happen upon a treat or something not on the list, I make sure we have the cash for it before adding it to the shopping cart.

So, here’s how we do it:

  1. We take inventory of what we already have (ingredients) in our kitchen and first choose recipes based on that. Then we look through our cookbooks and online – picking recipes that don’t require too many additional ingredients….that’s not to say we don’t occasionally experiment with a more complex recipe. Tuesdays will always be taco night and Fridays are usually leftovers since Josh works really late and I can’t spend too much time in the kitchen. We very rarely plan breakfast or lunch, but rather keep the basic staples on hand (fruit, oats, buckwheat, Silver Hills gf bread, nut/seed butters, hummus, etc.) along with leftovers as an option.
  2. We decide which day to prepare each recipe and write out grocery lists – Josh does the Trader Joe’s shopping since he works there, while Willow and I go to Natural Grocers and Whole Foods. Mondays are our grocery shopping days.
  3. We write the meals out on our little white board in the kitchen so it’s in plain sight.
  4. Eat good food and enjoy the week!

*** I apologize for the old photos below, but I wanted to be sure you at least get the idea of the process.

Keeping a Budget & Menu Planning

Keeping a Budget & Menu Planning // Be Sol-Ful

Keeping a Budget & Menu Planning

I’m not saying this method will work for everyone, but I’m hoping you might be able to take away some ideas and incorporate them into your household. Living with a set budget and meal planning has helped us pay off one of the cars, we have zero credit card debt (only use in emergencies), Josh’s student loans are almost paid off, we were able to buy our first house (also have my parents to thank for giving us a place to live for 8mo) and not live paycheck to paycheck. Most importantly, we opened a savings account for Willow when she was born and have been able to continue depositing $100 a month into it, which has allowed us to get a pretty nice cushion going for her.

Other ways we save money:

  • We don’t have cable, instead we pay $9/mo for Netflix…which is our only form of television options.
  • Buy used whenever possible (thrift stores, consignment shops).
  • We used to buy books like they were going out of style, now we borrow more from the library and limit what we do buy.
  • Shop clearance racks.
  • Buy some things in bulk, such as dried beans, rice, spices, coconut oil (to make our body care products).
  • Make our own products (toothpaste, deodorant, lip balm, body butter, cleaning products, baby wipes, etc.)
  • I am fortunate to be able to be a stay-at-home mom, which means we don’t pay for daycare or a babysitter.
  • When the weather gets a little nicer, Josh will be riding his bike to work more…thus saving on gas.
  • We don’t use credit cards and if we do, we use them with the intention of paying it off immediately.
  • We research and hunt for the best price before buying, whether it’s online or in an actual store.
  • We limit how often we eat out or order in – using it as a special treat instead.
  • Our “diet” and lifestyle keeps us healthy, which means no extra trips to the doctor or prescription meds.
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Homemade body butter…hope to one day have this in my Etsy shop.

What are ways that YOU save money? Do you meal plan?

Thanks for stopping by!

11 thoughts on “TIPS: Keeping a Budget & Menu Planning

  1. This is so incredibly helpful of you – you have provided people with a fantastic public service here! I love getting to know you more with each post, and realising how similar we are 😄 In our household we moved to getting our groceries delivered because it meant we would write out meal plans for the week and stop us from ‘browsing’ in the supermarket (and neither of us drive, so it saves our arms!). We save about £30 a week! We also decide on an amount each month that we put into our joint account that we pay the mortgage/bills from for items from places like Wholefoods that cost more, but are good for us. And I’m just starting out making us body care products too! This really is a great post, I think it’ll be helpful to lots of people 💞💕

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    • Hi, friend!!! I told Josh about how you get groceries delivered and he thought that was a fantastic idea!! Really takes away the temptation of all the treats and overspending! Love it! We really are a lot alike ❤️ I’ve so enjoyed getting to know you and connecting. You are such a wonderful friend. Wishing you all the best in 2015!!

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      • Oh, the same to you, wonderful! You’re a great friend – here’s to more greatness in 2015! Grocery delivery has become more mainstream over here in the past few years and only costs a couple of pounds on top of your order, so I think a lot of people are doing it now. It really does save you so much – especially as you’re not walking past all the ‘special offers’ that actually end up costing you more! List-makers and planners of the world unite! 💕

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    • That means so much. Thank you, Bill! We’ve come a long way and we are so grateful for supportive and caring friends, such as yourself. Wishing you all the best and we look forward to seeing you next year!!

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  2. I love this post Mandy. Hits so close to home for me 😉 Although my folder is not as fancy as yours, I have a very similar system for the weekly budget and keeping track of receipts and allocating money for various categories. I never thought about the grocery surplus idea, which is awesome. I have things like maple syrup that I don’t buy often because it’s more expensive, so I just randomly pick times when I buy it and feel guilty about it afterwards. I’m definitely going to try to put money aside that we save for items like that. All of your other money saving ideas are very similar to ours too and I think great tips that everyone could implement. A bonus of not having cable, besides saving money is being able to censor more of what we (and the kids) watch, especially with commercials and all the brainwashing that comes from that. Oh and I don’t know if you have the option to order groceries online, but that has also helped me out with budgeting. Where we live now there are two supermarkets that deliver for free and I do most of our shopping online so I’m able to always know exactly how much I’m spending and have better control of it.
    Anyways, sorry for the long comment, I really enjoyed your post! Have a great weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Loved your comment! Great minds think alike 😉 Thank you for taking the time to read this lengthy blog post. I love that you order your groceries to be delivered!! If Josh didn’t work at Trader Joe’s, we would probably do the same…if it’s even possible in our area. We order some items online, but the bulk of our shopping is done where Josh works. Once again, I greatly appreciate the comment. Hope all is well! ❤

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  3. You all sound disciplined with your budgeting–I need to work in that! I do plan the meals for the week and make 1 shopping trip. It does help knowing what the meals are for the week. And stashing homemade stuff in the freezer to grab as needed. I need a little board–mine is usually on scrap paper ! Hope you are having great week!

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    • Awww! It’s taken some time and adjustment, but we finally found a method that works for us! Ha! We used to have it on scrap paper, too! But it was constantly getting lost or thrown away 🙂 The little board has become a lifesaver. Thank you! I hope you and your family are having a great week too!!!

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  4. This post is SO inspiring and well done. I found it so helpful. I feel motivated to get more disciplined about our budget. You guys are amazing. Good Job! 🙂

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    • Awww! Thank you, Christy! Some weeks are harder than others as far as sticking to the budget, but it’s really taught us to simplify and be more aware of our finances! ❤

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