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Saving with meal planning

When both husband and wife work long hours, the easiest thing to make for dinner may be reservations. But that can be expensive, especially when you do it every day.

Our Frugal $ense winner for March found a way to cut down on eating out by planning ahead. Leslie Damann, of Evergreen Park, Ill., won $100 for her idea on planning meals ahead to cut down on grocery costs and dining out bills.

Bankrate: How did you come up with your savings tip?

Leslie: We work about 12 hours a day, so by the time we get home, who wants to do anything around the house? So we would go out about four to five times a week, and finally it got to the point where (we) looked at (our) bank account at the end of the month and said, "Where's all our money?"

February's Frugal $ense winner: Leslie Damann
Leslie Damann, of Evergreen Park, Ill., the winner of the Frugal $ense contest for March, makes a monthly meal plan that saves on the need for dining out. Congratulations, Leslie!

Save by making a meal plan
"Every month I complete a grocery shopping list for items for the coming month. I have put together a list of all the meals my husband and I eat regularly, then put them on the calendar based on the amount of time it takes to cook the meal. Monday through Friday get easy meals that allow me to cook them in 20 minutes or less, and all meals that take more than 20 minutes are saved for the weekends.
"This way we buy all of our groceries at one time, saving on our grocery bill, (we store meat in our deep freeze until it's time to use it) saving on our gas bill with less trips to the store and saving my time by having quick meals already planned out for the week."
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  Leslie Damann

Bankrate: What did you do about it?

Leslie: It dawned on me, what if I made a calendar for our meal plan? We don't have to stick to it rigidly, but at least have something there. You don't have to fight about what you want. This is what's on the schedule, that's what you're getting.

Bankrate: Tell us how you go through the process.

Leslie: We usually get our sale papers on Tuesday or Wednesday. I like to sit down with that and if there are certain products that are on sale, we'll go ahead and use that instead of something I may have planned. But now that it is up and running, it probably only takes 15 minutes, maybe 20 minutes. So 20 minutes is not a big deal.

Bankrate: Did you have any problems when you first started out with meal planning?

Leslie: It took about two to three times to get it up and going properly. I would forget to get some ingredients or something like that. But once you figured out what you had in each meal, it made it a lot easier. OK, I have these basic staples in the cupboard, so I don't have to buy those every month.

Bankrate: Did you know a lot about budgeting before you started this process?

Leslie: We had to learn -- I am a huge spendthrift. I hate being in the house; I have to be doing something. And if shopping is available, I'm doing that. This was a huge uphill battle for me.

My husband, not so much, he can be pretty thrifty. I kind of made it a game for myself. I decided OK, maybe if I can save X amount of dollars this month, I can treat myself next month.

What we came up with, I also have a spreadsheet that shows all our bills and when they are due. We have a set amount of money that goes into savings every month. And anything that is left over from that, we call it our "fun money." We divide it evenly.

Bankrate: Do you have any other ideas for saving money?

Leslie: Right now we're involved in paying off our mortgage early. It doesn't seem like it's a money-saving tip but when we did the math, actually we used one of those cool little calculators on Bankrate, we came up with the fact that we were going to save $180,000 on interest if we pay off our mortgage in six years, instead of the 30. We can do this.

So in six years we're going to have it paid off. We're going to do a lot of scrimping and saving, but once we're mortgage free, we can pretty much do what we want.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy
-- Posted: April 30, 2008
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