Savings challenge: Create a weekly meal plan

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What’s for dinner tonight? If you dread this question, it may be a sign that you are spending more money than you should on groceries or takeout food. A little planning may save you thousands of dollars per year.

Most people know it’s smart to take a shopping list to the grocery store. But a list without good planning isn’t good enough and will actually lead to a waste of food and money every week.

Before you make a shopping list, create a dinner menu for the week so that when you are at the store you’ll buy only the groceries that you need for those recipes and not what you think you might need.

It’s not as much work as you’d think. You can plan for the week in 15 minutes. All you need is a pen and paper, or go mobile and take notes on your smartphone.

How do I know this? Each week, one of Bankrate’s personal finance reporters is reporting on a new way to save and chronicling the savings journey. This week, I tried creating a weekly dinner menu myself so I could share my experience with you. See what happened.