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Meal planning is something I’ve always wished I could do, but seemed too hard to actually handle. Crazy, right?

Every Sunday I do all my grocery shopping. And every week I would think, “okay I’m going to plan what I’m going to make this week.”

But it NEVER happened. I would start thinking about what to make, and quickly give up out of laziness. I would only think of one dinner idea.

I would then proceed to go to the grocery store, and go through every aisle and pick up random items that stood out to me (cue: $100+ weekly grocery bill – yuck!). And then I would put all the things in my kitchen and come up with only one meal I could actually make. Then I would go to the grocery store every day after work to buy add-on ingredients for things I came up with throughout the week.

Even Rachael Ray tried to make it easier on me with her Meal Planning Menus in Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine. And I would always think: “how cool, I wish I could just go buy those ingredients and do that.” Yet I didn’t.
(Here’s a sample one from the magazine. Click to view larger.)

The reason I didn’t think I could is probably because when put on the spot for a weekly  menu, I could never think of any recipes.

Then, in the last month two things happened that finally changed everything.

  1. I started making a list of all my “go to” weekly recipes that I like (i.e. jambalaya, chicken noodle soup, chili, anything in a crockpot, etc.) in my Notes app on my phone.
  2. I joined Mint.com. Which changed my life.

I’ve always tracked my finances in a spreadsheet, but Mint.com took it to a whole new level of analysis. All 16 of my accounts! I never even thought about how many different websites I have (this includes: bank accounts, credit cards, investments, and loans).

You can set budgets and goals for saving. It tells you how you’re doing, and also categorizes your spending into categories or merchants, by month. Way more anaylsis than I ever did in my spreadsheet! Here’s a sample snapshot, it’s not mine. But you can see an example of the Trends tab. There’s also an iPhone app!

What I learned from Mint.com:

  • Embarrassing fact #1: 16% of my spending (this includes bills) in October was done at Target. That sounds like a lot. I need a Target intervention.
  • Embarrassing fact #2: I went $200 over what I thought was a good budget ($300) for Food spending for 2 people.  Two.Hundred.Dollars.Over.  That’s a lot!

So, I realized I needed to stop my impulse grocery shopping habit, ASAP. That extra $200 could be used elsewhere. Enter: Meal Planning.

It’s only been 2 weeks. And I’m embarrassed at how easy it is, and am very ashamed that I didn’t start earlier.

  • Step 1: I keep that list of all my favorite meals, which I sometimes mix in with some new recipes I find online.
  • Step 2: I pick 4 recipes based on ingredients I already have, and write them down. I don’t assign to a day, I just like having 4 to pick from, with room for leftovers and dining out.
  • Step 3: Then I write a list of all the ingredients I don’t have at home and would need to complete the recipe.
  • Step 4: Mixed in with some weekly staples (milk, lunch meat, yogurts), my shopping list is done!
  • Step 5: I am not allowed to go to the grocery store again until the weekend.

My shopping list is so short, because I have so many ingredients stocked up from previous overbuying trips. Short list,and we won’t go hungry. Win!

{Check out more menu planning Monday ideas at orgjunkie.com’s menu planning linkup}

Since, moving in with A.K. and trying to keep the food stocked properly I have been spending about $375-$500 on groceries every month. That seems like a lot to me and I’m hoping meal planning and my love of couponing can get me down to a more reasonable number. What’s a reasonable budget for feeding 2 people? …with wiggle room for impulse ideas/snacks, of course. $300? $350?

Do you plan your weekly meals? Do you use mint.com? What’s a good grocery budget for 2 people?