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Queen of free: Meal plans vital while planning grocery trip

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Perhaps more than in any other category of spending, people tend to get off-budget with what they eat.

Whether you are at the dining room table, cruising the aisles of the grocery store or zipping through the drive-thru, planning is vital.

One of the key ways our family paid off more than $127,000 in debt was to get very intentional about planning our meals on a weekly basis. This not only reduced a sizable outflow of cash, it also cut down on the day-to-day stress of feeding a family of four.

Plus, we streamlined our grocery store purchases, guaranteeing that we would actually use all of the food we had purchased. Is there anything worse than expired food that you have to throw away because it “hid” in the back of your refrigerator?

Whether you are an old pro at planning meals or a rookie who would like to begin, here are five tips for meal planning success.

Start with what you have.

Even when we whine that there’s “nothing to eat in this whole house,” the fact is that is simply not true. More than likely you have enough food in your fridge, freezer and pantry to put together two or three meals.

Before you write a single item on your grocery list, throw open the pantry, fridge, freezer, cabinets, etc. Begin making a meal plan with what you can use to prepare a meal without buying anything. Continue with planning meals based on what you have, plus one or two additional items.

Make a written plan.

Not unlike having a budget, you need a written plan week-to-week for your meals. If you are more daring, you can plan two weeks or even an entire month.

On the Queen of Free site, I post our meal plan weekly and a printable document that allows you to track your meals and your grocery list in one place. But even a piece of scratch paper will do the trick.

Check out apps, websites and the wisdom of others.

Thank goodness there are plenty of other people who are smarter than the two of us put together who seem to have more hours in their day. Even better, they use the Internet. You can find a whole host of resources online and even in app form.

I love 5dollardinners.com and the eMeals site. Some sites charge; some are free. Just be sure you read the fine print closely to make sure you aren’t signing up for more than you need.

You’re also welcome to read my weekly plan on Mondays; however, you are not invited to dinner. I don’t have that much silverware.

Take advantage of seasonal shopping.

You’ll need to pay attention to what items are on sale and are in season to maximize your meal plan. It’s not a good idea to build a plan on fruits and veggies that are not in season or proteins that are not on sale.

Don’t meal plan in the aisles or when hungry.

It is overwhelming to meal plan while you are in the store. There are simply too many options. Likewise, it is not a good idea to plan while you are hungry. Shop smart. Get a plan in action before you leave home.

Meal planning does not have to be a drawn-out act of drudgery. About 15 minutes of forethought could save you hundreds of dollars each week and keep you eating healthfully, too. Plus you’ll reduce your footprint by not overbuying.

Give it a try this week. You might be surprised at how much of a difference it truly makes.

Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids.

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