The $250 Grocery Budget – Meal Planning and Grocery Shopping

Okay, here’s how I meal plan and grocery shop.  Let’s start with the meal plan – I’ve tried a lot of different ways to do this, but the way that works for me best is a week at a time.  I used to plan out a month but realized I needed more flexibility than that – commitment scares me.

Here’s our meal plan for the last week (Wednesday to Today):

Wednesday: Mac & Cheese (already in pantry)
Thursday: Beans and Rice
Friday: Sesame Chicken
Saturday: Chicken Parmesan, Pasta, Salad, Bread (Friends for dinner, feed 5)
Sunday: Enchiladas, Rice, Salad (Friends for dinner, feed 7)
Monday: Leftovers
Tuesday: Creamy Chicken and Pasta

We normally eat leftovers at least one other night a week, but because we were having friends over both weekend nights, the normal routine got thrown off a bit.  On that menu, Beans and Rice and the Enchiladas were new recipes (both great, btw).  Sesame Chicken, Chicken Parmesan and Creamy Chicken and Pasta are tried and true – I have all of the spices for those already in my cabinet, so shopping for those meals means just buying the food items – chicken breasts, a few canned goods, some produce, etc.

Once I know what I’m making for the week, I take a piece of paper and fold it into sixths, In the top left hand column I write Meals and then I list the meals for the week under that, folding accordingly.  For the remaining five columns, I list grocery departments – in the order that they are in my grocery store.  Dairy, Grains, Canned Goods, Meats and Produce.  Then I list everything I need for the recipes in the appropriate section.  This keeps me on track – when I get to the grocery store, I start in dairy and just go down the list.  It keeps me from moving off into the Oreo aisle.  Because when Emily’s in the Oreo aisle, the budget and the diet fall apart.  If something’s not on the list, it doesn’t go in the cart, that’s the rule.

B will occasionally make a small grocery store trip on the weekends if he needs more oatmeal for work, or lunch meat, but the bulk of our shopping is done on Wednesdays.  And last Wednesday, I spent under $36 for a week of meals, and then we ran to the grocery store for a few last minute for freshness items – like bread to go with the Chicken Parm on the day of the meal.  All told, we spent $45 this week – more than normal, but only because we scheduled two friend dinners in the same weekend.

And that’s how we think we keep to $250 or less a month on groceries.  The month is coming to a close at we’ve only spent $160 so far (though we were out of town for 4 days).  I loved hearing all of your grocery saving tips yesterday, so if you have more, keep ’em coming.  Any meal plan tips you want to share?


  1. I soooo wish I could have a grocery budget like yours!

    I think mine and hubby’s biggest downfall is all the extra snacky stuff hubby ‘needs’ during the week. What do you usually buy for those nibbly times, if anything? How do you keep any extras in check?

    I would love to know more! I plan meals for the week, as well, but it looks like I manage to spend twice as much as you do for the week.

  2. I just started a grocery budget and a meal plan for my family this month [it was one of the new year resolutions]. I plan for 2 weeks [as I make a shopping trip every 2 weeks] and have really been enforcing the coupons and the sale ads and have been basing our meals on what we already have and what’s on sale [or what I have coupons for]. Just this month I have saved a little over $100.00 compared to before I started the meal planning and grocery budget 🙂

  3. I really like the folding into 6ths thing with the paper–that is a great trick!

    I noticed that you had written gluten free enchiladas–I’m curious! Do you guys have gluten allergies in the family?

    For me, the number one trick to meal planning is flexibility. If I planned to make spaghetti, but we all feel like tacos, and I have all the stuff to make tacos, then we make tacos. We plan, but also do our best to be flexible within the plan.

  4. Nicole – we try not to buy nibbly stuff. B has a fridge in his office at work, so occasionally he’ll take leftover budget and buy some snacks for that, but if I snacked I’d gain about 15 pounds pronto. So I stick to meals, and when fruit is in season, we’ll buy that to have around the house to snack on. I really try to avoid the packaged snacks (totally because of diet stuff, but it helps the budget, too). Also, we deal with food allergies in our house (peanuts mostly), so we avoid packaged goods because they’re so hard to shop for and rest assured that allergens aren’t in teh foods.

    Meredith – We had family friends for dinner and two of their kids have Celiac disease, so gluten free was for them. I was stressed about it, but it was pretty easy – just had to make my own enchilada sauce instead of buying canned, and it was good!

  5. You’ve got a great system!

  6. that’s so smart. we seriously need to get into meal planning. we stick to a pretty good budget, but often we are going to the store a few nights a week to grab stuff… not good.
    tony does all of our cooking/meal planning – so maybe i will suggest this to him 🙂

    i think if we bought less packaged stuff it would help our waistlines too – thanks for the advice!

  7. I REALLY need to start doing this. I am not good at it. I need to write it all down. You are inspiring me to do it!

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  9. Not to sound like a wino… but what about the booze?! Do you keep a separate budget for that?

  10. Hahaha, Liz – we go back and forth about whether this should be a part of the grocery budget or not. We currently have a separate $50 a month budget – but that gets dropped if we need to tighten the budget for any reason and any wine or beer gets paid for with leftover grocery money.

  11. I do the same thing: make my meal plan for the week and shop for groceries. I will say that I spend about 25% more than you and I think it is because we eat a lot more produce (a minimum of 2 veggies) with every meal. Produce is expensive…

  12. Thanks for sharing! I meal plan and make a list and try to only buy from the list, but I still spend over $300 a month. I’m trying to cut back though so hopefully looking at your tips will help!

  13. The way you set up your grocery list is so simple yet genius! Much more organized than my current method.

  14. Good question about the drinks. Glad you answered that. I love the format of your lists. I think I Need to try this. I also think I need to go with simpler recipes because I always end up with ingredients I don’t reuse.

  15. I’m with Kim, I need to simplify my recipes so I’m buying fewer ingredients. And I get so pissed when I buy a pricey ingredient (like the fontina cheese from last week) and make the dish and it either sucks or is just ok.

    So you don’t snack at all? Do you just do 3 meals? I’d be interested in your breakfasts and lunches too. Cuz I’m nosy. And so I can somehow learn how to stop snacking.

  16. Ah ha! Thanks for the alcohol update, Emily!

    PS: Loved this post… now I just need to get my mate to stop “helping” me by going grocery shopping whenever he feels hungry!

  17. I like your list making method. That would keep me from running from back and forth across the store. I thought Mr. B does the shopping? We go on Sundays- which sticks because it is so packed but I have a hard time running errands after work. In the summer though I love to go mid-week, mid-day.

  18. Delurking (longtime reader here!) to comment. The hubs and I have gotten SUPER lazy about our grocery bill since our daughter was born about a year ago, and this post was the kick in the pants I needed to tighten our belts — so, thanks for that. Although our typical grocery bill is over $100/week (ridiculous – and I even meal-plan!), I was proud to get it down to $64 this week (including a six-pack of beer!) for the first time in ages.

    My tip — which doesn’t really apply in your situation, but might be useful to others — is to shop your pantry and freezer. I’m on a mission to use up all of our “extras” of stuff over the next month or so, and to only buy produce/milk and necessary fill-in items.