Extreme Couponing: Stockpiling and Menu Planning

Today at my Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group, we had some round table discussion about menu planning: Do you do it? Do you plan for one week or one month? What works for you?  The responses were all over the board.  Some gals are proud non-planners, some gals plan and shop for the whole month all at once, some plan for the week and make multiple trips to the store.

Before I tell you what I do, let me tell you what I USED to do before I discovered budgeting with cash and the art of extreme couponing.  These were my steps:

  1. Look through my recipes and decide what I want to make/eat.
  2. Write down a list of ingredients that I need.
  3. Go to the pantry/fridge to see if I already had a couple of things and cross those off my list.
  4. Go to Waremart/Winco and drop $200 on a huge basket of groceries.
  5. Go to Safeway (which is closer) to pick up emergency ingredients that I forgot to get the first time.  Pay with the Visa.
  6. Go to Safeway to pick up fresh milk, etc. for the second week.  Heavy on the etc. Pay with the Visa.
  7. Grab a pizza at Papa Murphy’s because I’m too lazy to cook and it’s only $10 anyway. Pay with the Visa.
  8. Grab Thai food on Saturday because it sounds good and we are driving by anyway. Pay with the Visa.
  9. Grab a burger after church because I just don’t feel like cooking. Pay with the Visa.
  10. Rinse and repeat.

Total spent on food for the month for our family of four:  Between $500 and $600, which included groceries, eating out, etc.  Of course, I thought I was only spending $400 a month at the grocery store, and that may have been true, but then when you factor in the eating out . . . well, that’s a whole ‘nother ball game.

After I discovered the cash envelope budgeting system and honed my skills of extreme couponing, my meal planning looks a bit different.

  1. Insert $50 cash into 4 different envelopes for a total of $200 for food for the month.
  2. Allow $10 for eating out.  We call it “date night”, but it is usually a trip to DQ with the boys.  Last week we went out to Chinese food, though, and used the $10 of date night money, $10 of leftover grocery money from that week, and $10 of my fun money to pay the bill with cash.  I freely borrow/steal from my other envelopes to make it work for us!  Some day, I will budget for eating out, but at this season in our lives, it is not a high enough priority.
  3. Look at the grocery store ad/coupon blogs to find out what in season produce and meat is on sale.  Figure out what I can get for super cheap/free so I can add it to my stockpile and start my shopping list.
  4. Check out my pantry/freezer/stockpile and plan a week’s worth of meals (dinner) from what I already have.
  5. Make a teensy, tiny list of ingredients that I might need for my week’s worth of meals.  Heavy on the perishables and produce.
  6. Go shopping and spend an average of about $25 on meat, produce, dairy and stockpile items.
  7. Perhaps go shopping again later in the week if our boys eat all the fruit or the coupon blogs post a great stockpile worthy deal.  They usually do.
  8. Relish the fact that I have money left in my weekly envelope to spend on a Dutch Bros. coffee, take my preschooler out to lunch, or buy that fancy flour or spice I’ve been wanting to try.  Sometimes I will roll the money into the following week, but I’m usually greedy and treat myself for a job well-done.  At least once a month, usually the week when the loved/hated $10/$50 Safeway coupon comes out, I buy a lot of meat.  On the months when the envelopes are empty and I still have 4 days to feed my family before we get paid again, we eat from the stockpile and don’t shop at all.

Yeah. That’s about it.

It’s important to remember:

The goal of extreme couponing is to build a stockpile. You determine the size of your stockpile.  For me, I won’t buy more than one year’s supply of any item, but most of my stockpile is eaten up in 3 month cycles that correlate to store sales cycles.  So, I might buy a year’s worth of oatmeal, but I’ll only buy 3 months worth of mayonnaise.  I must use the item that I stockpile.  No use buying something if you can’t eat it before the expiration date, right?

The goal of stockpiling is to buy at least three months worth of the the items you need for super cheap or free so that you don’t have to run out and pay full price when you need it.

But, of course, in order to effectively use your stockpile, you need to know what you have and you need to use it!

These days, I shop my pantry and my freezer first.  Then, I plan my meals accordingly.

Okay, sometimes I don’t plan my meals for the week.  And, you know what?  We survive.  I know that I can scrounge up a few last minute meals by visiting my freezer and my pantry.  No problem!

However, I hate the last minute running around trying to figure out what to feed the family, so I’ve been following a general schedule that goes something like this:

  • Meatless Monday: Usually a pasta dish (could be spaghetti with meat), or possibly a bean dish or lentil hash.
  • Taco Tuesday: Typically something Mexican: tacos, enchiladas, baked burrito, etc.
  • Wing Wednesday: Typically a chicken dish.
  • Thursday: Usually a soup of some sort or another crock-pot meal.
  • Friday: Pizza night!  I make homemade pizza and the toppings vary.  Sometimes it’s BBQ Chicken (with all kinds of stuff hidden inside – veggies, beans, etc) and sometimes it is Greek with feta sauce, spinach and chicken.  We love Hawaiian and Veggie pizza is a hit, too!  The boys are never picky and always love it.
  • Saturday: Whatever night.  I fix whatever.  I don’t know.  I usually call my in-laws hoping that they will invite us up for dinner.  Yeah, I’m THAT kind of daughter-in-law!  :)
  • Sunday: Lunch is usually leftovers, but lately I’ve been tossing a couple of frozen portions of soup in the crockpot and starting bread in the breadmaker before we head off to church. Oh, the wonderful smells that greet us!

Breakfast is usually cereal, oatmeal or fruit.  Lunch for me and Cole is usually sandwiches, quesadillas or leftovers.  Mitch usually skips his lunch because he’s too busy to stop working (insane!), but some days he has a standing lunch appointment or he will come home for lunch.  Grant takes his lunch which always consists of a sandwich (meat and cheese or jam), a fruit (usually pear sauce!), a drink (water with a Kool-Aid fizzer that I stocked up on when it was free), and a treat (usually a fruit snack or Hershey bar).  If we are out of sandwich bread for Grant’s lunch, we’ll do homemade “lunchables” consisting of crackers, cheese and meat.  Sometimes he gets a “wrap” instead.  He’s flexible!

And, that is how I stockpile and meal plan.  Do any of the rest of you have a meal planning “schedule” that you try to follow?  Do you have any tips for us?

By the way, one of the biggest reasons reluctant couponers give me for NOT stockpiling is that they don’t have room.  I hope to do a blog post about “finding” room for your stockpile.  Feel free to send me pictures of your unusual stockpile spaces!!

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