Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Google Calendar Meal Planning Part 2

Note: If you haven't read Part 1, this may make no sense.  This is part 2 of a guest post by the super-frugal Kara.

Now, instead of just slapping meals together on random days, I integrate meal planning with my grocery shopping system.  I may not always be able to find a matching pair of socks, but my grocery shopping system runs like a Japanese train. First of all, grocery shopping is very lame (and illegal) without money, so this plan cycles around payday. I get paid twice a month. Most of you probably do too. If you're on some other schedule, this might take an adjustment. Our entire monthly family budget is divided into two sets of line items. Some of those items are paid on/just after the 15th, the rest are on/just after the 30th. Our monthly grocery budget is divided between the two paychecks, with each paycheck covering half. Now, how can I make sure my grocery money lasts the whole 2 weeks and I haven't overspent? Should I withdraw cash, put it in an envelope and pay from there every time I buy groceries? Or should I just keep all the receipts and keep a running tally? Maybe just guesstimate in my head? Nope. There is one surefire way to make sure you don't go over. You take that grocery money, and you blow it all immediately. Then it's simple. You're done. How do you not spend extra a few days later? DON'T GO BACK TO THE GROCERY STORE. 

This may sound draconian, but it is elegant in its simplicity. See, your present self always thinks your future self is going to be a good guy. So present self says, "Well, I'll buy the Doritos now, but next week I'll stick to the list." But future self will sabotage present self's plans every time. Future self will also buy the Doritos. The only way to get around this is by sabotaging your future self's opportunity. Spend all future self's money now, and then don't let her back into the store! I always buy 2 weeks worth of groceries at a time. We are a family of 4 with one vehicle, and because my partner often drives to work, I don't have a vehicle most days. This would make it extremely inconvenient to make a grocery run 2 or 3 times a week, so going once per pay period is easier. My grocery stock up habit also stems partly from my rural upbringing when "running to the store for a gallon of milk" would have required a 12 mile trip. You didn't do that. If you were too dumb to calculate the proper amount of milk to bring home the first time, then you could go without until the next trip to town. Now I live in a city of 280,000. There are many nearby stores that would be happy to sell me a gallon of milk. But of course, if I walk in there for milk, I'm likely to walk out with a few impulse purchases that neither my wallet nor my waistline will appreciate. 

Everybody impulse buys. But if you're going to the store 2 times a month instead of 12 times a month, you are likely making 1/6 the number of impulse purchases that a 12x a month shopper is. At $3.29 per bag of Doritos, that's a $32.90 savings, not including tax...or calories. The savings on gas and time are also very real. It takes me about 8 minutes to drive to the grocery store. At 16 minutes a round trip, that's 32 minutes a month in transit instead of  1 hr 42 minutes. That doesn't even count all the time walking through the store and standing in line, or the gas required to drive the 20 or so extra miles. I have better things to do with my time than stand in a checkout line, so I love only having to do it twice a month. Some people are intimidated by this because it involves actual planning. You have to pay attention to how much milk your family drinks in a week, instead of just hitting the store on autopilot every time you run out, and coming home with one (yes, people really do get one at a time) one gallon of milk. Which will last 3 days. And then repeat. You're standing there in front of the cooler. Just grab three instead of one, my dear.  

Some people try to buy the bare minimum at a time because they're trying to save money. But in the end, I guarantee the disorganization and $ spent on gas will cost you more. Some people balk at this idea because they want to go to the store every few days for "fresh" milk, bread and produce. If you are not yet aware of how long it takes supermarket food to reach your shelves, there are several documentaries I can recommend. Do you really think the food stays fresher sitting in the store cooler for a few days than it would sitting in your fridge? Just buy that ginormous bag of potatoes and be done with it. What's that you say? Lettuce doesn't last two weeks in the fridge?  You are correct. That is where grocery shopping and meal planning come together.

Do not put lettuce salad in your meal plan on the 28th of the month. That would be gross. Put it on the 16th, 17th, or 18th. Or the 2nd, 3rd or 4th. Or all of the above, if you really like lettuce. Those dates are right after you went grocery shopping. Pick all the quick-spoiling veggies and dairy items that you like to eat, and put them in your meal plans for the first week of your pay cycle. The second week, you will be eating things like potatoes, carrots, squash, frozen green beans, etc. Those things can handle a couple weeks in the fridge/freezer. They're cheaper too. As you make your meal plan in GC, write out your grocery list at the same time. Some people want to type their grocery list into their phone. I can still write faster than I can text. This is true for most people over 25. Just write out the list; you'll save yourself time. Look at each recipe, and look in your cupboard/fridge to see which ingredients you already have.

When your present self finally comes to grips with the fact that future self is not allowed into the grocery store, you will find yourself being VERY observant about what needs to go on that list. You, present self, are the only thing standing between future self and an empty toothpaste tube. Are you running kind of low on hand soap? How low? Retrain yourself to think of "low = 2 weeks worth" instead of "low = 2 days worth". You will also become aware of just how much your family eats of certain items. It's easy to miss when you're buying them one at a time. But when you're putting 8 boxes of fruit flavored snacks into the cart...you're doing it intentionally. It's that much easier to spot dietary changes that need to be made. Some items will be inadvertently forgotten at first. That's just part of switching gears. You may have to survive without roasted red pepper hummus for  6 entire days  until payday. You'll live. You'll be a stronger person for it. And you'll appreciate the hummus much more when you do get it. You will be able to smile at those neurotic shoppers who "just had to have" a certain item right now. You will be the gladiator of grocery shoppers. And you will rock your grocery budget every. single. month. 

So, in review, here are my guidelines for meal planning and grocery shopping:
1. Make a 2 week meal plan in GC, taking into account the fact that all the groceries will be bought at once.
2. Shop on payday or the day after.
3. Buy 2 weeks worth of groceries (don't forget breakfasts!).
4. Do not go back to the grocery store. I don't care if it's 9 pm and you feel like having ice cream. Don't go back. (You don't have any money anyway, remember?)  Ran out of juice for breakfast? Suck it up. Your ancestors didn't always have juice for breakfast either. Heck, they might not even have had breakfast.
5. Enjoy getting a daily reminder in your inbox telling you what to make for supper...and the fact that all the ingredients are already sitting in your kitchen. Meanwhile, YOU get a two week vacation from standing in the check out line. 


  1. Kara. You rock. I've seen you in action and that's all there is to it. You. Rock. I am going to find my way over to google calendar right now. Now if I could just bake bread like yours...

    Hey, write a book, will you? You know, in all your spare time.

  2. Kara,
    I love both of your posts. Great time saving ideas. I use GC but hadn't thought of it for this purpose:-) Now I get to add one more color to my calendar!