As you know, Steve and I have become quite the “budgeters” over the years. In order to make it easier for us to plan our grocery trips, we decided it would be cool to have a document that populated the prices for our grocery items as we planned our meals each week.
If you are interested in having such a document for your meal planning, please feel free to download our meal plan template (.xlsx 26KB). Please note that some of the cells in the document are locked so that the formulas for the calculations are not altered.
Once we finish with our meal plan each week, I simply copy it over to Dropbox or Google Drive so that I can view it on my phone while at the store. Both of these apps are free in the Google Play and App Store.
If you have any questions, just send me an email at email@example.com.
We budget $100 per week for groceries. This might seem pretty low to you, but this is actually a far cry from the $40 per week that we lived on for 2.5 years while fighting to pay off our debt as fast as possible. Yes, $40 is what I typed.
There are a few benefits to planning your meals each week. These include:
- Everyone knows in advance what the plan is
- Involves the kids in decision making that impacts the family
- Less stress when at the store
- No surprises when it comes to what is for dinner
- Prevents you from being over budget
- Reduces impulse spending on eating out
To some this might seem boring and too planned out, but we have learned that failing to plan is planning to fail. This applies to personal finance, meal plans, and everything else in life, so we got on the bandwagon and started planning.
We typically take about 40 minutes or so every Wednesday evening to plan our meals for the coming week. This is a cool way to do it because it allows everyone to have buy-in for the meal plan and no one is surprised when a salad is served on Sunday evening. We don’t have kids yet, but I can imagine that it would be fun to get their take on meals for the coming week.
The main goal is to plan for the meals so that we don’t get to Tuesday and begin impulsing our way through the week by eating out every night. That is costly, and not healthy in the long run.
Meal Plan Template
Once you open the Excel document, there are 2 worksheets. If you don’t have Excel, you can use an Excel viewer for free from Microsoft.
Worksheet #1: Grocery
In the first tab, this is where I plan out all of our meals for the week. These are the same meals that are featured on the blog each week.
Meal Plan Calculations
As you can see under “Meal Plan Calculations”, we plan for 5 dinners a week, and usually eat leftovers or something simple the other 2 nights to make it easier for me to get other things done.
The idea behind this page is to decide on the main meals before getting to everything else, including staples, in the section below. I include the items for each of the meals based on my research and then include them to give me a sense of how much each meal will cost. I have included 8 items for each meal since we don’t need more than that for the meals that I cook. If you need more than 8 items, just let me know and I can modify the template.
Where it says “<Enter Meal Name>”, you can type in the name of the meal that you are planning for the week to help you stay organized and to remind you what items you need to make each of the meals.
Once you have developed your list of grocery items in worksheet #2 (“Grocery Item List”), all you’ll need to do is type in the name of the item that you need where it says “<Enter Item>”. The price will auto-populate and the totals for each meal will be calculated.
You will also notice that the quantity (“Qty.”) column changes to “1” by default when you enter the name of a grocery item. If you need more than one of any item, just type the quantity into that cell (i.e., “3”) and the price will re-calculate automatically.
If you have duplicate items from separate stores, make sure to add an extra identifier onto each name so that you can recall the price you actually want. For instance, we have “Enchilada Sauce” listed for Aldi, Food Lion, and Walmart. Here is how they are listed in worksheet #2:
- Enchilada Sauce A
- Enchilada Sauce F
- Enchilada Sauce W
In cells D13, I13, N13, D25, and I25, the totals are calculated for each individual meal. In cell Q4, the total is provided for all 5 of the meals based on the totals mentioned above.
Grocery Items by Store
Below the header “Grocery Items by Store”, this is where I get specific on all of the items we need from each of the stores that we shop at. This helps me to determine the overall cost of our groceries for the week before we even step foot in the store. It is amazing how much easier it is to shop for groceries with a plan.
As I am sure you’ve noticed, it is far too easy to go into a store and have a cart heaping with food for a total of $300, but then have your loved ones say there is nothing to eat. Shopping with a plan is always best policy, in my opinion. It is also an opportunity to get buy-in from loved ones on what meals you are having for the week so that there are minimal complaints when the time comes.
As you can see, we’ve listed multiple stores that you can organize your grocery list with, though we only typically go to two stores per week (i.e., Aldi, Walmart). We purchase most of our grocery items at Aldi, and occasionally will go to Food Lion, Giant, Safeway, Target, and Walmart. That said, we are starting to venture out to international stores now that we have the budget for it, and because I want to cook different cuisines for my blog.
The same principle applies to this section as the one above. Just type in the name of the item where it says “<Enter Item>” and the quantity and price will auto-populate. If you want more than one of any item, just type the revised quantity next to the item in the “Qty.” column and the price will re-calculate automatically.
In cells D71, I71, and N71, the totals are calculated for each individual store. In cell Q31, the total is provided for all 3 of the stores based on the totals mentioned above.
Worksheet #2: Grocery Item List
This is the list of all the general grocery items that we’ll purchase over the course of time. Obviously this will be different for you depending on where you shop and what type of food you like to eat.
For each grocery item, include the following information:
Even if you don’t know all of the prices right now, that is fine. As you continue to shop over the coming weeks, just make it a priority to keep an eye out for the prices on your receipts, or if you feel so inclined, jot down the price of items as you pass by them in the store. While shopping one Friday, we just jotted down the items and prices as we went through the store. It was pretty easy, and it didn’t add much time to our shopping trip at all.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
1. Why do I need a meal plan?
Believe me, we asked ourselves the same thing. It seemed restrictive, boring, and a little out of our league. That said, then we tried it, and it changed our view on things completely.
I have come to believe that failing to plan is planning to fail. This applies to personal finance, meal plans, and life in general. While we were getting out of debt, it was crucial that we cut our budget as much as we could. The only way we could do that was by planning our meals each and every week. Prior to 2011, we never planned our meals, so it was not uncommon to buy things we didn’t need. Our pantry looked like grocery store shelves versus a pantry, to say the least.
We got so good at our meal planning, that we were able to cut our grocery budget to $40 per week. This was also due in large part to Aldi, who has the lowest prices I have ever seen. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t advise that everyone cut their budget to $40. It was hard, and we got really tired of oatmeal. We sacrificed like this, though, because we had to take drastic action to get ourselves out of the mess we created with our student loans. Though tough, we’ve become different people and have changed our financial lives in the process.
Even though we have now raised our grocery budget back to $100 per week, we still use a meal plan because it just makes sense. It is nice to know that we can get something because the meal plan told us it was okay. That is quite empowering. The meal plan, like a monthly budget, provides an out of bounds marker that keeps us in check. I would highly suggest you have a meal plan if you don’t already. It is one of those things that sounds miserable, but turns out to be a blessing in disguise.
2. How can I use this document you’ve attached?
To make this workbook applicable to your situation, all you need to do is the following:
Worksheet #1: Grocery
- On line 18, enter the grocery store names you shop at where it says “Enter Store Name”
- In cell T18, change the amount you have budgeted for the week (currently $100)
- Type in the name of the items you want for your individual meals (note: will work only when you have updated the list of grocery items in Worksheet #2)
- Type in the name of all items you plan to purchase for the week by store
- The totals will let you know whether you are under/over budget for the amount you have budgeted
Worksheet #2: Grocery Item List
- Slowly, but surely, get the prices for each of the items you buy at each store you shop at
- Enter the name, cost, and store where you get the item
Be careful not to have typos in worksheet #1 or worksheet #2, because then the matching process will not work properly.
Watch out for extra spaces in a name too because that can also cause things not to work though you’ve technically spelled an item correctly.
Lastly, try to avoid duplicate items for different stores. For instance, we have “Enchilada Sauce” listed for Aldi, Food Lion, and Walmart. To enable Excel to determine what price we want, I have included the name “Enchilada Sauce” along with an indication of the store so that it picks up the proper price (e.g., “…A” for Aldi).
3. How did you get all of these prices for the grocery items?
Simple, we just noted the prices over time as we purchased items since 1) we buy the items regularly and 2) they are pretty consistent. I am sure you’re situation is similar, though, of course, there will always be some exceptions.
Whenever we notice a price increase, we update the item in the spreadsheet. Whenever a price changes downward, we have decided to just leave it at the higher price so that we have some cushion built into our plan as we budget for the week. Basically, we purposely plan for some items to be more expensive so that our estimate is conservative. It is always a pleasant surprise to finish shopping and know that we have a few extra dollars to splurge with.
- Do you find this document useful?
- If so, what do you like about it?
- If not, what are you looking for in a meal plan template?