These days, many of us are finding ourselves short of time and money. One way to save on both is dining at home. That is why it is important to begin by planning your meals as well as your grocery shopping. The following is a three part plan to help get you started.

  1. Meal Planning. Planning your meals in advance with a calendar will help you in two ways, knowing which items you will need at the grocery store and cutting down the amount of "out-to-eat" nights. Create a menu for at least two weeks with a variety of your favorite meals, include the entrées and side dishes. From your menu, generate a list of grocery items you will need to purchase. If you have all the ingredients ready for two weeks of meals, you will be able to spend a day preparing meals ahead of time. For example, Sunday afternoon can be used to prepare meals for Wednesday, Thursdays, and Friday and placed in the freezer. That way when things get a little hectic, there is less temptation to go out to eat. The menu can be recycled every two weeks, switched out with an alternate menu for the next two weeks, or changed entirely, which ever works best for you.

  1. Preparation for Shopping. Before you leave to the grocery store, get organized! One way to keep on top of the items that you need is to create a list on your computer that you can reprint as needed. Your list should contain all items used in your kitchen, bathroom(s), and laundry area. As you use the items, mark them on your list to get during your next shopping trip. Before you leave, gather up all the coupons that match the items you are planning to purchase and the store's weekly advertisement. This can help you get the best value for your dollar.

  1. Grocery Shopping. A big saver in the amount of money that you spend on groceries is the frequency of your visits. And for list shoppers, it is also deviating from your list. If you can purchase items for two weeks at a time, that will be the best situation for your wallet. However, at times items like produce and some dairy will not allow for two weeks of storage (this is where pre-cooking meals can come in handy) and you must make weekly trips for these types of items, don't worry. The idea is to take your list from your two week menu and the list of "replacement" items for your household and purchase just those items. If you forgot to put something on your list, mark it down for your next visit. Now, here is the part that may seem a little harsh, don't go to the grocery store until the next visit in two weeks (or one week, if that is the schedule you chose). If you run out of something, put it on the list for the next visit. We can live without most items in our kitchen for a few days.

If you follow these three steps you will see a decrease in your spending on groceries and going out to eat. It will also save you time by having items that you need for meal preparation right in your kitchen, having meals ready to put in the oven (or microwave) and onto the table on busy evenings, and not frequenting the grocery store so often.