Yesterday I put my grocery and meal plan into action and was a little shocked by the results.
I went through my cupboards and made a list, deciding meals mostly based on what I had. I followed a meal plan template similar to this one I found through a link on Dave Ramsey's website (love his financial planning stuff, by the way) and here's what mine looked like:
Leftovers (this is what we usually eat)
Sweet & Sour Pork with Fried Rice
Roast Chicken with Rice Pilaf
Pizza (probably a white pizza because I already had most of the ingredients)
Chips & Salsa
Rice Cereal w/squash or green beans
After I made my list I found I only had to buy THREE THINGS. I only needed to purchase eggs, spinach for the white pizza (which I didn't really need to purchase) and a can of pineapple for the Sweet & Sour Pork. Obviously every week won't be like this, but I don't think I realized how much food I had in my fridge and my cupboards, and I find this a little frightening. I thought I was running a semi-tight ship, but I guess not.
My eyes have been opened to the failure that is my kitchen efficiency.
I think the real test of running a $40 a week kitchen will come when I don't already have a ton of meat stockpiled in my freezer. But here are a few lessons I've learned so far:
Plan your meals using your weekly grocery ads for deals. Don't try to do this at the store. I found that even though I had already made my list, the pressure to impulse buy and change my list was quite tempting. I always tend to go into a daze when I walk into a store and I feel like saying, "Oh. Shiny things."
Incorporate food storage items into your meals. I was trying to come up with a meal that didn't require me to purchase meat as this can be a very high ticket item. I thought about it and remembered my giant can of pinto beans in my food storage and decided that we were going to have bean burritos. Beans take a long time but don't require a lot of work. If your beans are old (like mine), you can add baking soda to the soaking water to them to help them get softer, though you must rinse it off before cooking.
Estimate your cost before you get there. This can save a lot of headaches at the store, especially for people like me with small children who need to get in and out quickly. Some grocery stores have their items listed online, like Vons. I like using their site because typically it's a little more expensive there and I can almost guarantee that I won't underestimate my costs, though I always make adjustments for what's on sale on my favorite grocery store.
Bring a calculator. I like knowing exactly what I'll be spending so I can put things back if I'm going over budget. Most, if not all, cell phones have a convenient calculator application already there, but I prefer using an actual calculator. I like writing down the cost of the item next to it on my list so I can make more specific adjustments.
So that's what I've learned so far. Hopefully I can stick with the plan!