One of the best ways to maximize your weekly budget is to get your meal planning in check. We aren’t talking about making all of your weekly meals in one large batch on Sunday night (although if you’ve got the wherewithal for that more power to you!); rather planning out your weekly meals in advance – including all sides, seasonings, etc. – and completing your grocery shopping with intention.

With the advent of food blogs and Pinterest there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of resources on the Internet to help you select healthy, delicious (and easy, if that’s your thing – it’s definitely ours!) meals to prepare for you and your family for the week.

To start the process, use Microsoft Word or Google Docs to download a blank calendar template. If you can, find a weekly template, rather than a full month template so that you’ll have lots of space to write down your ideas. From there, break each day up into four sections – three meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and a section for snack(s). Don’t forget to include things like your morning coffee and any drinks you may have throughout the day.

And then, start brainstorming!

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Once you’ve written down what you’re planning to eat on a daily basis, you’ll be able to look at each of your meals and snacks and build your grocery list accordingly. By including details about marinades, spices, and seasonings you’ll be able to take a quick inventory through your kitchen and ensure that you add anything to your grocery list that needs replenishing.

BONUS TIP: While planning your meals keep the seasons and your geographic region in mind. By planning meals that use in-season fruits and vegetables you’ll be able to purchase fresher ingredients at more reasonable prices. This is a great resource from the USDA.

Of course, if you’re meal planning for your entire family you’ll want to make sure that as you build your list in OurCart you include specific quantities of each item so that you don’t find yourself running short through the week. It’s also helpful to add to your list items that needs to be replenished – toothpaste, napkins, paper towels, etc. It’s crazy how quickly all of those trips to the store for one or two items start to add up when you take a hard look at your monthly spending; by including them in your smart shopping list you can spot sales and get a sense of your overall budget for the week.

With your shopping list completed you can move on to the budgeting portion of the process. Take a look through your items and determine what, if anything, you can purchase in bulk from a store like Sam’s Club or Costco – then open your OurCart app and figure out which of the big box stores is offering the best deal on the majority of your items.

For the rest of your items, you can use OurCart to compare the cost of each of your remaining items across different local shops. If you live in an area that offers a variety of grocery stores, take a look at a sampling of your shopping list and see which store seems to be offering the lowest prices overall. Again, it may be beneficial for your budget to split your shopping into two or three stores rather than getting it all done at one store that’s a bit more expensive.

With a bit of planning each week and your trusty OurCart app, you’ll be able to plan your meals and keep you grocery shopping on budget and make it look easy!

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