Our first attempt at meal planning and 1 big shopping trip was a success. The two weeks went by, we followed the menu, and didn't eat out or need any extra shopping trips. The second attempt went even better, the planning/making a list part went by much quicker and I didn't feel like ripping my hair out at all, and the shopping trip went quicker.
It didn't us long to notice the benefits of our efforts. Even that first two weeks- having all the food needed and being in budget. It was nice to immediately have some positive reinforcement for our efforts. The next two week period we had a couple more bucks than the first two weeks. Now at two months in some things have changed.
We don't follow the Nightly Theme anymore (that didn't really last past the first 2 week period actually), and the Quick Meal night has been mostly eliminated from our plan. We still keep some things on hand just-in-case, but haven't had to use it recently. We are actually getting ahead of our menu, some meals yield more leftovers than expected, so we eat the leftovers instead of moving on to the next night. (Which is a benefit in itself, before this Chris pretty much never ate leftovers, but now when I ask if he wants to have the planned meal or leftovers, he chooses leftovers because he likes to be ahead.) Being ahead on the menu puts us ahead in the budget, which is definitely a plus.
Another change we tried this past 2 week period was not using cash. It wasn't on purpose, we forgot to stop at the ATM before we went on our trip. It definitely resulted in a lack of discipline. Well, that and the fact that its Back to School time, and I love (and I mean LOVE) school supply shopping. We bought some crayons and markers for Mercy, which in itself wasn't a big deal because they were like 25 cents each. But that lead to a Color Wonder Colorbook for Mercy, some sharpies for Chris, and a notebook and pencil pouch for me. There were also some other impulse buys like extra soda, chips, and 2 dvds. On our way home I looked at our receipt and totaled up how much our "extra" purchases were. A whopping $80. An $80 that I am relatively certain that if we had taken out our cash, we would not have spent. Lesson learned- We aren't at the point where we can eliminate the Cash Only part of this.
Aside from that slip, meal planning has definitely met the goals we had in mind when we started it. It is helping us save money in multiple ways.
-We don't eat out because we have the food at home, and because there is no "whats for dinner?" "I dunno, what do you want." "I dunno." "lets go out."
-We don't impulse buy because we have the list, and because we aren't wandering the entire store.
-We are saving gas by not making a trip to the store every couple days only to buy 2-3 days worth of food.
There have also been other benefits of the meal planning that we weren't expecting or didn't really think about.
-We are wasting less food because we are eating all the leftovers, instead of only eating it once and then the rest getting tossed after sitting in the fridge.
-We are eating healthier by not eating out, and by not impulse buying junk food while shopping.
-My kitchen is cleaner! The meal plan has helped set up a bit of a routine. Chris looks after Mercy while I cook dinner, and because there is usually some down time between the prep/starting and when dinner is ready, I usually spend that time unloading and loading up the dishwasher and straightening up the kitchen. To reduce the amount I have to do at dinner time, I also usually run a load during the day.
-Reduced our carbon footprint. Before the meal planning we were pretty much exclusively using paper plates. I didn't want to to continue doing that when we would be eating in every night, so we bought a 2nd set of dishes (our first had been reduced down to 3 plates). Now we haven't used paper plates in over a month, good for the environment and saving us money!
I know there are more benefits, unfortunately its after 2 in the morning and my brain just shut off. If I think of any more I'll make sure to come back and share them!