The Big 3: Budget, Menu Plan and Shopping List

When you have a Budget, a Menu Plan and a Shopping List in place, you don’t have to make decisions in the moment. The human brain is an amazing instrument that has an incredible ability to learn and then routinize what it has learned. Put in another way, it has the ability to form habits. This works in our favor most of the time because it allows us to accomplish tasks without hardly thinking about it. Since we’ve learned how to walk and run, we just decide to do it and our brain takes over and does it for us. If that wasn’t the case, we would never be able to play basketball or football or any other sport because we would be too busy deciding where to put our feet.

dunkin-donutsBe Careful: Habits can work against you though, like texting for example. It is very easy to get into the habit of looking at your phone immediately when you get a text, even when you’re driving. That’s a habit that can easily lead to tragedy. Not every habit is immediately dangerous, they always start out innocent at first. When it comes to shopping, most of us have routines that have become habitual. We could get in the habit of buying breakfast at McDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts every morning, without realizing the damage we are doing to our health or our budget.

I’m not suggesting that eating at McDonald’s or Dunkin once in a while will have a significant impact on your wallet or your health, but if you get in the habit of eating fast food twice a day every day, you’re logical brain is not in charge any more and you’re no longer thinking about what you’re putting into your body or how much it will cost you, physically or financially. Habits such as these will have a devastating impact on your life.

The same goes for shopping. You can walk into a store and “wander” randomly through the aisles without realizing that in fact you are being directed by your habits. You may be buying lots of food (whether healthy or not) without realizing just how much food your actually buying. You may also find that you are constantly spending more and more money on items that you don’t really need or don’t end up eating.

The reason that Budgeting, Menu Planning and shopping strictly from a Shopping List are such powerful habits is they raise your awareness of what you are eating and where you’re spending your money. The Big 3 (budgeting, menu planning and a shopping list) bring back the power of conscious choice to your eating and spending decision making process. By cultivating these new habits, you can disrupt older, less effective habits that are keeping you from enjoying better health and more financial stability. Let’s start by making a budget.


#1 Budget.

A. First calculate how much you make a month on average. Take the last three months and add up how much you got paid for those three months; if you want more accuracy, add up the last six months. Divide the total amount by three (or six if you’re adding up the last six months) and that will give you your average monthly income.

B. Next sit down and add up your recurring monthly bills. These tend to be the bills you just can’t live without; like Rent, Insurance and Netflix. Once you’ve added up your recurring monthly expenses, subtract the total from the your average monthly income. The amount that is left-over is your flexible spending. Flexible spending is where you will have the most control. In this spending category you have food, clothes, entertainment, recreation, cleaning supplies and so forth. It is at this point that you will decide how much you will spend on food for the month. How do you stick to that budget… use a Menu Plan!


#2 Menu Plan.

A. Now that you know how much you are going to spend on food for the month, it’s time to decide what you want to eat. This planning stage is your best opportunity to really improve your health and dial down your spending. Planning ahead will improve your self control over your eating habits, by keeping unhealthy food options out of your house. If you are prepared in advance with a menu plan that is made up of healthy (and tasty!) meals, you will find it much easier to avoid unhealthy foods while sticking to your budget!

B. There are a number of different ways to plan out your menu. You can plan meals for each day of the month, it’s a trifle tedious, but it will give you the most control over your diet and spending. This is probably the best plan for the detail oriented. You can also plan your daily menu week to week. This option is much less daunting because you are planning in smaller chunks; the downside is you have to remember to plan every week.

C. I have found the easiest way to create a menu plan is to plan the meals for one week with a food theme for each day, then I just use the first week’s menu as the template for the rest of the month. For example: Mexican Monday, Italian Tuesday, Waffle Wednesdays, this makes it easy to change things up, like switching Mexican food to Thursday instead of Monday, without needing to re-plan everything on your menu. It might be a good idea to build in some snacking options, especially if you have kids. Once you have Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner planned out for every day of the week you’re done. But with some many choices… what do I buy?

#3 Shopping List.

A. Using your menu plan, write down the ingredients you will need for all the meals you are planning to cook for the week. Now is a good time to do some price checking; check the price on various items you are planning to buy for each day keeping in mind that the price of certain foods fluctuate throughout the year depending on the season. With your budget in mind, begin to write a shopping list. For your budget and menu plan to work, it is absolutely essential that you stick to your shopping list. You will be tempted to buy extra things, be resolute and adamantly stick to your guns, no matter how loud that chocolate fudge sundae ice cream is calling you name. If necessary leave your kids at home so you can focus on shopping instead of trying to ignore their pleas for sugary treats. Lastly, you may want to eat before you go shopping for groceries! You will have much greater control if you aren’t suffering hunger pangs every time you see something you like.

Follow the “BIG 3” for at least 30 days and make it a habit! Before you know it you’ll be healthier, happier and have more money in the bank. Isn’t it time for you to train your brain instead of your brain training you!





Eric Hatton has spent most of the last six years working as a field staff in wilderness therapy where he coached students on primitive fire skills, making and setting traps and other important wilderness skills. He also coached staff as they learned leadership skills and as they learned to disrupt dysfunctional behavior in the students. Eric loves brainstorming with people. He loves to help people organize their thoughts and change their dreams and desires into tangible, achievable goals. He loves to help people to discover their passions and to help them find ways to use their passions to realize their goals. He is passionate about building great teams and organizations and helping others succeed.