How To Use a Bullet Journal to Meal Plan and Track Your Food Budget, According to the Creator
Have you heard of bullet journaling? I hadn’t until recently, but it’s a methodology I can get on board with. It’s a practice that’s half about productivity and half about mindfulness, getting yourself organized so you can do more of what you want to do and less of the stuff that doesn’t matter. For this story, I got to speak with Ryder Carroll, the man responsible for creating this phenomenon. He evolved this system little by little to get his own life under control, and found that others wanted to adopt it, too.
“The Bullet Journal was a response to solving my own personal organization challenges. I grew up with ADD — before the disability was more formalized with more resources available,” says Carroll. Over the course of high school and college, he started to create his own system to take notes and externalize his thoughts. He went on to specialize in digital product design, and incorporated the psychological strategies he learned from user experience in product design and applied them to his analog journal system.
“Having one journal is about simplicity, reducing the number of places you go to find information, and reducing the number of choices for how to write things down,” says Carroll. Because if you let it, “planning can be its own form of distraction!” While the initial setup can seem time-consuming, once you have your system in place, maintaining it becomes easy. And once you set up your basic system, you can evolve your own separate lists (he calls them “collections”) to focus on whatever area of your life you want to improve — whether it’s creating more time for yourself, meal planning, or sticking to a food budget.
“I have my own food planning collection, where on the left-hand page, I write down meals I want to make, and on the right-hand side, I write down all the ingredients,” says Carroll. He started logging his food as part of a desire to not waste food and eat more mindfully, and found that keeping notes of what he ate and how it made him feel made him more aware of planning his meals to cook and eat what made him feel best.
The practice also helped him evolve his own cooking skills: By setting small, short-term goals for himself, he has slowly been taking steps to cook more for himself and friends. If your goal is to spend less money on groceries and get better at meal planning, here’s how to set up a bullet journal to get your groceries under control.
How To Use a Bullet Journal to Track Your Meals and Food Budget
What You Need
- Time (at least 30 minutes for setup, plus a few minutes each day)
- Blank notebook
- Pick out your notebook: There are a few important features that make a good Bullet Journaling notebook. For starters, it should lay flat. It should have a grid or dots to keep your writing straight. And it should be easy enough to carry around. Get some suggestions for notebooks here.
- Create an Index: Open your notebook up to the first spread. This will be your index. Title both pages “Index.” Going forward, this is where you’ll write down the page numbers of other items you write in the journal.
- Make a Future Log: Turn to the next spread and title both pages “Future Log.” Divide the spread into six evenly spaced sections, which represent the next six months. Then label each box with a month. This is where you’ll record the big-picture things for the month — birthdays, big deadlines, goals, etc.
- Add page numbers: If your notebook doesn’t have numbered pages, you’ll want to write the page numbers yourself at the bottom of each page as you get to it.
- Add your Future Log to your Index: Go back to your Index and put the page numbers for your Future Log in there.
- Make a Monthly Log: Turn to the next blank spread to start your Monthly Log. Put the name of the month at the top of the page, and write the dates for your calendar (the 1st to the 31st, for example), and first letters of each day down the left-hand page. Next to the corresponding days, write your list of things to do this month. Then go back to the Index and write down the pages of your monthly log.
- And a Daily Log: Turn to the next blank spread to start your Daily Log. This is basically your to-do list. Carroll uses different bullets for different items: dots for tasks, circles for events, and dashes for notes, with stars next to the most important items.
- Plan your meals: Now that you have your core modules or basic template set up, you can start your meal and grocery planning Collection, the term Carroll uses for a new kind of list within your journal. Carroll recommends planning your meals weekly, which most people do on Sunday nights. To do: On the left-hand side of the page, write the days of the week, and plan out your breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack for each day.
- Make a grocery list: Once you’ve chosen your meals, use them to make a list of groceries you’ll need for the week on the opposite page. Many people break down the grocery list by category (produce, meat) or by aisle at the grocery store — do whatever works best for you. Go through your fridge or pantry to make sure you don’t have something already. Once you have your weekly meal plan and grocery list written up, add its pages to the Index.
- Track your expenses: For the first month, Carroll suggests focusing on really tracking what you’re spending and eating every week: After you’ve done your shopping, write down the total amount spent at the bottom of that week’s meal-planning page and save the receipt. At the end of each day, take quick notes of what got eaten or what you ended up throwing away next to the meal in your journal. Cross out anything you didn’t eat and add a symbol to call out anything you ate out at a restaurant.
- Make some Collection pages: As you’re tracking your meals, you may be inspired to create other Collections, or lists, like “Family Favorite Meals,” “Easy Freezer Meals,” or “Things to Always Buy at the Grocery Store.” To do that, just start on a new spread, title the page, and log it in your Index.
- Start estimating your expenses: After a month, you can start using your receipts to anticipate how much you’ll spend at the store, rather than just record it. To do: Once you’ve planned your meals for the week and made your grocery list, go through past receipts and write the anticipated prices next to each item on the list. Add them up to get your anticipated budget. After you’ve gone shopping, compare: Did you spend more than anticipated? If so, why? Was it because you bought things not on the list, or a different brand? Note anything you did differently (shopping while hungry, bringing the kids) on the grocery-shopping page and continue to do this for four more weeks.
- Make some goals: With all this data and insight, you can now make some grocery shopping goals. Write them down on a blank page, and add it to the Index. Just make sure your goals are small and realistic. For example, if the long-term goal is to spend $200 less a month on groceries, make a goal to avoid impulse purchases for the week. Then your next goal can be to plan fewer meat-based meals, etc. The key is to break down a long-term goal into achievable steps. “The more grandiose the goal, the less likely you are to succeed,” says Carroll.
- Keep going: Continue planning your meals, tracking your budget, and making small goals for yourself for at least three months — Carroll finds it usually takes at least that long to recognize patterns and pitfalls and establish your new, thrifty meal planning habits. Do it for the next six months, and that’s even better!
About Ryder: Ryder Carroll is the creator of the Bullet Journal. Before that, he spent two decades as a digital art director, having had the privilege of working with companies like Adidas, American Express, Cisco, IBM, Macy’s, and HP. He recently gave a TEDx talk on intentionality.