Tips for Meal Planning on a Budget
For many of us, the amount of money you spend on food each month is astounding!
When was the last time you added up your grocery shopping receipts for a month?
What was the total? $500? $700? $1000 or more?
While many factors contribute to the total you spend on groceries each month, if you put in a little bit of effort, you can bring your total spend down.
My recommendation to start would be to add up all money you spent on groceries last month and aim to spend at least 10% less this month.
Money-Saving Tip example:
If you are a family of 4 and you spent $600 total last month on groceries ($150 per person on average) aim to spend 10% less ($60 less) or $540 total ($600-$60 = $540) next month.
If you’re successful in lowering your grocery bill by 10% next month, try for another 10% the following month.
If you’re not, try again. The goal would be to become more mindful and intentional about where you are spending your grocery dollars and find the sweet spot where you can stay within budget but aren’t feeling super deprived of your favorite foods.
Making some sacrifices or cheaper choices in some cases and continuing to spend on the brands or foods that are important to you.
Below are a few tips for planning meals on a budget.
1. Plan meals by looking at store circulars
Each week stores will mail you a copy of what’s on sale in the store for that week. Check to see when the sales start and end, as the last thing you want is to plan your trip for tomorrow, only to find out the stores changed their special pricing over in the evening.
Buying not only what’s on sale, but what’s on sale that you will eat is key. While sale priced fruits and vegetables are a good place to start, if you’re not committed to eating them then don’t buy them, to begin with.
Start making a list of all items that are on sale that you think you’ll eat.
Pro Tip: Also look at what is offered as cash-back through Ibotta.
2. Check your pantry, cupboards, and freezer for other items you already have on hand
You don’t have to write down every item you have stored away in your house already. But peeking at what you have on hand will make planning meals for the upcoming week easier.
As you begin writing the list of meals you want to make next week, what you already have on hand will be fresh in your mind.
3. Plan meals around what you have on hand and what is on sale
Make a list of meal options for the next week or two based on what is on sale in the store and what you already have on hand.
If you have a box of pasta and a jar of sauce, you may consider that a complete meal. You may want to add in some sausage or mushrooms you saw on sale in the store flyers.
If you have eggs and you saw veggies were on sale, consider breakfast for dinner and make some omelets.
4. Try a meatless night or change up your routine
If meat is usually part of your dinners each week, consider trying a meatless night. Meat is usually one of the more expensive parts of your dinner, so opting for a meatless night could be a real cost saving.
Using the pasta example above, if you have just pasta and load it up with veggies that are on sale, you could get just as full, and not even notice there is no meat in the pasta.
5. Work leftovers into the week
Don’t underestimate a good leftover dinner.
My family is a family of 4 with my husband, 4-year-old, and 1-year old. Almost every meal we have is at least good enough for 2 meals if not more.
Sometimes if we make something and have leftovers that would only be enough for half of us, we’ll add something to the next meal to fill in the gap. Or half of us will have the leftovers from one meal, and the other will have the leftovers from the next meal.
For example, we made pizzas on the grill. They were so cheap and easy using plain frozen bread dough thawed. Simply pound out the dough, grill the bread, add the toppings, and put back on the grill.
The first night we made the pizzas we all had a huge portion and some fruit.
What was left would not have been enough to feed the entire family the same amount of pizza again, but pairing it with a side salad or pasta salad when we have the leftovers would stretch this one meal into a second one. And it was delicious the second time around, too.
6. Leave out unique ingredients you don’t think you’ll ever use again
Not every single little ingredient is necessary for a recipe to taste good. If you found a recipe you want to try and don’t have all of the ingredients on hand, check to see if there is a substitute you may already have, or consider leaving it out altogether.
You will likely not even notice you’re missing an ingredient and you’ll save money in the process.
7. Buy what’s in season
If you can tweak recipes and your meal plan to buy what is in season, you can save a ton of money. Do you remember the last time you tried to buy a produce item when not in season?
You may have taken a double-look at the price tag as you couldn’t believe your eyes how expensive things are! Stick to buying what is in season during the time of year you are shopping and you’ll save so much money!
8. Make large batches
For meals that you know your family enjoys, try doubling up on the recipe. Not only is it usually cheaper to buy ingredients in bulk, but you’ll also save time! If you double the recipe for a casserole or crockpot today, you can eat it for more days this week.
Or, if your family is getting burned out on having the same leftovers for day after day, freeze half and heat it back up for dinner in a few weeks. This works well for weeks where you didn’t meal plan and can simply pop a frozen meal into the freezer.
9. Get your family involved
Write down your family’s favorite foods or let the kids pick what the family should have for dinner for a night. You’ll help teach them the importance of planning in advance and they might be more interested in eating what was made when they had a say on the menu.
10. Shop and stick to your list
This one may be a challenge for you. Fight the urge to add things to your cart that is not on your list. Stick to the list. You came to the store to buy what you need, buy those things only, and get out.
There will always be another sale. That item you saw as a great deal, will have a great deal again. Most sales and offers are cyclical and will come back around in a few weeks.
You’ll be amazed at how much money you can save by buying only what you need and using what you have already on hand.
11. Bonus Tip: Have a plan for your savings!
The goal of meal planning on a budget is to save money, right? What do you plan to do with those savings? Is there debt you are trying to pay down? Is there something you are trying to save for?
Keeping in mind the reason you are trying to meal plan on a budget can help you stick to the plan and achieve your goals!
Planning ahead for budget meals is an easy way to not only save money but also eat healthier! if you have your meal plan ready whether on a piece of paper or in your head, you are far less likely to order takeout or eat junk.
Thinking ahead, using what you already have, buying what’s on sale and what’s in season are all easy things you can do right now to lower your grocery bill and make awesome meals on a budget.
What’s your best budget-friendly meal?