I learned an astounding fact recently. According to a report done by Pew Charitable Trusts, 8 in 10 Americans are in debt. What is even more outrageous is that 69% of those people believe that personal debt (everything except a mortgage) was necessary for them despite that they would rather not have it. And, sadly, I am one of those people. But I do not believe it is necessary.
A big way that I have found to save money each month has been meal planning. If you are trying to cut spending and get your budget under control you NEED to be meal planning. And I am going to talk you through how I do it and why it works. Before you get started, visit the Resource Library to get your FREE Weekly Meal Planner.
What Is Meal Planning?
To start off, I’ll explain what I’m talking about.
Every morning I wake up, way too early thanks to my kids, and I already know what I need to pull out of the freezer for dinner. I know what we are having with it. And I know if I need to go to the store for something to make it.
Let me go one step further to explain. When we go to the grocery store on Saturday, I already know what we are having for dinner on Wednesday. And Thursday. And every other day that week. I also know what I have and what I need to make each one of those meals happen.
That is meal planning. I sit down on a weekly basis and plan out our meals. It is really very simple. I plan our meals out ahead of time. And I save money.
How To Meal Plan
So when I first started I figured it all out on my own and honestly made a little bit of a mess of things. I wasn’t very organized. But I have since figured out what works for our family and started to include my husband. And as our kids grow, they will be included too.
I do a general plan for the month. And a detailed plan for the week. So in my house, it looks like this.
March 31 – Sit down and decide on general food groups (chicken vs pork vs beef etc.)
April 1 – Go to Costco for large meat and bulk item run
Weekly – Saturday morning breakfast, decide what recipes we use for the next week. Make an exact grocery list. Go grocery shopping.
That’s essentially what we do. But there are a few things I do to save us money.
- Use similar recipes so you can maximize your ingredients. For example, last week we had huevos rancheros on Thursday and used a can of enchilada sauce. But we still had half a can left. On Friday, we had tacos and finished the enchilada sauce. Choosing themes weekly or cuisines that use similar spices or veggies will help to make sure you use all of what you buy.
- Eat leftovers for lunch. By making slightly larger portions I am able to usually at least get an extra serving or 2 out of each meal. This means we don’t have to buy extra ‘lunch food’.
- Make a grocery list, and stick to the list. Buying ONLY what is on the list is very important. Assuming you have done your meal planning correctly, you won’t need anything else. (I buy some things fresh throughout the week if necessary. ex. garlic bread for spaghetti)
- Keep stock on some general items consistently so we have some throw together meals at the end of the month if need be. Example, kielbasa, pasta, rice, all cheap things that you can mix veggies with and come out with a decent meal that goes a long way.
- Check the Ibotta app for rebates before each trip to the store. (If you aren’t using Ibotta yet go get signed up here. It is a free app and totally free to use. You just scan in your receipts and get money back. I usually get at least the $20 direct deposit minimum each month!)
What You Need
You don’t need to have more than a piece of paper and a pen to make this happen. I use cookbooks at our monthly sessions. And sometimes flip through them to check on what I need for a recipe each week for the grocery list. Check out Cookbooks You Need To Try Now to see my current favorites.
I also use a laminated meal planning calendar and a dry erase marker weekly to lay out what meal will fall when. And I write the weekly menu on a whiteboard hanging on the fridge. You can get the items I use if you are interested.
Whiteboard – Board Dudes Metalix Magnetic Dry Erase Board
Markers – EXPO Dry Erase Set 8-Piece
Laminator – Scotch PRO Thermal Laminator
Grab your FREE Weekly Meal Planner from the Resource Library
Why It Works
Now that you know what meal planning is. Let me explain how it saves you money.
So since you know what you are having for dinner all week, you can write a very in-depth grocery list before leaving for the store. It can be all inclusive so you don’t have to go again except for things like milk, fresh produce later in the week, and fresh bread. Making your grocery list should include doing a once over of your pantry and fridge so you know if you are low on something like vegetable oil, butter, flour, or eggs. Anything you use consistently and always assume you have.
When you get to the store, stick to your list! If you are a Harry Potter fanatic (like me!) pretend it is your ticket for the Hogwarts Express, take Hagrid’s advice and “Stick to your ticket, Harry. Stick to your ticket!”
What I mean is, don’t ‘window shop’ and add extra things you don’t need to your cart. No impulse buying! That’s spending unnecessary money and the food may end up thrown out since you have all your meals planned anyway!
The other part of this is that you want to minimize grocery store trips. Another way to deter impulse buys.
I will be the first to say sometimes this can be challenging. No one is perfect. You forget things. Some weeks I end up at the store 3+ times because I forgot things or had to leave with my screaming children. But you can at least try to get everything possible in one go. And try to make up for any extra trips by always sticking to your list!
Don’t forget to include weekly sales papers when you sit down for meal planning. Adjusting your plan can be worth it if something goes on a really good sale. But even if you skip this idea, you can still save a bunch of money.
Making Meal Planning Fun
I enjoy meal planning for several reasons.
- It gives us a good excuse to be together as a family.
- We know what we have to look forward to at dinnertime throughout the week.
- It keeps me organized so I am less likely to forget something
- We get to plan on trying new foods
I’ve been using meal planning as an excuse to try new recipes. We have tried a ton so far and really enjoyed it overall. It’s shaken up our usual dinners quite a bit. I didn’t realize how often we were eating some things until I wrote it all down in front of me. And we all eat most foods so there really is no reason to only eat a handful of dishes over and over every month.
We’ve learned how to cook some new things and found some new favorite recipes. There have been a couple that we may not make again, but nothing has been bad. Even Tobias, who is 1.5 years old has liked most of it!
So give meal planning a try and find some new favorite recipes while saving some money! Let me know some of your favorite recipes and ways to save money.
PS. Check out some of my other posts