Meal planning is one of my favorite ways to keep more of my money. Why? Because this one simple task has saved me more time and money than I ever imagined. It cut my grocery bill in half. Yes, half. And it was so easy to master, I don’t know why I didn’t start meal planning sooner.
The longer period of time you can plan for, the better. I do my meal planning once every two weeks because I get paid bi-weekly and I always do my grocery shopping the weekend after I get paid. You can do it for whatever period of time works for you. I’ve tried shopping for 1 week, 2 weeks, and even for a month all at once. 2 weeks is just what works for me.
It seems like the longer period of time your meal plan covers, the more money you save.
I chose to complete my meal planning and grocery shopping once every pay period because weekly didn’t save me as much as shopping bi-weekly; And monthly was too much to store in my small kitchen. Plus I had to go out for milk and produce at least once or twice during the month and I really just wanted to make one trip. Your meal planning strategy should be set up in a way that it works most effectively for you.
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Plan quick and easy recipes
My number one tip for a successful meal planning strategy is to plan for meals that you won’t feel like you are too tired to cook. There’s nothing worse than coming home after a long day at the office and having to stand in the kitchen for another hour messing with recipes or long lists of ingredients. I love Love LOVE crock pot recipes and one dish meals!
Plan for weekday lunches
I’ve tried adding separate lunches to my meal plans and I’ve tried cooking enough to have leftovers for the next day as well. By far, I prefer leftovers for lunch because there is no additional prep and this strategy actually cost me less than buying soups, frozen dinners, or enough for daily salads or sandwiches. Plus, I like the variety much better.
As soon as I’m finished cooking, I usually prepare lunch containers first… before serving dinner. Additionally, any meals that don’t make for good leftovers are usually planned for weekends. This way, we don’t end up spending money going out for lunch. Tacos and homemade veggie pita pizzas comes to mind.
Try new recipes
I love trying new recipes. I really do. But I learned a valuable lesson early on. Trying new recipes is fun but too many in one meal plan adds complexity to the process, If there’s anything I love after a long day at work, it’s getting in and out of the kitchen fast so I can do other things with my evening. So I only add one new recipe per meal plan and I usually plan it for a weekend. If it turns out we love it, I add it to my repertoire and each time I make it, it gets easier and easier.
Another great tip for keeping new recipes cheap and easy is to limit the number of ingredients to 5 or less. Sometimes, a recipe looks too good to pass up but when I’m gathering 12 ingredients, chopping, dicing, reading, and stirring, I definitely think twice about doing it again. Plus all those ingredients cost money so it’s usually not a very frugal move either.
Keep your meal planning sheets
I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I have sat trying to figure out what we want to eat for a two week period. Sometimes, it took way more than 5 minutes to plan the two weeks. Not so anymore. I keep all of my meal planning sheets to refer to when preparing my meal plan every time. There are times when I purge some of them just so they don’t start overflowing but I usually have about ten to refer to at any given time. I keep mine in a kitchen drawer but I think a binder would be a great place to store them.
Create your list and stick to it. No impulse purchases!
Now let’s talk about the grocery list. I’ve included a shopping list in your Free 5 Minute Meal Planning Pack simply because it is so important to make a list and stick to it. Your list is important for three simple reasons.
1. You don’t want to forget anything and have to stop off at the grocery store at any given time before your next scheduled shopping trip.
2. You want to get finished as fast as possible without distraction.
And 3. You want to know how much you plan to spend before you even walk into the store. Straying from your list can cause budgeting problems. And we don’t want that. If you do make your list and you still end up buying things that are not on your list, you may want to budget specifically for extras. I’m not saying you would ever stray from your list but maybe your significant other always seems to need an extra toiletry item he didn’t previously mention or he might just walk through the frozen section and suddenly have a taste for ice cream. Ahem! Not that this has ever happened to me. LOL 🙂
Estimate your cost.
Figuring out how much you will spend on your groceries is important to your budget. If you go over, you might have to pull back from savings and that would defeat the purpose of working so hard on budgeting, saving, and paying off debt.
When I create my shopping list, I always estimate pricing. And if I’m really unsure of a price, I usually look it up or just estimate high. This will help you stay within budget. Because I shop at one store every time, I have come to know approximately what things cost. I always round-up and if I’m not sure, again, I estimate high.
While we’re on the subject, what about toiletries, pets, cleaning products, and paper products? Well that all depends on how you handle your budget. Personally, I buy all of it in one place so it’s all a part of my grocery budget and is therefore on my grocery list. So when I say my budget is $250 for two weeks, that does include dish soap, laundry detergent, cleaning products, paper products, dog food, cat food, litter, and toiletries. I have done it for less when needed but I like to buy a lot of produce, quality meats, and seafood. So if you think about it, that’s actually pretty impressive for a two-week meal plan plus all the extras.
Online ordering is AWESOME!
And I’m not just saying that because I don’t have to navigate the weekend crowds anymore. Since the stores in my area started offering online ordering and pickup, that is the only way I shop now. I can’t say enough good things about this service.
For one thing, there is no extra cost. Online ordering and pickup is free of charge at all of the stores in my area that offer it.
Second, I can see my cost as I shop. I don’t have to keep track of anything. The total goes up with every item I place in my cart.
Third, say Good Riddance to impulse purchases! My grocery bill is the lowest it’s ever been now that I don’t have to walk past candles, dog toys, snack foods, air fresheners, etc… I still make my list but now I never stray from it.
And last, did I mention this is a total time saver? It’s so fast and easy, I might never go inside for groceries again!
A little preparation for the week goes a long way
I’m sharing this tip with you because it is the one thing that has saved my sanity throughout the work week. When I don’t feel like cooking, that feeling usually lasts for a few days in a row and doing some chopping, quick browning, and freezing some items immediately after I get my groceries home has made my life tons easier. Especially for those crock pot meals. Mine are usually prepped and ready to go from freezer to crock pot. Easy peasy.
Meal planning can do wonders for your budget and it can be altered based on your food budget each pay period. But it certainly doesn’t have to be complicated. It might take you 10 or 15 minutes the first couple times but after that, you’ll get the hang of it and it will take you literally 5 minutes per week, pay period, or even month… however long you want to meal plan for. Quick and easy is what it’s all about.
Don’t forget to sign up for instant access to my 5 Minute Meal Planning Pack to get you started. What are your tips for successful meal planning? Comment below to let me know.
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