Meal Planning on a Budget

Now that you know the basics of planning your meals and have some tools to do so, let’s talk about the budget part of shopping. Each budget is different. I am a modest Dave Ramsey fan (I haven’t drank all the kool-aid in my cup yet, just about half 😉 ) and Dave recommends setting aside 5% to 15% of your monthly budget for food, including eating out. I like to maximize our percentage and cook as many meals as possible at home, including taking lunches to work.

Eating out can be one of the biggest budget drainers you will ever know, hands down. But that is why we are exploring this. If you plan to eat all of your meals at home except 2 or 3 a week, you can get a week’s worth of groceries for the same price as 2 nice meals out. Perspective much? I think yes…not to mention how much better for you a home-cooked meal is. Yum!

You could have all of this (about $80 in groceries, some are not pictured)….

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Ooooor this… About $10. It looks great and it was tasty. But mulitply it by a spouse and you’ve got $20. Plus tip. So, $25. $27 if you’re feeling generous… 🙂

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There’s just not much of a way around it. Eating at home is just better. So what can you do to make sure you stay within your budget whenever you venture out to the store?

Number one… MAKE A LIST! I know you’ve probably heard it a thousand times. But the key to the list is sticking to it. Make the list, check it twice…so you can make sure you’re not naughty, but nice! It’s not nice to blow your budget on things you don’t need. So be good and only buy the things you set out to get.

Number two…ties into number one. Don’t go to the store hungry. I’ve done it and ended up buying a LOT of things I didn’t need because my stomach was doing the shopping instead of my head. So eat something! And do it before you walk into the store everything you see looks glorious and you end up buying it all!

Number three…use a calculator to keep track of how much you’re spending. I remember when I was a kid and some of the grocery carts at the store had calculators built onto them. I thought it was the dumbest thing ever. How naive I was. Most of us have cell phones and those cell phones have calculators built in, so you have no excuse to not do this. The prices are funky with our tax not being included and such, so I like to round up. Better to be under budget than over. For example, if an item is $2.29, I’ll go ahead and add it in as a $3 item. At the end of your list, if you’re over, it’s time to take a look at your cart and see what you can put back. If you honestly can’t do without the item, keep it there, but remember next week’s shopping budget will need to be a little less.

Number four…maximize the meals you prepare. Waste nothing. Do your best to use up all the leftovers. They make for fantastic lunches the next day at work. They also work well on lazy weekends when you don’t feel like cooking. Get creative. Search Pinterest for a good idea on how to use up the beans or the fajita filling. Most items go well on a salad, so there’s an idea. 😉

Time for me to run. Instead of eating out tonight, we are cooking up some tasty fall chili and then heading out to see Interstellar. Have a good Saturday evening, friends!

Do you have any tips or tricks for saving money at the store? Feel free to share with the class!

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Getting Started With Meal Planning

Cooking. Some of us dread it, some of us [like myself] enjoy it. Either way, you have to agree that cooking at home saves a TON of money. Not only that, but cooking at home allows you the control of what you put in your food and into your body.

Remember the days when you were kid and pretended to go grocery shopping?

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But it’s such a hassle, right? It doesn’t have to be. When I was first married and we were getting settled into our new life managing our own home, I would wander around the grocery store aimlessly, wondering what I should buy, what I could make with the things that I bought. Inevitably I would get home and realize that I spent a chunk of money and didn’t come away with everything that I needed. So another trip to the grocery store was in order. And I spent more money. I knew this way of “planning” had to stop and I needed to find a better way.

My friends, this was in the days pre-Pinterest, so there weren’t a ton of awesome recipes being pinned in front of my eyes. There were no amazing meal-planning posts that gave me the idea of sitting down and planning. But somehow, the idea finally came to me… “I should sit down and make a list of all the types of dishes Nate and I enjoy.”

So I did. I found a little notebook and listed out all the meals we enjoyed, sorted by chicken, beef, pork, or vegetarian based dish. Soon I had quite a few things to look at and plan our week of meals.

My next logical step was to make a meal list for the week:

Monday – Spaghetti
Tuesday – Taco Salad
Wednesday – Tomato Basil Pasta w/Chicken
Thursday – Fajitas & Guacamole
Friday – Stir Fry

Now I had something going, here! From there, I built my grocery list. I figured that I usually buy one bag of frozen chicken tenderloins and one pound of ground beef per week. I knew I could make about three meals from the chicken and two meals from the beef. I took inventory of what I already had on stock and filled in the blanks on the grocery list. I set my budget and then it was off to the store.

This is how I’ve continued to shop each week, stay in budget, and relieve myself from the stress of having to ask “What’s for dinner?!” It has helped us avoid spending extra money on groceries or running out to buy a quick [unhealthy] greasy meal from a drive-thru.

There are, of course, different ways to plan and shop for your groceries. I used to shop weekly but started realizing how much I hate spending 2 hours of my Saturday at grocery stores. So I recently started stocking up for 2 weeks worth of meals. I do buy our produce weekly, but a 15 minute visit versus an hour is just a better deal to me.

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If you’ve never meal-planned effectively before and would like to start, I recommend starting with a plan like this. If you’ve been meal-planning for awhile but would like to be a bit more organized and intentional, I’d recommend checking this out. The second link is the system I currently use and really enjoy, but whatever works for you is what I would ultimately say to do.

What are some ways you like to save money regarding meals? 

Have a great night, friends!