When it comes to managing your money, you may have started to realize that food is one of your biggest expenses.
Maybe you’re trying to live on one income, pay off debt, save for your future, or just stretch your paychecks. Whatever the reason, you’ve probably wondered how do you eat on a tight budget?
I know that feeling all too well!
See, I used to spend over $600 a month on groceries.
Without a plan.
Which meant that when dinnertime rolled around, I felt clueless, fumbling for an idea of what to make. Then we’d end up ordering pizza, or running out for fast food.
The groceries I bought would go to waste, and we were spending 3-4 times more than we needed to on food.
We could NOT afford to keep doing that.
I decided to create a system for eating and meal planning on a budget.
In fact, this is the exact system I’ve used for years, to keep our grocery budget at $200 a month.
To walk you (and me) through the process, I created a cute vintage-kitchen style planner!
Cause there’s no reason that functional things can’t also be pretty!
Check out the Meal Planning on a Budget Planner here, and keep reading to find out exactly how to use it.
Meal Planning on a Budget
Does planning meals save money?
Yes, yes, and yes! For a variety of reasons. First and foremost, meal planning offers you the opportunity to be prepared.
And being prepared always saves you money. You won’t have to run out and pick up overpriced food because you don’t have enough groceries at home to pack lunch or make dinner.
When it comes to doing your weekly grocery shopping, having your menu planned means you’ll know just what to buy.
No more wandering up and down the aisles, tossing in whatever looks good, only to later realize that none of it adds up to a real meal.
By using the meal planner I created, along with the tricks in this post, you’ll know how to plan your meals easily, all while sticking to a budget.
You’ll learn how to buy what you’ll eat, and eat what you buy.
How do I plan meals for a week?
Please don’t think that ‘meal planning’ is some complicated endeavor.
No one is going to make you eat or cook anything you don’t want to. It’s totally flexible, and customizable to what your household actually likes to eat.
Okay, let’s check out how simple it is!
Step 1: Figure out your grocery budget
In order to stay within your budget, you need to figure out how much you should actually spend.
Sure, you can pluck a number out of thin air. Or you can use the worksheets in the planner to determine what your budget should be.
Step 2: Brainstorm a list of meals
To make meal planning go as quickly as possible, you’ll need a list of your household’s favorite meals.
The cute meal idea templates in the planner are broken down by category to help with your brainstorming process.
Plus it comes with over 100 meal ideas and 50 side dish ideas included!
Step 3: Take inventory of what you have
Now that you have those first 2 steps completed (you only have to do them once!), it’s time to take a look at what food you already have at home.
The Meal Planning on a Budget system has pretty printables to keep track of what’s in your pantry, fridge, and freezer.
It also includes a ‘this week’s inventory’ worksheet where you can jot down what you plan to use up that week.
Step 4: Figure out how many meals you’ll need to shop for
Take a look at your calendar for the week, and count how often you’ll be eating at home.
Figure out how many nights you’ll actually be able to cook something. Be realistic about how much time and energy you’ll have.
If you have dinner plans one night, or know you’ll be sitting at your kids’ baseball tournament all day Saturday, adapt your meal plan accordingly.
Step 5: Come up with meals you can make based on your inventory
Using the This Week’s Menu Brainstorm worksheet, start jotting down breakfast, lunch, and dinner ideas.
You can use your list of meal ideas as inspiration, but more importantly, try to come up with meals based on your inventory.
I bet there’s several meals you can make based on what you already have on hand.
That’s one of the keys to meal planning on a budget!
Step 6: Look at the grocery store’s sales ad
Thoroughly check out the sales flyer for your grocery store. If there’s more than one store in your area, compare them to find the best deals.
You can use the Flipp app to quickly look at the ads for all your local stores. Or use it to search particular items you like to buy (such as chicken breasts), to see where you can get it cheapest this week.
Use the Shopping List Brainstorm worksheet in the planner to make the beginnings of your grocery list based on these sale items.
Step 7: Come up with meals based on the sale items
While coupons are awesome and I use them all the time, buying what’s on sale will offer you the biggest savings.
And if you can plan your weekly menu based on those sale items, your grocery bill will stay low!
You can use Supercook to come up with meal ideas based on whatever ingredients you have, or are on sale.
Just plug in those ingredients, and it comes up with recipes for you!
Step 8: Officially write your menu and shopping list
The meal planner comes with several adorable This Week’s Menu options. You can hang one up in your kitchen so everyone stops asking ‘what’s for dinner?’ all day.
You could even put one of the pages in a frame, and write on it with dry erase marker each week.
There are also several shopping list options included in the planner!
They will guide you through how to shop within your budget. You can keep track of what you’re spending while shopping, or even figure out how much your bill will be in advance.
You did it!
That wasn’t so bad was it? If it seems overwhelming, don’t worry, you’ll be a pro at it in no time.
By using the system outlined in the planner, I bet you’ll be able to cut the whole process down to 10-20 minutes a week!
Because I really want you to succeed, here are some money-saving (and time-saving) tips to stretch your budget further.
Grocery Saving Tricks
1. Use less meat
Meat is one of the most expensive parts of your grocery bill. Try incorporating some meatless meals, or don’t make meat the main component.
A dish like chili or spaghetti really allows you to stretch a pound of meat.
2. Use frugal foods
Certain foods are just more ‘frugal.’ Beans, rice, and eggs are good examples.
Your meals can be simple, and made from simple ingredients.
The planner includes a list of over 30 budget pantry staples to keep on hand. You can make so many meals from these ingredients!
3. Stock up on sale-priced items
Using the included Best Price Stock-Up List, keep track of what is the best price on your family’s favorite items.
When you know what a good price actually is, you can stock up on those items so you never have to pay full price.
You can use a Foodsaver to preserve meat and produce for 3-10x its normal lifespan!
4. Avoid recipes that need a special ingredient
We all have those jars of this or that, which we bought to complete some random recipe.
Be sure to just include meals with ingredients you’ll use up in your weekly menu.
5. Buy seasonal produce
Produce is at its absolute cheapest when it’s in season. It’s also far fresher, tastier, and more nutritious.
In the shop, I offer a Seasonal Produce Buying Guide, which tells you what’s in season each month of the year.
Best of all, it even matches the meal planning kit!
6. Cook extra
You might as well work smarter, not harder. When you cook, make a double batch and freeze half.
Eat leftovers for lunch, or incorporate a ‘leftovers night’ in your meal plan. You won’t have to cook that night, and food won’t go to waste.
7. Use the same ingredient in multiple meals
When chicken breasts are on sale for half price, plan several chicken meals for the week.
Or if you need to buy an onion for one recipe, have another use in mind to finish off the rest.
8. Keep weekly meal plans and shopping lists to rotate through
Want to know the ultimate time-saving hack when it comes to meal planning?
It’s reusing your meal plans!
You could come up with 3-12 different menus, and cycle through them. I’m sure there aren’t an endless amount of meals your family likes anyway.
Be sure to save your shopping lists too, if you really want to streamline the process.
The planner includes Meal Plan #_ pages as well, for you to save and rotate through.
You’re on your way!
Now you know the steps for how to meal plan on a budget. Be sure to pick up the cute vintage-inspired Meal Planner!
It will keep you organized and on track, plus you’ll save a TON of money the very first week by following its system.
You’ll have the process streamlined in no time!
More details about the planner
You’ll receive over 40 printables:
- 3 Cover Options
- How to Use This Planner Guide
- Meal Planning Quick Start Guide
- How to Make a Cheap Grocery List
- Create a Budget Worksheet
- Spending Tracker
- 4 Inventory Templates
- Budget Pantry Staples List
- Meal Planning Brainstorm Worksheet
- Shopping List Brainstorm Worksheet
- 3 Types of Shopping Lists
- Stock Up Best Price List
- Master Grocery Lists
- Blank Meal Ideas by Category Worksheets
- 100+ Dinner Ideas
- 50+ Side Dish Ideas
- Theme Night Ideas
- This Week’s Menu for kitchen display
- Menu Plan # _ for creating repeating meal plans
- Monthly Meal Plan Calendars
The pages can be printed over and over, as often and many times as you like. It will be available for instant download!
The pages can be put together in a binder, to create your very own meal planning kit and recipe book.
Just pull out your binder when you’re ready to create your weekly grocery list and menu, and sail through the process quickly and easily.
Here are some helpful supplies for putting together a meal planning binder:
There you have it! This system for buying food and meal planning on a budget will save you money the very first week.
And maybe even more importantly, you’ll feel so much more comfortable grocery shopping and creating your weekly menu.
Happy meal planning!
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