Financial Advice · Frugality in the Flesh · In the Kitchen · Wallet Wednesday

Wallet Wednesday: Budget-Friendly Meal Planning

At the beginning of February I shared how I did with my January goals. I received a lot of feedback on one of them: the fact that I kept our family under the $220/month budget we have. With all the feedback I felt like it might be beneficial to share exactly what I do for meal planning & shopping in order to keep our budget.

And if you’re a list person like myself make sure to check out the digital or printable Meal Planner PDF at the end of this post that you can use to help you keep your budget! For more in-depth meal planners, check out some options I have for sale in my Etsy shop! Any links beyond this point are not referral or affiliate links. I don’t earn commissions or income from any of the below links, I only offer them as resources because I’ve found them helpful.

First & foremost…the number 1 rule:
Whichever ideas you take from below (if any) make sure you DON’T compare your situation to ours. Be realistic for your budget (we only have 2 adults & a baby in our house) & be healthy! Don’t starve yourself & don’t buy something that could hurt you if it has an allergen just because it’s cheaper.

  1. If you don’t have a budget you need a budget! You are far less likely to hit a target if you don’t know what it is you’re aiming for. I’ve been keeping a budget in an excel file since my husband & I got married over 11.5 years ago. I kept a budget & we learned to live on less because we were living on maybe $1100-$1300/month total between the two of us our first year of marriage. Our rent was $600/month. We did receive some help from our parents on some things as I was still in college, but overall we did as much as possible ourselves. I was determined to take as much as we could off their plates until we could take it all once I graduated & got my first job. But for the first few months of forming the budget, we lived on what we needed. I watched the pattern of spending for our groceries & set a reasonable amount from there. Our food budget started out around $150/month & we’ve only increased it to $220 over the years since then. Once you establish your monthly budget, split it in half & only use half the first part of the month & set aside the other half for the rest of the month. I do this so that we don’t over-plan or over spend early on just to find ourselves struggling at the end. It’s a lot easier to stretch $110 over 2-2.5 weeks knowing you get a budget “refresh” soon than $220 over the whole month & then you find yourself hungry with an empty pantry & stomach but a week to go.
  2. Take stock of what you already have in your pantry, fridge, & freezer. Personally, I would normally make this step 4 unless we’re at the end of the month but if you’re living REALLY tightly, you can choose what recipes you plan to make around what you already have on hand in order to keep your grocery list to a minimum. I recently found a GREAT app to help in this area called SuperCook. You can use it online or download it from the app store on your phone. Once you sign in it will have you complete a pantry “audit” per se & when you’ve finished putting in all the ingredients you have on hand it generates all sorts of recipes you can make with what you have. If you’re missing an ingredient it shows you so you know what you need to buy. This is great if you don’t already have a list of go-to recipes or the pantry is looking a little rough.
  3. Pick your recipes & list out all the ingredients each recipe requires. Yes, do this even if you already have the ingredient. This is important because it gives you an idea of the TOTAL ingredients you need for ALL your recipes so you don’t short-change yourself on your grocery list & then have to make an extra trip. Here is a great, FREE meal planner that can help you organize your meals, see the ingredients you have vs. what you need to help you form your grocer list.
    Download the Meal Planner here.
  4. (If not already completed in step 2) Check the list of ingredients against what you already have, mark off the ones you have then create your grocery list with what’s left. Maybe this sounds redundant but I do it this way so I have a visual of what I ACTUALLY need so I don’t add something to the list on accident & end up with extra food that I might end up wasting. This can DRASTICALLY shorten your grocery list & save you money.
  5. Take your grocery list with you when you shop, only take cash to make your purchases, & keep track of how much items cost as you put them in the cart. If I only have cash (no debit card) then I’m a LOT less likely to make impulse purchases…especially if I know the cash I’m using needs to be able to buy our food for the rest of the pay period. Stick to the list. Stick to the cash.
  6. Shop at Aldi. If you don’t have an Aldi, try to stick to store-brand, or split the bill with someone who has a bulk store membership. Check out Aldi if you never have. They have most everything you need & it’s mostly all their own brand so it’s less expensive. They do have foods for those with food allergies, too- gluten free, dairy free, etc. Mashup Mom is a GREAT blog resource where she comes up with 6 recipes a week that can keep you to a $70ish/week grocery budget. When I’ve used her recipes I don’t cook one a night, I’ve been able to stretch them over a few days as leftovers to help spread out the grocery bill. Also, generally, store brands are less expensive. If you use coupons & cash-back apps, make sure it’s ONLY for things you ACTUALLY need. If you have a family member or friend that has a membership to a store like Sam’s, BJ’s, Costco, or whatever you local bulk-store is, see if you can split the bill. Ask them to pick up a few items you need (TP, paper towels, eggs, dairy products), pay them for it, or split the produce in half & half the bill, & also offer to chip in on their annual membership cost, too.
  7. Look at the price/quantity on the price tags shown at the grocery story. Depending on what you’re buying, the total price may be lower but you could be short-changing yourself with a higher cost/quantity. Lower cost/quantity will go a little farther. And yes- I literally purchased one brand over another one time because it was .01 cent (not 1 cent) less expensive than the other. All those .01’s add up over time.
  8. Save your change! Since I’m only using cash, I put the change in a jar & save it up over time. This way I kind of limit our grocery budget even further which makes me even more careful with how we spend. At the end of the month (or a couple months), I cash the change in for free using our credit union’s change-sorting machine & then I apply it to whatever we need it for…maybe vacation sinking budget, maybe towards next month’s bills, maybe to the savings account, whatever you need it for. When we had our mortgage I used to apply it towards principal-only payments. It sounds ridiculous, but $15 here or $20 there overtime saves you money you’re paying on interest & helps you get out of debt faster. This also applies to using receipt apps like Receipt Hog ( wuct8019 <- That’s my personal referral code, if you sign up with that we both get a reward when you submit your first receipt) where you can submit receipts & complete surveys for rewards that later cash out for money through Paypal or Amazon. Some people feel like doing this is selling your personal info to companies…but guess what…if you have a Facebook, social media account, or even a grocery store rewards card…your info is probably already being tracked or sold, so you might as well get a slice of the pie, too!
  9. Cook in a timely manner so no food goes to waste! This is pretty simple. If you can’t get to a recipe within a couple days toss the ingredients in the freezer, if possible. Or just be diligent & make sure you actually cook when you need to cook so nothing goes to waste. If you can’t- like I said, freeze it, can it, dehydrate it, eat it as a snack. Do whatever you have to do so the food is consumed rather than tossed.
  10. Save your scraps for other recipes or gardening. I save chicken & turkey bones, & raw vegetable scraps to make bone broth. If the veggie scraps look bad (maybe soft spots or mold) I toss it in my compost bin to use in my garden later on.

These are just 10 tips. Yes, they sound harsh, they sound really tight & they may sound kind of ridiculous in the age of debit cards & credit card balances but these are just a few of the things we’ve practiced over the years to help us get out of debt so we’re more free in the ways we want to be free. To the glory of God & His provision we get to chase adventures instead of chasing down a credit card balance. If you want to be more free from debt & you’re serious about sticking to a budget, you can try some or all of these steps, too.

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