I’ve recently gotten the same question being asked quite frequently: How do you do meal planning while sticking to a budget?
Sounds like a lot of work, right? It’s actually not as bad as you think! Here’s the steps I take to making a great week of meals, keeping my pantry stocked all while sticking to my budget. I’ve also included a few tips to help keep you from overspending.
1. Gather regularly used recipes. Whether this be in paper form in a cookbook, or digital form (Evernote, Keep, Paprika or another recipe keeping app – or just write them down!), just get your recipes easily accessible in the same place.
3. Go through and add meals day by day. After you add one meal, go over the recipe at least twice and add ingredients you need to your grocery list. (I go to two grocery stores – one for produce and one for everything else, so I go over it at least twice to make sure I didn’t forget anything.) Once you add another day, you can just keep your lists going. It also helps for checking to see if you can get meals that overlap ingredients – a great budget saver! If it works better for you, just make your meal planning list and double check recipes at the end.
4. Recheck the pantry. I sometimes think I have something and don’t, or think I don’t have something and buy too much. When making your list, make sure to recheck it to avoid missing something or getting duplicates. While you’re in there, check on the levels of your staples – flour, sugar, eggs, sauces, condiments, etc.
Tips to stay on a budget:
- Buy your meat in bulk. Meat is typically by far the most expensive item on your grocery list (unless you count the wine). We buy all of our chicken and our beef at Costco to cut down on how much we spend at the grocery store each week. Even if you buy solely organic – Costco’s got it! One package of each will easily get us through a month.
- In fact, try to stock up on a few things at places like Costco. We eat a lot of cheese. A LOT. Therefore, we buy it from Costco. We also also get things like whole milk and pasta.
- Set a budget cap by week. I used to set a budget by the month, but quickly realized that by the last week of the month, we were eating tacos all week because they are so cheap. Instead, set a specific amount per week. Don’t go over that. Anytime you do, you cut into the follow week’s allotment. If you find that you are a little tight, try to figure out what you can cut down on. Maybe you have oatmeal at home, so you don’t really need that box of cereal this week. And *gasp!* it’s okay to forgo the wine or beer (or any beverages) for a week! Also, don’t be too strict with yourself. Be realistic. If you have a family of 5, you can’t get a full weeks worth of food (or at least GOOD, HEALTHY food) for $40. It’s okay to set it a little higher. If you find you’re continually spending less, then set your limit lower.
- Don’t be afraid to shop at more than one store. I typically use grocery shopping as ‘me’ time. I go every Sunday night after the kids are in bed. It allows my husband some free time to himself at home, and I get out of the house kid free! Because of this, I like to take my time. My first stop is usually the coffee shop. Hey, a girl needs her weekly treat, right? After that, I hit up the first store (Trader Joe’s for me) to pick up my produce. I’ve found that the produce here is actually a little cheaper and much better quality than my grocery store. (I shopped around a bit before I figured out which place to go.) I’ll usually get my spices here, too. Then I hit up my local grocery store (I go to Fred Meyer’s) to get the rest of my list. (And don’t forget your reusable bags! Stores around here, at least, give you $0.05 each for using your own bags.
- Don’t underestimate the value of coupons. Take 10 minutes (yes, even just 10 minutes can help!) before you go to check the online weekly ads of your stores and other sites like Coupon.com to see if there are any coupons for items on your list. I used to coupon like crazy – get the paper, cut out everything I thought there was a slim chance I MIGHT use and had it all organized in a large 2″ 3-ring binder. What? Who has time for that with toddlers?? Now, I just take a few minutes to do a quick check to see if there are any items on my list on sale or have coupons. The trick for sticking to a budge here is to ONLY get coupons for items already on your list. If you’re like me, I find I’m a target for impulse buying. If I have a coupon for something I don’t necessarily need but find it on sale as well, I’ll end up buying as much as I can and then I’ve just used up some of my weekly budget on things I don’t need.
What are your tips? Is there anything you do for your family to help keep you on track with meals and budgets?