Saving Thousands From Your Budget Per Year With One Easy Trick!

The trick is called meal planning.

Before my husband and I got serious about repaying our debt we would go grocery shopping on payday throwing essentially anything and everything we wanted into the cart, with no real plan. We’d get home, unload the six boxes of granola bars, block of cheese, some apples and package of chicken wondering what to cook for supper.

We were spending close to $1,000 per month on food for two people! And the biggest reason for this was our lack of planning.

save money by meal planning

Oh how things have changed. Even the thought of entering a grocery store without a full, very detailed list gives me serious anxiety. I have actually avoided doing a grocery run all together because I didn’t have my chicken-scratch list with me. My list and meal plan is my security blanket and my saving grace. I can honestly say that meal planning has saved us thousands of dollars per year by cutting our food bill in half, saved my waistline because I have time to plan to eat well rather than out of convenience and has removed on of the biggest working-full-time-person’s stressor, eliminating the dreaded ”what’s for dinner” question.

Proper meal planning requires effort. Don’t let this scare you though! Once you get really good at it you’ll speed up (yes, this is like an Olympic sport) but plan on it taking one to two hours per session (I do ours every two weeks). It’s not as simple as just writing a grocery list and looking at the store sales, you have to detail everything.

If you don’t plan properly, this whole thing could smack you in the face. You forget a single green pepper for tomorrow night’s dinner and you find yourself back in the grocery store for said pepper but somehow manage to spend $40. Doing it right the first time is the only way to do this!

Getting Started

To start, look through your cupboards, freezer and fridge planning meals around stuff you already have that needs to get used up. If you have a bunch of fresh produce that needs to be used up, maybe plan a stir-fry and add only missing ingredients (maybe chicken or a sauce ingredient) to your list.

After you’ve gone through your home and planned meals around using up what you have, and only adding items to your grocery list that are required to complete the meal,  look at local sales and if you can, plan the rest of your meals around sale items. For instance this week lean ground beef might be on sale, look for recipes that include this meat (stuffed peppers, tacos, meatloaf for example). This will vary greatly around dietary preferences and requirements too but you get the drift, if it’s on sale, and you eat it, plan to eat the particular item this week.

Make you list and check it twice! Make sure you’ve added every single detail! If your recipe requires a pinch of thyme and you don’t have thyme, add it to the list, you need to make sure you buy everything.

The only exception I make to my regular meal planning, which is done in two week blocks, is that I buy produce weekly. I do one big grocery run and the following week allocate about $40 to top up a few items like bananas and lettuce since we usually consume it all or it ripens beyond eating.

With proper meal planning and sticking to our grocery budget, we spend, on average $400 per month for three mouths. This includes everything from our k-cups to bread. It requires effort but is the single best way to keep our budget under control!

Do you meal plan? Why/Why not?

38 thoughts on “Saving Thousands From Your Budget Per Year With One Easy Trick!

  1. Great point, and thanks for the reminder. In our house we really need to get better at this one. We live about a block from the grocery store and tend to just walk there every other day or so. It’s so convenient, but I think the lack of longer-term meal planning probably costs us more.

  2. Great tips! My wife and I meal plan a lot. It saves us a ton of money with little effort. If we don’t meal plan, we tend to eat out – which is a double whammy of cost and unhealthy choices – even though we have food in the house. It’s always the little things that cost us the most money.

  3. I have to meal plan. With six mouths to feed it’s a must. And I don’t do the grocery store anymore without a list. A list keeps me focused. I find it’s a game to me to get everything on my list and that game distracts me from thinking about buying other food products.

  4. I have a friend who came over one evening and commented that they just bought $250 worth of stuff at the grocery store, but can’t think of more than three meals they could make with it. I have no idea how that could happen….OR how they could go to the grocery store without any kind of a plan. The meal plan is the foundation for the list I take to the grocery store!

  5. We definitely plan our meals. At least 1-2 meals per week are tied to the specials we can find that week. Other meals usually involve products we may have stocked up on. It definitely helps save money.

  6. we meal plan and go grocery shopping on a weekly basis. I wish we could plan even farther in advance and only have to shop once every two weeks or even once a month. I know a lot of people are able to make it work.

  7. We need to do this. For two people we’re spending around $600 and that seems a little high. We also get into the, “What should we have for dinner?” problem. Of course, not being the cook I’d have to convince my husband to get on board. 😉

  8. Ouch on the $1000/mo for groceries. We typically sit down as a family on Saturday or Sunday and decide on meals for the coming week. My wife makes up the shopping list for the meals we want, and then either she or I will go to the grocery store the next day. We try not to deviate from the shopping list, although we may buy things that are on really good sales that we know we will eat. We averaged $540/mo for our family of three. I am sure we could cut this down by another $100/mo, but we like fresh produce even in winter, and are willing to pay for it.

    • Agreed, the only reason we’re able to save on produce is that there is a local merchant who offers insanely low produce prices, prior to them being around we’d also be spending probably another $50/month.

  9. My wife and I started to plan our meals this year – okay, I’ll admit she plans them and organizes our coupons and makes the grocery list. But I do other things to help out. Having a meal plan has helped us make meals more predictable and avoids having to think of what to make and/or resort to grabbing food on the go which is almost always more expensive and less healthy. If you meal plan you can coupon more effectively as well, which has saved us a few thousand over the past two years.

    • Couponing is WAY different in the US than it is in Canada, not to say that we can’t get some deals but nothing like you guys can. I imagine it would save a ton of money!

  10. We had the SAME exact problem when we first got married. We did get it under control fairly quickly, but after having kids it has been much harder. When you’re tired and exhausted it’s so much easier to just go out and buy something. Lately we have been really good with meal planning, thanks for the tips!

  11. We don’t do a formal meal planning. We do a good job of being resourceful with what we have and minimizing the amount of stuff we throw out. It also helps that we have about 12 months of food storage, so we buy major staples and things we regularly eat when it is on sale.

  12. Oh I am all about this! I shop once a week on Sundays and then I cook for the week. It lets me keep fresh food in my fridge and it really helps my budget to buy in bulk and use the same ingredients for several dishes.

  13. I’ve been going out a bit more to eat as I’ve been doing mystery shopping dinner/lunches but with a chest freezer, I am better able to meal plan ahead of time. I do have to shop for produce more frequently (actually twice a week if I want fresh due to a crappy apartment fridge) but I’ve also incorporated more frozen veggies into my life to help during off season for produce.

    I still can easily spend $500 a month for two people which I’m working on cutting down significantly. I’m still working on the meal planning but I also am trying to buy higher quality meat which will probably eat up a lot of the savings.

  14. That’s crazy- I can’t imagine spending so much on food in one month, although I’m sure I did at times, before we got serious about our finances. We would go to Whole Foods about every other day and spend $50 on two meals. I’m very glad we changed our ways, and these are excellent tips here!

  15. Michelle says:

    I started this a few years ago and it helps with the food budget. At the first of the month, I buy 4 Walmart gift cards (one per Saturday) for $x amount (depending on what a reasonable amount is). I take one card to Walmart each Saturday and that is my food budget for the week. I may have to stop for milk or somthing occasionally during the week. It’s worked very well. The other trick is to put essentials in the big part of the buggy and treats in the top part and if there is some left over, then we get the treats, if not, then I rethink buying them!

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