Plan your Meals; Plan your Spending

Making food at home is an easy way to trim your spending, but it can often feel difficult to fit in cooking, and clean-up, within daily life. A few months ago, my boyfriend and I started meal planning to save money and eat healthier and so far, we’re achieving our goal.

There are different kinds of meal planning. In one of the most popular methods, you plan and prepare every single meal for the week in one day. We chose to adapt this method slightly and only plan our meals for the week, but planning and preparing on the same day is very effective for many people. Here is some more information on the strategy, as well as a guide to help you start out.

Because Sunday is our day off together, we decided to use that day to plan out our meals, but any day you regularly have off during the week works. Shopping and planning on a weekly basis helps us stay on track, learn how much we use, and how much we need to budget. So, each Sunday we decide on four different meals to eat that week, two of which we eat twice. And, lucky me, I take any leftovers to work for lunch the next day.

Each meal has a veggie dish, often steamed vegetables, salad, or sauteed squash, a protein like baked chicken, tilapia, or slow-cooked roast, and a small amount of carbs, usually rice. We can pick and choose which we want to eat twice a week by, for example, baking four chicken breasts instead of two and making a larger salad. Slow-cooker recipes have become a favorite of mine because they help save time, work, and dishes.

When we have our weekly menu, we sit down and write a list of each ingredient we need to cook that we don’t already have, as well as general household goods. Wherever possible, we like to buy in bulk. WinCo is our favorite store, but any bulk shopping store like CostCo or Sam’s Club works, it just depends on your preference. Also, don’t be afraid to try new stores and shop around to find the best deal available.

Shopping together is fun and makes it easier to stick to our list. This advice isn’t for couples only, either. Find a friend and tackle each of your lists together while you also catch up. If a solo shopping trip is your only option (and you struggle with impulse purchases like I do), here are some tips to help you have a smoother experience.

When you buy in bulk, you may experience high initial costs. We budget $100 a week, which is often more than we need, however if we’re restocking on multiple bulk items like toilet paper or laundry detergent, we add $20 or $30. If buying multiple items in bulk doesn’t fit in your budget at the time, pick and choose the most cost-effective items. You can also plan ahead and stagger purchases of bulk items so that the cost is spread out.

Keep a running log of your grocery spending, especially when first starting. You could save receipts (either physically or as pictures on your phone), keep a handwritten log book, or use a spreadsheet. This will help fine tune your budget and reveal items that aren’t cost effective. If you keep buying something and throwing it out later, stop buying it. I let go of yogurt for this reason.

We save at least $150.00 a month on food by buying in bulk and planning our meals. Now, we do eat out one night every week and could save money by decreasing that amount, even to once every two weeks. Meal planning was definitely a lifestyle change (especially for my boyfriend who once lived on take-out) for us, and it took a couple of weeks to fine-tune our planning so I didn’t have to run to the store for odd items during the week. Overall though, this was one of the best changes we have made for ourselves and has been easy to stick with.