Budget Meal Planning – Your Guide on How to Cook for Less

Published on March 28, 2020 by Lauren

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  • If you’re getting carried away at the grocery store, I know the best budget meal planning strategies to help you cook for less. 

    The average family spends about $660 on food each month, according to the latest Consumer Expenditure Survey. How much you spend depends on where you live. Rural areas tend to have cheaper food prices when compared to the cost of groceries in Seattle or New York City.

    Budget Meal Planning

    When you spend less on groceries, you’ll have more money to put toward other financial goals like building your emergency fund or getting out of debt.

    It’s easy to blow your budget on groceries. To help you save money and cook for less, here are my top tips for meal planning on a budget.

    Budget Meal Planning:

    1.) Check your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer.

    Overspending on groceries can lead to having extra food in the cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer. Before you head out to the store, take a few minutes to go grocery shopping in your own house. Make a list of what you have and stick it somewhere 

    Chances are you have a lot more food on-hand than you think. Check expiration dates to see what items you need to use up. Get creative to make meals with the ingredients you already have. 

    2.) Make a menu plan.

    Cooking at home can be tough to manage between soccer practice, band concerts, and parent-teacher conferences. Hitting up the drive-thru is tempting if you don’t have a plan for dinner. 

    You can download a free weekly meal planning page in the freebies section of my website.Budget Meal Planning

    Meal planning makes eating at home easier, cheaper, and less stressful. It’s my secret weapon against overspending on food. 

    Some people swear by monthly menu planning. When you’re just starting to meal plan, you’re better off doing a week at a time. That is why I created my Aldi Meal plan where I show you how to make 20 meals for $150. You assemble them all at once (takes about 3 hours) and then you have dinners for the rest of the month! You can find those here.

    Budget Meal Planning

    3.) Check store flyers to buy food that’s on sale.

    Saving a few cents here and there on the food you buy can add up to big savings over time. Check store flyers to see what’s on sale. If you don’t get the newspaper, an app like Flipp puts sale flyers and money-saving coupons at your fingertips.

    The trick is to adjust your menu to match what’s on sale. For instance, if you were planning to have pork chops for dinner but chicken is on sale, swap it out to instantly spend less on groceries.

    4.) Plan ahead with freezer meals.

    If you’ve never tried freezer meals, you’re in for a treat. You save time and money when you simplify your budget meal planning with freezer meals. 

    Meat is often the most expensive item on your grocery list. Freezer meals let you buy in bulk and take advantage of sale prices. 

    Since you’ll be putting the meat and other ingredients in the freezer right away, there’s no money lost due to food waste, either.

    I have SO many great freezer recipes here on this website as well as freezer cooking 101 tips. I also have a great freezer cooking meal plan, you can check out my aldi freezer cooking meal plan.

    5.) Skip recipes that need a special ingredient.

    If you’re tired of eating the same old thing, trying new recipes is a great way to break out of a rut. Before you try something new, take a look at the ingredient list. Some recipes call for something you might not have on-hand. 

    Buying special ingredients can drive up the cost of your food bill. To help you decide if it’s worth the cost, consider the price of the item and think about whether you’ll use it more than just this once.

    6.) Use leftovers to your advantage.

    Learning how to make the most out of Leftovers can be a huge money-saver when making a budget meal plan. If you have an assortment of leftover servings from previous meals, having a “buffet style” dinner to use them up can cut down on your food bill.

    Another option is planned leftovers. By cooking a double-batch of a recipe, you’ll save money by planning the leftovers based on grocery store sales. Plus, it’s a great way to save time since you cook once and can eat twice.

    7.) Shop with a list.

    Don’t try to wing it at the grocery store. If you shop with a list, you’ll spend less on impulse purchases. 

    Bringing a list also helps with food waste. If you fill your grocery cart, you’ll end up buying more than your family can eat. You also risk the food spoiling before you eat it when you overshop.

    Budget Meal Planning

    That is why I included a grocery shopping list inside of my money saving budget planner, called The Personal Finance Planner. If you prefer to use a digital list, The Flipp App has a great one!

    8.) Prioritize your spending.

    You don’t have an unlimited grocery budget. When you budget your food expenses, you can’t always buy everything you want at the store. It will help if you prioritize your spending. 

    Check your list and swap out any non-essential items. When money is tight, it helps to separate your list into “must have” and “would like to have” categories. Chips, soda, and ice cream fall into the “would like to have” category. They’re also the most expensive and can save tons of money if you don’t buy them.

    Budget meal planning is a cinch when you know what to do. Hopefully, these tips give you some ideas on how you can cook for less and save money when feeding your family!



  • Wow. Insightful article you’ve got here. I always make a list for my grocery shopping but sometimes l forget to check my pantry before heading out. Food gets spoiled.

    Thanks for sharing these tips.

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