Meal planning: What to do before you start

With the costs of everything around us on the rise, you find yourself constantly looking for ways to save wherever you can.

What do you cut on? Where do you save? When looking at your finances, it often seems that there is nothing you can cut back on because there is debt here, expenses there and so it goes on.

Theres one place no one starts looking at: your kitchen and how you buy your groceries. Have you ever sat back and looked at all the purchases you make? Are they essentials or do you buy quite a bit of luxuries you could actually do without each month?

Im not saying dont buy luxuries if you want to, but if youre looking at saving money, you might want to reevaluate that grocery list you make.

Ive been meal planning for the last two years now and I can see the difference it has made in seeing how much we end up overspending, sometimes even wasting.

When you take some time to look at these store receipts and calculate the luxuries you buy against the things you need, you quickly realize that youre spending more than you should, or can afford.

With meal planning, you can start planning ahead to save you time, save you money and even save some sanity.

If youre new to the concept and curious about it, read on! If youve tried it before but feel its not working out, this post is for you as well.

It can feel a little overwhelming at times if you dont where to start. Thats why Ive put together a couple of tips to help you get on the journey of meal planning and saving money!

Look at your weekly/monthly grocery budget

Do you stay within the limit or are you constantly exceeding it? If youre going over the set budget amount, youll want to have a look at what is causing it. Are you buying things that you could do without? If you feel you cant go without those extra buys, then youll need to either consider setting your budget higher (although that will defy the purpose of saving money) or look at cutting down on other purchases. I have always found that there are items on the list that we could really do without, and by cutting them out, we could save money, and sometimes use that money to buy extra necesseties that would stretch out the groceries for a longer period of time.

Check your fridge, check your pantry

Is there food you end up throwing away because its expired? Thats money youre throwing away! While non-perishable items are great because they have a longer lifespan than fresh food, buying extra each month, while you still have a two month stash at home, doesnt bring on the savings. Sure, it can help with the tough months we sometimes all face, but how much KGs of rice and pasta do you really need to buy, and each and every month especially when you already have plenty? Are there food items in your pantry that you bought months ago and still havent touched? If youre not using them regularly enough, dont buy them again. Only buy the food you really NEED and will use.

Is your fridge constantly filled with items you end up throwing out because you dont use them before their expiry date? Ive found that buying fresh produce for the month ahead is really a waste because some of those items dont stay edible all month and you end up throwing them out. When looking at some solutions around that to save money, either consider buying:

  • frozen vegetables (the ones that are prepacked),
  • buy them fresh and freeze them yourself (this is really helpful when youre prepacking them youself as you can already work out the portions you need for certain meals),
  • consider buying the fresh produce weekly.

Set up a menu

Meal planning requires you to set up a menu, then youll know exactly what you need to buy each time. One of the mistakes I made with meal planning was trying to find all my recipes on Pinterest.

While there were some recipes that worked out well, others worked out a lot more expensive because they needed so many ingredients that pushed our budget too high to be affordable. If thats the case, think about modifying the recipe by removing some of the ingredients that wont hurt the recipe too much. Keep in mind to look at recipes that have interchangeable ingredients that you can use within a few recipes so youre able to use all you buy and not waste.

Meal rotation

Who wants to eat the same meal every day to save money, right? Wrong. You dont need to make the same dish every night to save money. You can choose a few recipes with interchangeable ingredients and rotate them each week. Youll save money by not having to buy extra ingredients for a large menu and you wont end up wasting as youll use all the ingredients youve bought.

You wont easily get tired of the menu because by rotating it properly, you wont remember the last time you had that meal that month. An example of that would look like this:

Week One:
Monday: Meal 1
Tuesday: Meal 2
Wednesday: Meal 3
Thursday: Meal 4
Friday: Meal 5
Saturday: Meal 2
Sunday: Meal 3

Week Two:
Monday: Meal 4
Tuesday: Meal 1
Wednesday: Meal 5
Thursday: Meal 3
Friday: Meal 2
Saturday: Meal 4
Sunday: Meal 1

You can add more meal options as you like, but adding too many will result in buying more, which in turn means spending more.

Lookout for specials

If you want to save extra, be on the lookout for specials, especially if you do weekly grocery shopping. There are specials every week by different grocery stores so take some interest in them as they can really help with your food budget.

Make sure to not end up actually spending more money because you have extra by purchasing certain items at a lower price. There are some specials that dont actually help you save money and you end up buying more of something you might not need or wont finish using which ends up as a waste.

Have special days

Just because youre working with a budget every month to help you plan your meals, doesnt mean you cant make meals that arent a little different to what you have set each week.

Sometimes we crave something a little different and thats okay.

When youre working out your meal plan, see if you can add a few extra ingredients for a special meal (keep your budget in mind though). If your go-to is usually take-aways, think about rather adding that extra money into your budget to buy the ingredients; youll be able to purchase a lot more and make what you want, and portion-wise youll have plenty more than what youve ordered, especially if you have a large family.

Same thing with eating out; feeding a family does tend to be expensive at restaurants where some of the kids meals are priced almost as high as an adults. I know its tempting to go out as its no cooking, no cleaning up afterwards but if youre looking at saving, thats not the way to go. Rather use that money to make your budget a tiny bit bigger and enjoy good food at home.

I hope these tips will help you get started on your meal planning journey, and help you budget better and save each month. If youve found youve been making a few mistakes and thats why meal planning hasnt been working out for you, use the tips you need to work on those mistakes and start meal planning to make your life easier.

Do you meal plan? What works best for you?


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