How to Save Money Meal Planning

The average American family spends over $3,000 a year on dining out. Believe it or not, food is typically where people overspend the most, and usually the biggest expense that people have other than their mortgage. If you’ve been looking for a way to squeeze more savings out of your budget, your food bill is a great place to start, and meal planning is a smart way to make the most of your food budget. The key is to choose recipes that share ingredients, so you use what you buy, and nothing is left to rot in the bottom of your fridge because you forgot to include it in your meal plan. Meal planning is not hard, but if you’re not sure how to get started or exactly what your life would look like if meal planning were the norm, we’ve got some tips on how to get going and make meal planning your new way of life.

Set a budgetary goal. Since the idea here is to save money on your food bill, start by taking an inventory of what you spent last month on food (groceries and eating out) and challenge yourself to cut that amount in half. You may find after a month of planning that you can cut even more, but this is a good place to start.
Plan your meals in advance. Meal planning does not mean you’ll have to spend hours scouring the internet for recipes or slaving over a stove in the kitchen every night. Effective meal planning will actually save you time and money as well as alleviate the stress of daily meal prep. By planning your meals for the week, you’ll know exactly what you’re eating for dinner, and so will your family. Advance planning also lets you shop for ingredients in advance, meaning less trips to the grocery store during the week.
Take advantage of sales. Since most grocery store circulars come out mid-week, you can swing by and pick one up to make the most of your shopping. Use the circular and build your meals for the next week based on what’s on sale. If you have coupons for those sale items, you’ll maximize your savings.
Take a poll. Get your family in on the meal planning by polling them to see what they like to eat. If your bunch knows their favorite meals are on the menu, they’ll be much more likely to be on board with your meal plan and might even surprise you by offering to help get it on the table.
Use simple recipes. Once you’ve learned what’s on sale at the store for the week, look for recipes that don’t require a lot of fancy footwork. Keeping things simple doesn’t have to mean boring; try using a spice that you don’t use often or incorporating fresh herbs to give a standard dish a new, flavorful profile. If there’s a favorite recipe from mom or grandma, take that classic and put your own spin on it. If you need a good source for classic American fare, try BettyCrocker.com, GoodHousekeeping.com, or TasteofHome.com.
Use meals with common ingredients. When you’re planning meals, try to buy ingredients that will work with more than one meal. This will allow you to buy larger quantities, which can be less expensive than buying just enough for one meal. If you’re planning on tacos, lasagna, and hamburgers in the same week, the five pound package of ground beef may be the better buy; you can split it up and store each section in a zipped plastic bag and thaw as needed.
Hold yourself accountable. If you commit to meal planning and not spending any money on food outside the home, stick to your decision. Ignore the food truck outside your office and pretend those fast food restaurants are not on your way home. If you’re not sure you can do it, get an accountability partner. Be transparent, and give meal planning an honest try for at least a month or two, and you just might be amazed at the savings.
Keep your goal in mind. We started out by suggesting that you challenge yourself to spend only half the amount you spent before you began meal planning, but you can take it one step farther. Decide where those savings are going to be put to use (debt paydown, a family outing, a day at the spa, a special gift for someone, a home improvement) and remind yourself of this dual goal whenever you’re tempted to break your commitment to meal planning.