How Planning Your Meals Will Save You Money

This is a guest post from Kyle of Suburban Dollar. If you like what you see here, please consider subscribing to his RSS feed.

Lets face it, one of our biggest expenses outside of our mortgages is the cost of keeping our bellies full. Unfortunately, eating is a necessity. We have to get food, and most of us aren’t willing to eat other peoples garbage.

There are tons of ways you can save money on groceries like growing a garden, clipping coupons, buying bulk, and tracking cyclical prices. While these are all great ways to reduce your costs they should all be parts of a bigger plan.

Plans are the keys to success in just about everything we do. Football teams plan for the next game, architects draw up plans to build a skyscraper, and you should plan your meals in advance to save you time and money.

Here are the steps you should take weekly or monthly to maximize your savings and save some time.

Plan your meals

This is the first and most important step. Sit down and plan out your meals for the next week, two weeks, or month. This should include both the main course and the side(s). If you make your lunches every day and cook breakfast, make sure you include those meals in the plan.

By the time you are finished you should have a list of at least seven days of meals that should look something like this:

Meal Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Lunch Bologna and Pickles Tuna Salad Left Overs Ham and Cheese, Snack Pack Left Overs BLT Brunch w/ inlaws
Dinner Lasagna Grilled Pork Chops, Rice, and Green Beans Beer Butt Chicken, Potatoes, Broccoli Chicken Pot Pie Chicken Noodle Soup Hot Dogs, Salad, Chips Eat Out

Make a list

Now you need to sit down with your plan and write down every ingredient you will need throughout the week to make you meals. Be sure to include any staples you may need like bread, milk, orange juice, or cereal. This is why planning your meals in advance is so great. You can easily make a list of everything you need for the week and not have to worry about forgetting anything.

Check it twice

Now that you have a list the first thing you should do is go through the list and determine what you already have. Go through your fridge, freezer, and pantry. Mark off every item you already own and don’t need to buy. This will help you eliminate duplicate purchases.

Find the deals

For the remaining items on your list start researching the best prices available in your area. This usually means looking through the Sunday circulars to find the best bargain for your buck. Once you have located the best deals, circle them and stack your circulars up. You won’t need to drive all over town to get the best deals, just take the circulars to Wal-Mart and have them do a price match.

Hunt for coupons

This might take you a little bit of time, but coupons are free money so get to work. Online coupons are all the rage these days, and both stores and manufacturers are getting in on the game. I like to sit down with my list and find as many coupons as possible. I scour the internet for any coupons related to those products, print them off, and take them with me.

Go alone, shop swiftly

Now you just need to load up your coupons, circulars, list, and money. Head off to the store, but go alone. You already know what you need, and bringing another person will only distract you. Move swiftly through your list picking up only those items you have identified as needs. I say swiftly because the longer you linger, the more time you have to be tempted by ads and wandering thoughts.

Once you get to the checkout line, put your stuff on the belt, but leave anything you want to price match until the end. Put the circulars on these items so your intentions are clear. Finally, pay your bill and get out of Dodge.

Closing thoughts

If you actually take a bit of time to sit down and go through each of these steps, you’re guaranteed to save yourself both time at the store and money in your pocket. An added benefit is you get to prevent the inevitable question… “What are we going to have for dinner tonight, dear?”

Do you have any tips for planning meals in advance?

13 Responses to “How Planning Your Meals Will Save You Money”

  1. Anonymous

    Don’t stop with dinner. I plan out my lunches, and have saved a substantial amount by brown-bagging. You could prepare enough food for dinner that will allow for leftovers to be taken for lunch. My favorite is my wife’s leftover eggplant parmigiana.

  2. Anonymous

    Yes… make a list, check it twice. Find out what food prices are naughty or nice.

    Planning your meals is one of the best and easiest ways to save money. I realized this, because whenever I didn’t plan them, I would always end up having to go and eat fast food or make an EXTRA trip (which costs more money) to get something.

    Just to add also, you should plan your snacks to.

  3. Anonymous

    Like Stacey, I plan my meals around what is going to be on sale. Another tip is, if possible, go to the grocery store early on a weekday morning, at least to purchase your meat. You’ll find a good selection of items that are marked either “reduced for quick sale” or as one of our stores likes to call them “manager’s specials.” There is nothing wrong with the meat, other than the store needs to sell it by the sell by date, which is fast approaching. You just need to make sure to use it or freeze it by the sell by date.

    We pretty much only ever eat filet mignon in our house when we have steak these days, because I get them on these types of sales. And as a result, we rarely go out to eat, because I can make nicer dinners at home for much, much less money.

  4. Anonymous

    Good stuff Kyle. My wife tried to get me to do this when we were first married, but I told her there was no way I could “know” what I wanted to eat tomorrow let along 6 days from now. Once I finally gave in to her system, we started really saving money on the groceries.

    One thing that we do every week is to look in our refrigerator first to see what needs to be used up – such as produce or thawed meat – then we plan our meals by incorporating all those ingredients and (as you point out) just go get the other ingredients we don’t have.

    It works folks. This was one of the methods we employed to help us cut our grocery spending by several hundred dollars each month.

  5. Anonymous

    We grow our own vegies and cook most of our own meals. It is a well planeed operation.
    The only problem is that our stomachs have no volume control. We regularly over eat and eat too quickly.
    I wish self discipline was as easy as simple planning!

  6. Anonymous

    I plan my meals in advance and try to concentrate on seasonal produce – I also do a lot of cooking from scratch. We are vegetarian, so a lot of specialty products are more expensive and not available at a “regular” grocery store, so we need all the help we can get!

    That said, Wal-Mart is a terrible, unethical company. I would rather pay 50% more than ever patronize them. Most grocery stores will do a price match these days, though.

  7. Anonymous

    We plan meals over the weekend for the coming week, but we found that we have less waste and our grocery bill is lower if we make two big meals and eat them over four or five nights. Added bonus if we can make one of them on Sunday. We’ll sometimes have a meal that we just cook and eat that night because it doesn’t reheat well, like veggie stir fry.

    So for example, right now in the fridge there’s a huge container of homemade soup. We’ll have that for dinner two nights this week, maybe three (depending on how much we eat). It’ll be perfect for whatever night we get home and want to eat right now or don’t feel like cooking.

    I make one batch of something and take it for lunch all week, then make something else for the following week, etc. Hubby eats PB&J every day (by choice), so that’s easy.

  8. Anonymous

    I do this, but we switch around the “steps” you’ve outlined. The first thing I do on Sunday morning is grab the local store’s flyer and weekly coupons. After reading through them, we plan our meals around good sales and what’s in the freezer. When we shop we stock up on sale favorites for future weeks. 🙂 It’s saved us a lot of money! We spend $40-50 per week for two adults, but rarely eat out.

  9. Anonymous

    Planning save more than just money, it saves me the headache of wondering what to cook! I always keep a couple of frozen meal, (making in bulk- make two is as easy as making one!) and it’s there for me in a pinch.

  10. Anonymous

    More tips:
    * Make substitutions to your meal plan when you find a bargain at the story (like a true buy one, get one free sales).
    * Buy generic/store brand when it doesn’t matter.
    * Consider an extra freezer and buying your meat in bulk to save money from a discount source (such as a Costco or Sam’s Club).

    Using the above tips (Kyle and ours), we were able to cut our food budget in half.

  11. Anonymous

    ‘An added benefit is you get to prevent the inevitable question “What are we going to have for dinner tonight, dear?” ‘

    This is a huge added benefit. It makes getting dinner ready so much less stressful. If I am busy finishing up work or taking one of the teens to wherever, hubby or other teen can start getting dinner ready because we have a menu planned for the whole week posted on the fridge with any needed recipes (the simpler the recipe, the better) also up there. A little bit of time put into doing this at the beginning of the week (making menu, shopping list, coupons, etc), but a big time saver every night the rest of the week.

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