Meal Planning 101: Save Money, Time and Sanity

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Today I want to chat with you about saving money by meal planning!

Confessions: I hate grocery shopping. Seriously. I inherited this extreme grocery aversion from my mother.

Believe it or not, meal planning (plus online delivery — but that’s for another day!) has made grocery shopping much, much easier.

I’ve been meal planning now, consistently, for about a month and a half, and I have to say — YAY! Not only has it actually been saving me stress and time, it’s been saving us money. I haven’t always meal-planned, so I can definitely see the difference in our grocery bill and my general sanity 🙂

NOTE: I only meal plan dinner because we always eat left-overs for lunch and I can’t be bothered with breakfast planning — we usually buy a dozen eggs and some carby eats (cereal, bagels) to get us through the week.

Why meal plan?

  1. Less stress: When you know exactly what you are eating for dinner, it makes food less of a chore! No more, “Ah what are we eating??”
  2. Less money: You are also way less likely to order out, or go out, or stop at McDonald’s, when you have a meal planned out.
  3. Less money #2: You can plan your meals around sales, or choose to leave out expensive ingredients in recipes, because you planned a grocery list ahead of time. PLUS, it can help reduce impulse buys because you know exactly what you need to stay fed all week.
  4. Less waste: When you know exactly what you are eating for the next week, it means you don’t end up throwing away uneaten food (particularly true if you wisely consume left-overs for lunch!).

Meal planning instead of couponing

I also confess I’ve never been that great at couponing. It’s a great idea! And some people rock at it. But it’s just not overly practical for Casey and I.

Since getting married, we have been “ever moving” and living in tight quarters — that means we keep needing to restock a pantry and we don’t have a lot of space to stock pile.

Couponing works best when you can stockpile on sales, but when we know we’ll likely be moving back overseas in 11 months (and we have one tiny closet), it doesn’t make sense for us to buy 25 tubes of toothpaste.

Plus, couponing takes way more time than meal planning. Some awesome, wonderful people do both — and they must save millions! — but the planning has proven to be the best way for us to save money on groceries without needing to clip coupons and stock pile.

My meal plan worksheet

There are lots of resources out there for online meal planning (Meal Planner Pro, Meal Planning Worksheets) and those might be amazing! But I opted for the simple GoogleSheets (aka Excel) file.

Here’s a September 18th to 24th screenshot:

Save money meal planning

Here’s a zoomed in version:

Save Money Meal Planning

As you can tell, this is very basic — I didn’t even bother changing the fonts! I literally copied and pasted the “Ingredients” from each online recipe. Chili is blank because I know that by heart!

Meal plan components

All a great meal plan needs is the following:

  1. List of days
  2. What you are going to eat (on which days/for which meal)
  3. Link to the recipe (I rarely follow recipes, but it’s nice to have if I’m stuck)
  4. Ingredients list

That’s all that’s up there!

How I decide what to eat

First I think of which days we need dinner. For example, we usually go to a young adults group dinner with church friends on Thursday, so I know we don’t need to plan something for that day.

If you have an evening engagement on one particular day, keep that in mind! Or if you are going on vacation — don’t plan for those days.

Next, I think of what days are our busiest. I’m an at-home freelancer, so I have a lot of flexibility when it comes to making meals. That being said, I have commitments on two afternoons that make it hard to do a “last minute” dinner. Instead, I break out the Crock Pot! (I will do a whole post about the wonders of the Crock Pot another day!)

If you know Sally has soccer practice at 4:40 on Fridays or both you and hubby don’t get home until late on Thursdays, plan ahead! If you have something already cooking, it makes it a lot harder to justify ordering pizza (Trust me, I know. We live within 3 minutes of a Domino’s!).

And finally: What do we want to eat? This is what always KILLS eating at home. You just can’t decide what to prepare. Meal planning means I do this “Gahhh. FOOD. IS. HARD.” bit only once a week 🙂


Meal Planning Tips and Tricks

  • PINTEREST! I love Pinterest because it has so many great ideas for budget, easy and Crock Pot meals. (Check out my Good Food, Great Meals board for some Pinspiration).
  • Find about 10-12 “favorites” and put them on a rotation. This means just copying and pasting your meals into a new week — no extra thought!
  • Attempt to keep like-meals (Enchilada soup and chili) at least a day apart. Don’t want to burn yourself out.
  • Pick a weekly staple. If there’s something you love enough to eat it every week — do it. That’s chili in our house. (Recipe here).
  • If you are really up for it, only pick meals with ingredients that match the sales circular. (In other words, have a week of chicken if that’s the meat that’s on sale!)
  • Have a Meatless Monday (or any other day). Meat is almost always the most expensive part of a meal, so I always do a hearty soup (Potato soup anyone? Broccoli Cheddar?) once a week.
  • Eat more soups: Meat goes way further in a soup than as the main part of a meal.
  • Do you have ingredients left over from last week (extra noodles, more beans, etc.)? Let them inspire your first couple of meals for your following week (and don’t waste food)!
  • Don’t forget snacks. I really try to avoid purchasing junk food of any kind. That being said, if I splurge on a tube of Pringles, I’m suddenly the “best wife ever” for a whole day — so it’s hard to resist 🙂 Make sure to pick up a wise amount of healthy, yummy snacks so, again, you aren’t tempted to buy a bag of chips at the office.

There you have it!

That’s my simple guide to meal planning — Do you meal plan? Tell me about it! I’d love to hear some of your favorite meals, too 🙂

I totally need this! Gotta learn how to meal plan to save me time, money and sanity

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  • Great ideas!! Thanks for making us all think about how we can be better at planning meals, saving $$, and not stopping for pizza!! Seriously…..Scotland has Domino’s???