Budgeting with meal planning…keeping it simple!

Oh goodness gracious did I just combine planning and budgeting and simplified all in one phrase? Yep, I did it and I’m soooo going there. Tag along with me and maybe you will end up agreeing that budgeting and meal planning can be done simply while saving you time and money to boot!

We are going to start easy here..have you started meal planning? If you haven’t (or if you have but haven’t read my tips on how to keep it as painless as possible), please check out my last post titled Meal Planning, Simplified! I am a huge advocate of meal planning mostly out of necessity…all the roles that make up my life (mom, wife, team supervisor, etc) take up enough of my time and add plenty of stress along with it so I have found ways to make meals as stress-less as possible. I enjoy cooking and really enjoy knowing my family is eating well. Growing up, almost all the meals our family ate were home cooked. As I have gotten older, I realize that wasn’t just due to the lack of restaurants in the teeny tiny speck on the map of a town where I grew up. I realized that was mostly the case because my family is made up of fantastic cooks who enjoy creating delicious meals and (full disclosure) I was one of 5 kids so my self employed parents had to figure out the least expensive ways possible to keep all of us fed and happy.

I realize that budgeting of any sort is a daunting task but today we are just going to focus on what you have been spending on groceries, how you can save on them by meal planning in general, and how you can adjust your meal planning techniques to save even more. Get ready to save some dolla dolla bills ya’ll 😉

How much are you spending on groceries now?

  • The easiest way to figure this out (in my experience) is to look through your back account records and highlight all the charges over the past couple months that came through from the grocery store(s) you shop at. You can use your bank’s app but I would recommend going to their website and pulling up the past couple account statements so you can print and highlight then add them up by the month.
  • Figure out the average you are spending monthly by comparing the added up totals from the bank account statements you printed out and dividing that overall total number by the number of bank account statements you went through. For example: in November we spent $440 total on groceries, in December we spent $475, and in January only $410 so our grand total over 3 months is $1325 which I divided by 3 to get our monthly average spend on groceries as $441.67. I know that I get groceries each week so if I wanted to divide that average by 4 I would know I spend on average $110.42 for groceries each trip.
  • I would recommend doing this at the start of your meal planning journey and again after a couple months in. It’s so gratifying to see that your efforts are paying off (literally!). I would also recommend setting a goal for your grocery budget to try and lower your average spend as a means of saving money each month. After year of meal planning, my budget is insanely lower than $110.42/week and I’m still loving seeing the savings each and every week I shop!

How can you save on groceries and save time just by meal planning?

  • Did I mention you should have read my last post? Because if you haven’t, please do so now or the rest of this may sound like gibberish and that’s the last thing anyone wants! You remember that awesome meal recipe master list that you organized into you different meal plan food categories? Time to take that up a notch! We are now going to go through that same list and organize the food categories into sub categories of proteins and then list the meal recipe options. Example: Mexican food category (staple of my family’s weekly meal planning): chicken recipes-chicken enchiladas, chicken quesadillas, chicken fajitas; beef recipes-tacos, crunchwraps, beef enchiladas; seafood recipes-fish tacos, shrimp fajitas, white fish taco salads. Make sense? The great part about this is that you can add on to your existing recipes by adding variations of them using different proteins.

  • You are probably asking yourself why we are doing this. Proteins are the most expensive ingredient for grocery shopping each week so, by grouping major food categories into protein sections, you can now easily pick two or more meal plans each week from multiple food categories just by choosing recipe ideas you already had listed! Bonus perk is that you can meal plan after scoping out the best sales on meat and plan your week around that to get
  • If you have been meal planning for a while now you’ve probably learned the hard way (like I did) that fewer ingredients doesn’t have to mean fewer meals. Say you have a big craving for chicken enchiladas this week but you know chicken is way cheaper if you buy a bigger package. You don’t want to buy a bigger package and waste it though so you need to look at your other food categories and pick another recipe totally different than enchiladas. What if you used that same chicken for chicken noodle soup and made a quick lunch with shredded chicken on a Thai crunch salad? Using chicken three times in a week and justifying that bulk purchase didn’t make sense before but, suddenly, not sounding too bad. Wanna know the best part? You could meal prep suuuuuper simply by cooking all that chicken at once in the crockpot and shred some for the salads, shred extra but make the chicken enchilada filling in advance and keep the remaining chicken and broth for the soup. Interested in more tips about simplifying meal prep? Stay tuned for another post filled with tips and more examples like the chicken one!

How do I overcome meal planning budget/time problems?

Do you have certain recipes that you love but aren’t budget friendly because they require so many different ingredients or things that you don’t usually have on hand? Yeah, me too. Le sigh. But, have no fear, simple budgeting and meal planning are here to save those meals! Take that delicious budget killing meal and figure out what ingredients are the issue. Is it fresh produce you have to go out of your way for? Is it a protein that is NEVER on sale? Is it a meal that is so time consuming it’s too big of cost of time to attempt? Don’t stress, think outside the box!

  • Go out of your way for fresh produce once in a while but make sure to add a food category that week to also try something new and find another recipe that uses some of those save ingredients. I also recommend buying extra fresh produce and freezing whatever possible (fresh herbs in olive oil, lightly sautéed veggies frozen so they can be reheated and cooked at once, etc). That way you won’t have to go out of your way the next time you crave that special meal.
  • Same goes with that expensive protein..buy in bulk and freeze the other portion when you have extra cash (probably from all that smart meal planning you have been doing!). Or price match your little heart away and/or venture out from your go-to grocery store to save some moolah. It’s worth it to treat yourself once in a while and the meal will taste even better if you know you didn’t break the bank to make it.
  • Speaking of treating yourself, why not plan that time consuming meal but make it a point to do those sporadically instead of every week? That way you won’t dread the longer cooking time and you could make it fun by involving others. When I plan those kinds of meals the rest of the week consists of “cheat meals” like things I had made earlier and just pulled out of the freezer. I also like to have my hubby and kid pitch in or invite friends/family over. Its barely any more work to make a bigger quantity of food but the extra helping hands can make the prepping less stressful for you.
  • The more you think about ingredients the easier it is to use them effectively, waste less, and save more! Some items aren’t expensive but you end up buying them regularly and only use in one meal then toss the rest. Don’t think you do? When was the last time you used the whole package of celery or bag of potatoes? Yeah that’s what I thought. It’s not that much money to buy more so we don’t think twice about wasting it. I’m challenging you to think twice about how to waste less. Use the remaining celery and leftover onions with some garlic to start a chicken soup broth. That freezes easily and is so nice to have on hand. Use potatoes twice in back to back meal plans but spread them out because they last longer. Use some for scalloped potatoes and ham, some for potato soup, some for mashed potatoes as a side, some for a veggie breakfast hash, or some for a loaded baked potato bar. So many different options and all totally different but same main ingredient. While we are on that combo think about the fact that you could also use ham and green onions and cheddar cheese for any of those so those are more ingredients that are being stretched and cutting your ingredient (AKA grocery) list down which saves you money! Finally, don’t forget the ever present option of doubling what you are making and freezing the extra meal! Saves waste now while saving time and money later.

I hope by now your brain is in overdrive (in a good way) and some of these food ideas have maybe made it onto your meal lists and/or sparked more of your own ideas. I also really hope you understand the mindset that helps you learn to think about ingredients smartly so you can save simply by buying less and using more. I would love to hear how these tips help you and if you have any more to add! Thanks for listening to more of my ramblings and I’m excited to share more of my simplifying secrets with you soon!!

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