When you’re on a tight budget you are always looking for places to save money. Maybe you decide to spend less on clothes, or switch cellphone provider.
To make the most savings in your budget you need to look at where you SPEND the most money. I can almost guarantee that one of the areas that you spend the most money each month is on food.
You might think that you need to clip coupons, shop the sales or buy in bulk to save money on food, but there’s a much simpler step you can take.
How to Save Money on Food
I changed just ONE HABIT and I was able to save hundreds of dollars each month on food. And the best part was that it was so easy!
I’ve always marveled at the people that clip coupons and are able to buy their groceries for just a few cents. I just don’t have the time or patience to doing something like that. I know it’s worthwhile, but I would resent spending so much time on just one task.
However, there is a much easier way to save money on food that will actually SAVE YOU TIME as well! Win-win!
My life, like most parents, is super busy. I work (more than!) full time as a teacher, run this website, have 3 children, a partner, 3 dogs and 4 cats. Free time is something that I can only dream of most weeks! So any money saving techniques have to also be easy and fast!
The Daily Chore
When life gets busy it’s sometimes feels easier to stop by the fast food joint or stop at a restaurant for dinner instead of figuring out what to cook at home.
I dread getting home in the evenings and having that “what should we have for dinner” conversation!
Do any of these situations sound familiar:
- You’re missing the key ingredient to the meal you really want to cook?
- The meat is still in the freezer and frozen solid?
- No-one can agree on what they want for dinner?
- Your feet hurt and you just don’t have the energy to cook?
- You look at your credit card bill and realize you spend a small fortune on junk food each month?
- Your waistline keeps expanding, even though you try to eat healthy?
Been there… done that!
I know what you’re thinking – “I don’t have time for that”!
But let’s break it down a little bit and see how much time it REALLY takes!
Meal Planning: 15-30 minutes a week to plan meals and make grocery list per week.
Not Meal Planning: 10-15 minutes to drive to the restaurant, 5-30 minutes to wait for your food (depending on the restaurant) and then 10-15 minutes to drive home per visit.
The amount of time it takes to plan a weeks worth of meals is LESS THAN just one visit to a restaurant.
You can save even more time if you use a meal planning service. There’s dozens and dozens of meal planning services, apps and websites. They are all designed to help save money on food as well as time!
The key to really saving mega bucks each month is to not only plan your meals but also make a grocery list each week (and stick to it!). It makes it even easier to save money on food each week.
I go to the grocery store just once a week (more time saved!) and get everything I need for all our meals for that week.
Before meal planning I used to go to the grocery store 2 or 3 times a week. It would normally be at the end of the day when I was tired and hungry. The last thing I would feel like doing was cooking dinner, so I would grab unhealthy convenience food.. which is also OVERPRICED!
I’d also succumb to the temptation of a candy bar or soda at the check-out just to keep me going through the evening. More unnecessary expense!
Now when I go shopping with a grocery list I know exactly what I am going to buy. There’s no thought process needed – it’s easy and quick.
Having to make constant choices is actually proven to mentally exhaust us and make it harder for us to stick to healthy habits (check out my post all about willpower and healthy habits!). Eliminating the need to make choices at the grocery store, means I don’t feel as tired when I get home.
I can also plan WHEN I go grocery shopping to make sure it’s not when I’m tired or hungry. I like to go early on a Sunday morning. The store is quiet so it’s even quicker for me to get it done!
Here’s the part where meal planning REALLY helps! The ability to SAVE MONEY ON FOOD!
It’s easy to not realize how much we spend each month of quickly grabbing food. It might be the slice of pizza from the gas station for lunch (blah!), or a junk meal on the way home from soccer practice. It all adds up fast without us even realizing.
This is what an average week used to look like for me and my family (2 adults & 3 kids):
Monday – $34.20
- No bread so can’t make lunches for everyone. $3.40 each for the kids to have school lunch. $5 for me to grab a pizza and drink. $7 for a junk food meal for hubby.
- No one can agree on what to eat. $12 for fried chicken meal box at grocery store on way home.
- Also remembered to pick up bread and ham for lunch and ground beef for dinner tomorrow.
Tuesday – $0
- Thanks to the late stop at the grocery store on Monday I have ingredients for lunch and dinner.
Wednesday – $32
- Driving home from soccer and everyone is tired and hungry. $32 for fast food for dinner (my eldest son has adult meals now!).
- I skipped lunch, so we all get ice cream sundaes too because I’m so hungry!
Thursday – $47.20
- Bread is all gone. So everyone is eating out for lunch again. That’s another $22.20!
- It’s Thursday, so my weekly report is due the next day. Working late into the evening, so I don’t want to cook. $25 for delivery pizza.
Friday – $102.20
- Still no bread. I decide to skip lunch to save money. So just $17.20 today.
- It’s Friday! We’ve had a busy week and we all want something yummy to celebrate the weekend! $85 at a restaurant.
Saturday – $32
- Grab a fast food meal which we are out running errands. Opps, that’s another $32!
- One of the errands was the grocery store, so we have food for dinner!
Sunday – $0
- I made sure to get enough food yesterday to feed us today as well. Phew.
That’s a grand total of $247.60 in one week!
If every week works out like this we would spend nearly $1,000 a MONTH of eating out!
Of course, even with meal planning it is nice to eat out.
Sometimes I will plan for us to have delivery pizza if I know it will be a busy day. Or I still want to celebrate the weekend and eat out.
But my main message is that it is easy to not even realize how much you are spending on food each week. And that list doesn’t even include the random candy bars, bottles of soda or bags of chips that we pick up when we are hungry and in a rush.
Now that I do meal planning I spend about $150 a week on groceries. I shop carefully, but I still buy some “treats”, so we don’t feel deprived.
Before meal planning I still used to spend over $100 a week on groceries (and a lot of it would get thrown out because it went bad before we used it).
That means I’m saving about $200 a week on food… $800 a MONTH!
That will help your budget, right?
There’s a hidden benefit to meal planning to – better health!
Eating out is bad for us. Even if we make good choices and pick a salad over a burger, that salad is probably covered in dressing. We might have a couple of cups of soda, instead of a glass of water that we would drink at home.
Restaurant food is also prepared with much more salt, sugar and fats than we would use at home. By preparing our own meals at home we are cutting at these unhealthy extras.
The hidden calories and sugar in eating out are one of the reasons for the obesity problem in the USA. When you make your own meals you know exact how much fat or sugar you are using.
It’s also easier to track your weight in a food journal if you eat at home. Food journals are a proven way to help you make good food choices and lose weight.
The other benefit that I would label as a “Health” benefit, is the reduction in stress!
We’ve all been there. It’s 6pm, everyone is tired and hungry and you have no idea what to cook for dinner. It’s the daily stress on trying to make a decision at the end of a long day – it just exhausts you more and makes you even less likely to want to cook!
When I get home I already know exactly what we’re having for dinner – no decisions to make. My children also know what we’re having, so there is no “uhhh, I don’t want that”, because they know it won’t be changed on a wimp.
Also because I knew what we were going to have for dinner I made sure to get any meat out of the freezer the night before!
Life is easier, healthier and less stressful when you use a meal plan!
So now you know the secret to saving time, money and calories!
What’s your favorite way to meal plan? What surprising benefits have you found to planning your meals? Please share in the comment section below.