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When it comes to monthly expenses, groceries tend to be high on the list. For many people, it is the second-largest expense after rent. Whether you are on a tight budget or not, knowing how to meal plan on a budget can drastically cut your grocery bill, and with today’s food prices, who doesn’t want that?
Our top 17 tips for meal planning + grocery shopping on a budget are below. Scroll down to read all the money saving details below.
Table of Contents
- Key Takeaways
Tips For Meal Planning + Grocery Shopping On A Budget
- 1. Organize Your Pantry
- 2. Keep A Well-Stocked Pantry
- 3. Make A Short List Of Family Favorites
- 4. Learn To Love Leftovers
- 5. Invest In A Freezer
- 6. Think In Terms Of Nutrients
- 7. Eat More Plant-Based/Meat-Free Meals
- 8. Use A Meal Planning App
- 9. Prepare Food The Moment You Buy It
- 10. Eat Seasonally
- 11. Plan Your Meals Based On Sale Items
- 12. Join Facebook Groups
- 13. Don’t Shop At The End Of The Month
- 14. Where You Shop Matters
- 15. Use Food Waste Apps
- 16. Join Your Local Food Club
- 17. Grow Your Own Food
- Related Questions
- Planning your meals saves you time, money, and energy.
- Plenty of resources online make meal planning easy and less overwhelming. Facebook groups and meal planning apps are extremely helpful for guidance and inspiration.
- Knowing where and when to shop can make a huge difference in the cost of your monthly grocery budget.
- Exploring alternative means to acquire food or growing your own are excellent ways to cut costs while exposing you to new people, habits, and ways of obtaining food.
Tips For Meal Planning + Grocery Shopping On A Budget
Meal planning can feel overwhelming. Where do you start? If the mere thought of constantly wondering what’s for dinner makes you anxious, this article is for you! Meal planning doesn’t have to be complicated, and with our extensive tips, you will soon be a master meal planner!
1. Organize Your Pantry
Knowing what you have at home can save you a ton of money! We often buy items we think we need, only to get home and find them hidden at the back of the cupboard or fridge. Staying organized and perhaps making an inventory list will help you avoid unnecessary purchases. When organizing your pantry, check the expiry date on products and dispose of expired goods.
2. Keep A Well-Stocked Pantry
There are certain items that we regularly use when cooking at home. Herbs, spices, cooking oil, rice, and sugar, to name a few, are items that you always need. Keeping them at hand will make whipping up a quick meal easy and accessible.
Having the ingredients of one or two pantry recipes always in your pantry is a great way to ensure you can always make something to eat and save you from a trip to the grocery store or ordering take-out on days when you are tired or lazy. It may take a while to stock your pantry full, but as long as you start and actively build on it, you will save money in the long run.
3. Make A Short List Of Family Favorites
Every family has their meals that they always fall back on. Comforting meals, loved by everyone, and always enjoyable. Knowing your family’s favorites will take the guesswork out of meal planning on days when you are short on time or energy. Make a short list of two to five meals each for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that you can refer back to when needed.
4. Learn To Love Leftovers
While you may not be the biggest fan of leftovers, learning to love or at least tolerate leftovers will save you lots of money, not to mention time! You also don’t need to eat your leftovers the next day! To avoid boredom, you can freeze your leftovers and eat them a week or even a month later.
Cooking bigger servings will save you time and energy as you can freeze the extras, so you avoid food waste, and having ready-to-heat meals at hand will help prevent ordering take-out.
5. Invest In A Freezer
Buying a freezer may not be feasible on a tight budget, but if you can spend a few dollars on a freezer, do it. There is no need to spend tons on a new freezer; places like Facebook marketplace or craigslist are ideal for finding second-hand bargains.
A freezer will allow you to buy food in bulk when they are on sale and will make it possible to freeze leftovers and meal-prep for weeks in advance. You’d be surprised at the number of things you can freeze! From spinach to whole avocados to coconut cream!
6. Think In Terms Of Nutrients
This is a highly understated tip that many people neglect. When you are on a budget, knowing the nutritional value of the food you eat can save money and ensure that you are eating healthy despite your budget.
As an example of a carbohydrate, compare white bread to brown bread. White bread may be cheaper, but brown or wholewheat is healthier and more filling, which means you will eat less of it, making it cheaper per serving.
Natural plant-based proteins like soy mince, tofu, and lentils are cheaper than animal proteins. Soy mince has more protein than beef mince per serving and costs half the price. Even if you are not vegan or vegetarian, incorporating more plant-based proteins in your meals will cut your grocery bill significantly.
Pro Tip: If you don’t like the taste of soy mince, mix half and half beef and soy to disguise the taste and stretch your beef mince.
8. Use A Meal Planning App
Technology has made day-to-day life so much easier, meal planning included! There are plenty of apps out there that will make meal planning easy. Pepperplate is a free app that allows you to save recipes from the web, add your own recipes, keep an inventory of your pantry and make shopping lists.
For a better user experience, more customization options, and a few added features, Paprika Recipe Manager is a great tool for meal planning on a budget! Although not free, the subscription fee is low and once-off. A worthy investment!
Another option is Whisk, which makes recipes you save easy to checkout on various online grocers.
9. Prepare Food The Moment You Buy It
We’ve all done it; you buy a punnet of berries with the plan to eat them, of course, only to find them a week later, still in the punnet and covered in mold.
One of the simplest ways to save money on groceries is to minimize food waste. Wash your fruits and vegetables the moment you get home from the store. Put berries, spinach, and other produce in containers to be ready to eat. The less effort you need to put in the eat them later in the week, the more likely you will eat them.
10. Eat Seasonally
Eating seasonal fruit and vegetables has many benefits; the produce tastes better, contains more nutrients than crops grown out of their natural season, and is cheaper. Since seasonal produce can be grown locally, there are lower transport costs and thus cost less. Depending on your freezer space, you can buy more and freeze for later.
11. Plan Your Meals Based On Sale Items
Taking the time to plan your meals for the week will already save you money, but if you want or need to save even more, plan your meals based on sale items. Before planning your meals, look at your stores’ sales via flyers or their website, or use sites like My Grocery Deals, which show the specials of most grocery stores.
12. Join Facebook Groups
Plenty of groups on Facebook will help and inspire you. It is also worth joining your local community Facebook group to be in the loop about specials in your area and share extra food among neighbors.
13. Don’t Shop At The End Of The Month
Everything is more expensive, stores are crowded, and the whole experience is unpleasant, and you will dread doing it. Enough said.
14. Where You Shop Matters
Some stores are cheaper than others, and some are cheaper with certain items but more expensive with others. However, gas is not cheap either, so you must also consider your fuel cost.
Find the stores that are overall cheaper and relatively close to you, including bulk and specialty stores. Stores like Costco have a membership option for exclusive deals. Spice stores, for example, are way cheaper than spices bought in a regular store. Buy in bulk when you can, but only if it is cheaper and you know you will use the goods before they expire.
Many stores have online shopping, often with free delivery options. Farmers’ markets and local community gardens are also great places to shop.
15. Use Food Waste Apps
Many food waste apps today strive to eliminate food waste, making it possible for local communities to buy food at discounted rates from grocery stores and restaurants. While most of these apps sell surplus foods, Olio is an app that connects neighbors to allow the sharing of foods that are near expiry, about to go to waste, or simply in surplus.
16. Join Your Local Food Club
Not to be confused with food banks, a food club is a community initiative to connect small local farmers directly with the community. Food clubs have many benefits. You cut out the middle man, so food is cheaper. The food is fresh and often organic on a small scale. You are supporting your local community and helping small-scale farmers support their families.
17. Grow Your Own Food
Our last, but the most advantageous tip, is to grow your own food. Growing vegetables can save a lot of money if you have space. Many vegetables can be grown in containers if you have limited space, and if you truly don’t have any space, only growing herbs will save you money too.
Another tip if your space is limited, plant the most expensive foods and foods that don’t take up a lot of space. For instance, pumpkin is relatively cheap and takes up a huge amount of space, compared to peppers or aubergine, which are expensive to buy and don’t take up lots of space when grown.
Leafy vegetables like spinach only stay fresh for a few days to a week, while root vegetables can stay fresh for almost a month. Check out this resource for more food shelf life information.
Most prepared meals will stay fresh for about five days. If you prepare weekly meals, keeping them in the fridge is more convenient, perhaps freezing the last two meals of the week. If you are preparing meals in batches to be eaten weeks later, it is best kept in the freezer.
A balanced meal consists of carbohydrates (starch), a protein source, healthy fat, and vegetables. Buying only the cheapest of each food group and ensuring your meals contain all the food groups is the best way to eat healthy, despite your budget.