One of the best things about summer time, is the bounty of fresh food that is just a short drive from where you live. If you live near a community garden, farmers market, or even a local farm, you have access to some amazing produce.
Don’t get me wrong. I love to eat out. It is not that I’m super frugal, but if you ask me the prices have gotten out of control, especially at the most popular restaurants and fast food places that everyone goes to. Why? Because they can, and everyone will still go there.
So, one thing that helps a lot with that is to plan ahead for meals.
You may have heard that it is hard to eat healthy on a tight budget, but it is actually possible, and planning your meals can be the key to a healthier and more balanced diet. You will probably find that you will save money in the long run.
I like to plan our meals for the week in the beginning of the week, then I make grocery shopping lists and check my list for ingredients and amounts. Then, I begin shopping for ingredients (and I’m particularly choosy about meats) for our meals.
Here are some tips for planning meals on a budget that have helped me personally.
1. Make a shopping list
This may sound basic, but it is the most important tip. I always have a list of items I need for a week. That way I am not buying items on impulse, and I also know what I need to buy. When you get to the grocery store, you are less likely to get lost in a maze of products and more likely to buy what you need.
2. Keep a running list throughout the week
You should keep a running list of your meals so you do not forget what you need. It is easy to buy ingredients for your meals and then have no idea what you are going to make. You can add recipes to the list if you know you want to make a specific recipe when the idea comes to you. This is a good way to ensure that you do not run out of ingredients or miss any that you needed. After all, it’s hard to remember every single one you needed by the time it gets to the end of the week.
3. Keep it simple
Do not get overwhelmed with planning your meals. There is no need to buy everything you see. There are only so many meals you can make in a week. So you may be surprised at how much food you can get away with. You do not need to buy all the exotic ingredients in the world. You can use basic staples and get creative with them.
4. Keep your meals within your budget (do the math!)
It is easy to spend more than you planned when buying groceries. Make sure that you keep your budget when planning your meals. You can also look at the recipes in this book and see if there are some you would like to try, and then, here’s the key part: do the math.
I know, I know. You probably don’t want to, but I bet you that you’d at least agree with me that you’re pretty much guaranteed to stay within your budget if you do the math for everything when you plan it out. that way, your credit card bill isn’t going to pull any surprises on you.
5. Shop the perimeter
This is a great tip to help you plan your meals. Look at the perimeter of the grocery store and see if you can get by with the basics. If there is a specific area that you like to shop, try to go to that area of the store. You may be able to get more produce in that area.
6. Don’t get caught up by a brand’s marketing
When you’re at the store, don’t get caught up in the hype. Remember that every family member will have their own taste for different things. Do some research before you head to the grocery store and make a list of ingredients and meals you can buy that will be affordable for your family.
7. Shop when you have the time
Make your list of items and be sure to shop when you have the time. You can make more trips to the store and be more successful.
8. Make your own sauces
When you are going to cook something, make your own sauce. This will help you save money. You can use your spices, herbs, and vegetables to create your own delicious sauces. You can add the spices and herbs to a blender or food processor. Blend or process until you have the consistency you like. Add the vegetables and combine until you have a sauce. You can also buy a ready-made sauce and use it as a base.
9. Read the labels
Read the labels on your food before you buy it. If you see anything that is not a good idea, skip that food. This is especially important when buying food that you will be eating with others. Some people are allergic to specific foods. If you see a label with the words “contains nuts”, “contains dairy”, “contains gluten”, “contains eggs”, “contains soy”, “contains peanuts”, “contains wheat”, “contains barley”, “contains potato”, “contains fish”, “contains pork”, “contains beef”, “contains shellfish”, or “contains lactose”, skip that food.
10. Buy in bulk
Buy in bulk to save money. If you are going to buy a food that you use a lot, buy it in bulk. Buy a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, a pound of butter, a box of pasta, a can of soup, and a package of rice. This will help you to save money because it’s cheaper for the amount that you get.
Ever seen those labels in the store that say “price per oz”? Use those to figure out how much you’re really spending.
An additional tip to add to this one: Have a freezer in your home? Buy things that you want to freeze, and then you don’t have to worry about where to put it. It goes without saying, that it will save you money through less waste.
11. Go to a discount store
I love a good discount store. They have everything, and if you find a good deal on something, you will save money. When you go to a discount store, always be prepared to walk out with an armful of items. You will be tempted to buy more than you need. If you do, you will end up spending more money than you would if you had just gone to a regular store.
12. Don’t pay full price
If you want to buy something that is not on sale, and the price is over $10, ask yourself if it is really worth paying the full price. If it is not worth it, skip it. It’s that simple.
If you manage to work your meals around what you can find in the discount section, then you’ll actually end up with some nice variety to your meals too. Especially since you’ll have to get creative at times with how you use what’s available.
At the very least, if you can swap some of your core ingredients for those that are on sale, then that’s a meaty discount on your food bill (if you excuse the terrible pun).
13. Find a way to get free things
This is a great way to save money. Find a free service that you can use, or sign up for a service for free. Some places give out introductory snack boxes or meal combos, though they may not be available in every state or country. It’s worth a Google search at the very least.
14. Go on a coupon website
This is another great way to save money. Find a website that will send you coupons, and then go to the store and buy what you need. This will help you to save money.