At the beginning of my personal finance journey the more I researched the more “meal planning” popped up as a solution to spending less on groceries. According to the USDA for December 2020: a family of four should (on the “thrifty plan”) spend somewhere around $675.00 a month if they have two pre-teen children (ages 9-11). I am pretty sure the average American family spends way more than the food plan amounts reported by the USDA every month. The worst part is that often this means a massive amount of waste.
A Way Forward
You’ll hear every financial guru mention meal planning over and over because it is the most effective way to save: you’re only buying what you need and you’re wasting less. This process is much like exercise but once you get going it becomes automatic and very simple.
- Start by pulling out anything rotten, stale, or expired and set it aside on a counter or a table.
- Put similar items or duplicates together.
- Now, look at all of the stuff you pulled out. You’ll often see that lots of people will buy the same DAMN thing in multiples and not even realize it because they simply didn’t check what they had before shopping.
- Evaluate the expired/stale items, are you saddened by the amount of stuff that went bad? The first time I did this I had so much to throw out it felt like throwing stacks of twenties right in the trash.
This is a good thing to do each time you are getting ready to shop so you’re cognizant of what is about to go bad and needs to be used and also what you already have for meals and recipes.
Start small and begin with planning 2-3 days worth of meals keeping in mind the ingredients you already have. Think about what you and your family would consume in one whole day, not just for dinner. Start with breakfast, then lunch, will there be leftovers from dinner or are you fine with some type of sandwich? Then you move onto dinner and think about whether or not you prefer a dinner with leftovers or one with just enough food. If you go the leftover route make sure you also include when you’re going to eat them. The last part of the plan is any snacks or drinks you may want to buy like milk, juice, alcohol (but keep it to a minimum).
Make a List & Stick to It
Now that you’ve written down your meal plan for those 2-3 days make a shopping list of ONLY the things you’ll need to complete those meals. There will be times when you’re surprised to find that you already have most of or even all of the ingredients in your home already!
For beginners I recommend buying your groceries online first with a service like InstaCart, many stores offer this service. Even if you don’t meet the minimum amount for an order and have to pay a $5-10 service fee I want you to use it anyways. Here’s why: when most people go to the store they meander around the store and buy a bunch of additional crap they don’t need. The grocery store makes colorful eye catching displays for this very purpose and by ordering online you’re avoiding that temptation.
Choose Your Own Food Adventure
Think of it as a food adventure, there are lots of wonderful raw ingredients and you can create meals ten times better than most restaurants. We have so many great recipes we enjoy that we rarely go out to eat because we actually PREFER our own recipes. I encourage you to go out of your comfort zone and use free apps like Pinterest and Food Network to push the boundaries.
You’ll find some recipes to not be quite your taste or to be harder than you anticipated and that’s fine, they won’t be all winners but you’ll gain experience. When I look at new recipes I can imagine what some would taste like and if that flavor profile fits my family. Cooking and preparing your own food helps slim your waist and fatten your wallet.