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Is meal planning to save money really a good idea for those with busy, demanding lives?
When I started meal planning, I discovered that, not only did it save me time, but it was a brilliantly simple way to save money on groceries.
Picture the scene. You get home from work tired and frazzled. The kids are hungry, and you have to get them fed before you help with their homework and sort out the pile of paperwork you have been ignoring for days. There are tons of things in your store cupboard, but nothing you can quickly and easily make into a meal. You phone for a pizza and two minutes later you are £30 down….
Life is busy, especially for working families. However, many of us need to tighten our belts from time to time, and you only have to see the news headlines about the cost of living to realise that this is undoubtedly an occasion for financial prudence.
Here are some good reasons to plan your meals to save money on groceries and some thoughts on how to get started.
Meal planning helps you budget
Meal planning will enable you to set a budget for food and not over spend. Many of us just buy what we think we need without considering how much we are spending.
If you know in advance what you plan to cook and eat, you can work out roughly how much it is likely to cost and set your budget realistically. Then stick to it!
Reducing food waste
Meal planning reduces food waste. Buying food that you don’t get round to eating is like throwing money in your garbage.
When you come to write your meal plan, start by looking through all of your food cupboards, your fridge and your freezer to see what you already have. Write down meal ideas as you look at your ingredients, and start a shopping list for other things you need to pull together your ideas.
Check your fresh and frozen produce to see what needs using first and incorporate those into the first few days of your plan.
You may want to plan all of your meals; breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. I tend to organise just our dinners in detail, and have various options for other meals. For example, cereal and fruit for breakfast, soup or sandwiches for lunch, etc.
Making the best use of your time
When you are meal planning, look ahead at the coming week to see the days when you will need something quick and easy and those when you will have more time.
When you know you will be in a rush, make sure there is something convenient such as a frozen pizza available. This will stop you phoning for one!
Once you become more organised, you may choose to use your time more effectively. For example, you could chop up the meat and veg for a casserole one evening and throw it all in your slow cooker the following morning.
There is nothing like getting home from work to the delicious smell of dinner all ready to go, especially on a cold winter’s evening.
Some people do the bulk of their meal prep on a Sunday evening, chopping veg, hard boiling eggs, grating cheese, etc, to speed up making meals during the week.
Others batch cook to save time and enable them to buy larger, more economical packs of food. For example, you could bulk buy mince and then make a huge tub of bolognese and several cottage pies in one go, freezing some for the following weeks.
When you have planned in advance and bought the ingredients you need, batch cooking and meal prep are a cinch.
Buying only what you need
Another little scenario for you – I have done this, and I am sure you have too! You arrive at the supermarket without a list, wander around throwing stuff in your trolley, with just a vague idea of what you need, then get home and realise you have no toilet roll or teabags.
However, you do have five cans of beans to add to the five you forget you had in your cupboard, and you bought more apples when you have some going wrinkly in the fruit bowl.
By meal planning and making a shopping list, you will only buy what you will realistically use that week and not spend money unnecessarily.
When you get organised with your food, you can make savings in other ways too.
You can begin to add cheaper meals to your meal plans. For example, you could eat more pulses like chickpeas and lentils, either instead of meat or to bulk it out.
You can plan for snack attacks in the evenings, and have some cheap multipacks of crisps or chocolate in. This will stop you popping to the local shop when you are hungry and spending more than you intended to (although you do have to stop yourself eating them all at once).
If you go for a day out, you can save a lot of money by taking a picnic and some drinks with you. So plan for these occasions too and add what you need to your shopping list.
Meal planning really is the secret to saving money on groceries, but as you can see it has many other benefits too. It saves time and stress, helps prevent food waste and stops you phoning for takeaways quite so often!
To give you an idea of how I go about meal planning, check out this video on YouTube.
Shoestring Jane is a full-time self-employed mum of three daughters. Her frugal partner in crime is handyman extraordinaire, Mr Shoestring. They are constantly on the look out for ways to save and make extra money. Read more on her blog, Shoestring Cottage.