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4 Tips For Frugal Meal Planning

I started meal planning last month. It is kind of embarrassing that I’m 40 years old and finally doing a formal meal plan.

I’ve tried doing it before but never stuck with it beyond a week here and there.

I was determined to make it succeed this time around.  Meal planning is a great way to save money, time and develop healthy eating habits while on a frugal meal planning budget.

I just finished a class called The Grocery Budget Makeover and can’t believe how much easier my grocery shopping is when I take a few minutes to do a meal plan.

You can read more about how The Grocery Budget Makeover saved me money here.

I keep my meal planning ultra simple. I know that if I over complicate things I’ll give it up and go back to my grilled cheese sandwich ways.  Not that they don’t still occasionally make the list.

4 Simple Steps To Create a Frugal Meal Plan

1.  Set Up A Meal Planning Schedule That Works Around Your Routine

Many people do their meal planning once a week. I have other friends who only plan 3-4 days in advance.

When you do your planning doesn’t matter. The goal is to develop a plan that works around your typical shopping routine.

I discovered that meal planning works best for me if I do it around my grocery shopping schedule.

I hate grocery shopping, so my goal is to only go once a week. Occasionally I have to make a milk or fruit run, but for the most part, I can get away with infrequent trips.

The less time I spend at the grocery store, the more money I save.  For me, being frugal starts with meal planning

2.  Plan your meals around weekly grocery sales

In Phoenix, the weekly ads come out on Tuesday with a Wednesday start date.

I use the ads for the closest two grocery stores, find the best deals and then plan my frugal meals around whatever is on sale.

For example, this week, Fry’s had Pork Loin on sale.

After being on vacation for the last two weeks, I knew that cooking would be the last thing on my list.

Pork Loin is the perfect crock pot meat, so that was the first thing that made my list.Is your grocery budget out of control? I found that the only way I could consistently save money on food was to meal plan. Meal planning is a great way to organize your time and help you save money. Learn simple techniques that will help you create a meal plan that works for your family.

I did a quick search for shredded pork recipes, wrote down the ingredients I didn’t already have and knew I had two meals taken care of.

Which leads me to my 3rd frugal meal planning tip.

3.  If possible plan multipurpose meals.

I always try and cook meals with leftovers. I may have mentioned this a few times in my blogging journey – I hate cooking!

I seriously mean it too – cooking is time consuming, frustrating and I’m just not very good at it. I can always find better ways to spend my time.

This means, that if at all possible I always plan meals that are multi-purpose. They either need to be big enough for left-overs or they are something I can use the main ingredient for a second meal.

For example, when I do shredded pork, I always have pork sandwiches for dinner the next day.

If I’m going to cook ground beef, I always cook a full batch. The first half will go into spaghetti or whatever meal I’m making and the second half will get mixed with refried beans to make burrito’s the next day.

At a minimum, I want my leftover to be enough for lunch the next day.  I’ve found that when I focus on frugal meal planning I’m always able to plan multipurpose meals.

The one thing that I do try and focus on is healthy eating recipes.

I’ve really tried to find recipes that I can sneak a few veggies into.  I always keep peppers, squash, and broccoli around the house.  I can add those ingredients to most meals for a little bit of extra color and flavor.

4.  Write Your Shopping List

The most life-changing aspect of meal planning for me has been shopping with a full list.

I’ve always shopped with lists but never taken the time to figure out a menu before going to the store.  This meant, I typically came home and then tried to figure out what I was going to make with all the random ingredients I purchased.

I’m sure most of you organized people are laughing, but hopefully, a few of you can relate.

This is also a great time to check your Ibotta App to see if you can save additional money on items you were already planning to buy.

Planning out my meals and then preparing a full list has virtually eliminated the last minute runs to the grocery store (which always results in buying more stuff) and the eternal question of what is for dinner.

I’m noticing that we are eating a more healthy assortment of food as well.

Learning to eat healthy while on a budget is significantly easier when you are meal planning.  If you are trying to eat healthy on a budget you may want to check out – How To Balance Healthy Eating With Living On a Budget

I still hate cooking, but I’ve discovered it isn’t as much of a chore when I have a plan and the ingredients to cook the meals.

I think that sometimes meal planning gets a bad rap. However, I’ve noticed on the weeks when I take the time to prepare a list and plan out my week I end up saving time and money.

Just for the record, there is no ideal meal plan.  In my opinion meal planning is a work in process.  Some weeks my planning is perfect and I use all the food in my fridge.  Other days, I still end up with wasted food.

However, since focusing on frugal meal planning, my waste has decreased significantly.

More importantly, though, my stress level has decreased.  Just knowing what I’m going to make for dinner has drastically decreased the stress in my home.

I knew frgual meal planning would save me money, but was surprised at the time I saved.

Shopping with a list made it easy to avoid certain aisles. I know I didn’t need anything on the cold cereal aisle, so I didn’t even have to walk down that aisle.

The biggest time saver was at home.

It is the small things, that you can plan ahead for when meal planning. For example, this week, I had two recipes that required peppers and onions.

I chopped up all of my peppers and onions for the first recipe and then stuck them in the fridge for later.

This allowed me to quickly prepare the second meal that needed peppers. Yet another reason that planning ahead saved both time and money. For once in my life, I actually used the entire pepper instead of half of it going to waste.

Additional Resources to help you create frugal meal plans

My next step it to try out the $5 Dollar Meal Plan. With the $5 Dollar Meal Plan, they do the meal planning for you. This also includes the shopping list – which is awesome.

I decided that for $5 a month, I could go out on a limb and see how well it works.

If you are on a tight budget and don’t want to try out the $5 Dollar Meal Plan check out this post by PFGeeks, he has a list of 46 meals that cost less then $2 per meal.  It is a very impressive list.

I’m super excited to try it out and will let you guys know how it goes.

Have any of you tried meal planning companies?  Did you like them?  Are their other companies you would recommend?:

Money Saving Tips:

My Favorite Cookbooks:

I do find recipes online but have found that I have an easier time cooking with an actual cookbook.  I’m probably just old fashion, but if you are looking for some new cookbooks here are a few of my current favorites.

  • American Test Kitchen – The Complete Cooking For Two Cookbook
    • A really good friend of mine (who loves cooking) gave me this book after multiple last-minute calls to him asking for help.  Including one incidence where I needed to saute onions.  Yes, I really am that bad.  Anyway, it is an awesome book that gives a lot of detail for novices like me.
  • Better Homes and Garden – New Cook Book
    • This is the book my Mom used.  It worked for her, so I still use it.  It has a ton of good basic recipes which is all I care about.
  • Crock Pot Recipes: Fix-it and Forget-it Big CookBook
    • The CrockPot is my life-saver.  Seriously I don’t know how people function without a crockpot.  I use this book all the time for quick and easy recipes.
      • PS.  Have any of you tried the Instant Pot yet?  I’ve been seeing a ton of stuff on it recently and kind of want to try it out.