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If you are on looking to save money and balance your budget, then one of the easiest ways to cut back is on your monthly grocery budget. Meal planning is seriously the easiest way to save money on your grocery budget. And, when done right, you can cut your grocery budget in half (or more).
Grocery costs are the most flexible expense on most people’s budgets, which is why it can be so easy to save money by just planning ahead.
I have to admit that meal planning was one of my biggest struggles. Not that I did not know how to save money on groceries. The thing was that I did not really know how to put it all together into a plan that would save me a bunch of time as well as money.
I always shopped sales, which is why I had a ton of food that I save money buying. But what I also had was a fridge, freezer, pantry and chest freezer full of food that I had no plan on when or how to use.
As you can imagine, I also wasted a lot of money on food after having certain items in my fridge go bad, or freezer-burned food in my freezer.
Not to mention, having a pantry too full to find anything didn’t help one bit either. I would just end up buying those items over and over again because I had no idea that I already had them on hand.
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Why I decided to make a change
Let me tell you something about myself. I hated preparing meals daily, I truly do! It is my least favorite chore, yet I have to do it day in and day out. I mean my family has to eat, right?
It’s not because I hate cooking or making delicious meals. The thing that bugged me the most is that it seemed to take so much time out of my day. Prepping meals, cooking and cleaning all the dishes I used to prep and cook. Then after everything was all said and done, I’d have to start cleaning all over again.
Luckily, I finally decided to learn everything I could about meal planning that has totally changed my view about cooking, prepping and planning.
How to Cut Your Grocery Budget In Half
My Daily Meal Prep
I finally learned the RIGHT way to meal plan and it has literally cut our grocery budget in half. I also have to add here that I live in a rural town. There are only two grocery stores within a 40 plus mile radius of my home and they are privately owned.
This means no Walmart Supercenters, no Costco’s, no Sam’s Club, Trader Joe’s or BJ’s. The only national chain store in my area is a drug store, which I do utilize for certain items.
So, if you think that not having access to these types of stores makes saving money on groceries impossible, then I am here to show you that it is possible.
If saving money on your grocery budget, spending less time preparing meals and cleaning up sounds good to you, then read on to find out how I made it work for me and how you can too.
The first thing that I needed to do is take inventory of everything I currently had on hand. I took stock of my overloaded pantry, freezers, and fridge. From there I made a plan on how I would use what I already had on hand.
There were plenty of meals that I could think of to use most of these items. But I didn’t want my family saying, “this again” all the time. So, I searched online for some recipes that would utilize the items I had on hand to help me expand my meal planning.
I made the items in my fridge a priority to make sure that I did not throw out any food that might go bad.
While doing this, I saved myself from doing a full-blown grocery run for over a month. I just needed to go and pick up a shortlist of items each week which was a big boost of encouragement to keep at it.
After about a month, I was finally able to actually see what we had on hand. This is when I started organizing my pantry, fridge, and freezer so I could easily take inventory of what I had available.
I started by emptying out one space at a time and placing everything on a kitchen table (I started with my pantry). Were there any items that were expired? I set these aside to get rid of.
Are there items that I purchased that I thought my family would like but ended up hating? Are there items that I had way too much to use before they expired or would take up way too much room for too long? These items were set aside to donate to our local homeless shelter pantry.
Next, I put bulky items such as flour and sugar bags into airtight containers that not only preserved them better but also saved me a lot of space and was easier to find.
I then grouped all like items together. All boxes of pasta together, small seasoning packets together (I used a small tray I purchased from the Dollar Tree to keep them organized).
I also purchase three can rack dispensers (similar to the one below) to organize all my canned fruits, vegetables, and soups. This really helps to keep my pantry organized, save space and to help me see what I have and need.
I put taller items in the back of the pantry and smaller and shorter items in front to make everything easy to see at a glance.
Lastly, I installed some small trays (again from the Dollar Tree) to the inside of my cabinet doors and on the top of the inside walls (where space is usually lost) to put spices and other smaller items.
I also used this technique for my fridge and freezers. I’m sure you get the picture on how to do this. All you need to do is organize them (and keep them organized) in a way that will make everything easy to see and access.
After I finally decluttered my food storage areas, the next step was planning for purchases. I used to just keep buying some items over and over again because they were items we used often. Yet not realizing we still had plenty on hand, because of all the clutter, I had no idea if we needed them or not. With an organized kitchen, creating a shopping list of things we actually needed became a whole lot easier.
Sale Items are the core of my plan now that I have my act together. I will never pay full price for any food staple we use regularly again. This includes meat, which is the biggest expense to most people’s grocery budget.
I plan my meals around what is on sale. I think that when many people hear this, they get turned off and may come to the conclusion that they will be eating a certain item all week long just because it is on sale. That is not how I go about it, just because chicken is on sale this week, doesn’t mean we will be eating chicken every day next week.
Grocery stores run sales on items in cycles. The most common is every four or six weeks depending on the store. Once you know what the sale cycle is for the stores you shop at, saving money by never paying full price will become much easier.
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Calculate how much you need
Now that you know your grocery store’s sale cycles, you can better plan when creating a shopping list. Let’s say that the sale cycle at your preferred grocery store is every six weeks. You check out the sales flyer and see that they are having a great sale on chicken, cold cuts, canned vegetables, and pasta.
You would then calculate how much of each of these items that you normally use in six weeks so you know how much you should buy to last you until those items go on sale again. And because these are staples you use regularly, they will not go to waste.
It may take up to six weeks to get caught up on maximizing your saving on sales items. But once you do, you will never be paying full price again for groceries you use all the time.
This is where my meal planning takes a twist into not only saving money but also a ton of time. I am big on the idea that “Time is Money”. The less time I spend doing everyday tasks, the more time I have to do other things.
After I had taken all the necessary steps to save as much money as I could. My next goal was to save as much time as I could without giving up the quality of our meals. Freezer cooking just jumped right out at me as a great way to save time.
Learning about the concept of freezer cooking sounded like the perfect solution. Freezer cooking is basically, prepping as many meals that are freezer-friendly ahead of time. Then you just take them out of the freezer to thaw and into the oven or crockpot for quick and nutritious meals.
I spend about three hours every other weekend prepping my freezer meals. I normally prepare 3 dishes and make about six of each meal at a time. That is 18 meals ready for the coming months. Then a few weekends later I make different dishes in the same quantities.
I find it easier to freezer cook this way because I am basically batching my work together to save time. So, if I am in chopping vegetable mode, I do it for all 18 meals at once then move on to another task. This saves me a ton of time on clean up too. Casseroles and crockpot meals are great choices to start freezer cooking.
If you are looking for help to start freezer cooking, you should check out My Freeze Easy. This is a service run by Erin Chase that totally rocks at meal planning and freezer cooking. She has a FREE Freezer cooking workshop that will help you get started.
Lastly, after supper each night, I take any leftovers that there may be and create single servings and freeze them. These are great for lunches later in the week to take to work or school.
What’s great about this is that you never waste food that may sit in the refrigerator for a little too long. It’s also really nice because we have a variety of different meals to choose from. We don’t end up having to eat the same thing for lunch as we had the night before.
Another plus to this system is that everyone can choose what they want to bring to school or work. The kids (and my husband and I) can just choose what we would like to have for lunch for the next day and just throw it into our lunch bags…super easy right! And never any waste!!
More tips to save
Seasonal items – Purchase fruit and vegetables that are in season to save more money. You can work these into your freezer meals. You can also freeze or can them for later use.
Coupons – I do use coupons, but I am by no means an extreme couponer. Instead of buying the Sunday paper, I scan sites like coupons.com, coupons.com, Smart Source, and Hopster for coupons on items that are already on my shopping list.
Shop drugstores – Drugstores can be a good resource for certain items. Although the selection is limited (at least in my area), we can still get great bargains. You can get great deals on certain items such as cereal, canned soups, coffee, and milk.
Grow your own vegetables – Growing some of your own vegetables is not as difficult as you might think. I do not grow a huge garden, I started out with a few containers. Once I was more comfortable gardening, I moved on to a small 4 x 4 foot raised garden bed. You can grow quite a bit of vegetables in a small space and it saves time on maintenance as well.
Products I Use
Products that I use that have helped me in my journey of cutting my grocery budget by more than half. These items are just suggestions and are products that I use. There may be other items on the market that would do just as good of a job.
Vacuum sealing food containers
Food Saver System
Casserole dishes with lids
Space Saving Garden
Cutting your grocery budget in half is totally doable. It just takes some planning to get the most savings you possibly can. Before you know it, you will have cut your grocery budget in half saving you hundreds of dollars every single month.