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Does Meal Planning Actually Save You Money?

  October 22

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So many blogs and articles have spread the idea that meal planning is one way to save a bunch of buckaroos.

I totally see why the experts say that. Heck, one of my closest friends swears by it.  I’m either doing it wrong or I just don’t have the right set up here in Grenada, because meal planning is actually almost twice as expensive for me.

When I meal plan:

  1. I have to spend time thinking and researching meals to make.
  2. I always have to purchase some small ingredient that I don’t have on hand.
  3. I feel really great and organized for the week, but it costs me more.

When I don’t meal plan:

  1. My meals are slightly more boring.
  2. I usually make chicken and veggies or fish and veggies, which is pretty healthy.
  3. The meals are far from elaborate, and no one’s going to call me to start up my own cooking show (which, thankfully, I am a-o-k with!)

The thing is, my goal right now is to work as hard as I can and support my busy hubs, not to have elaborate meals. I usually eat by myself at night and set aside some food for the hubs for when he comes home from studying. I used to drive to campus and deliver his dinner at the study hall every night last semester, but he insists that he gets in the zone and is happy eating healthy snacks until he can get home for the real deal.

Last month, when I was much more vigilant about meal planning, I spent $571US at the store. This month is going to be more like $400-$415US just because I am purchasing food to make meals that are much more simple with way less ingredients.

I’m sure others could make a great argument for meal planning, especially if you’ve lived in your home a long time and have a stock pile of small ingredients to use. For us, it’s just not working, and we’re way too busy at this point in our lives to spend time worrying. Plus, I’d rather have a smaller grocery bill and enjoy a nicer meal out from time to time.

So what’s your stance on the whole meal-planning thing? Have you tried it before? Does it help you get through the week? Is it more or less expensive than just making simple meals every night? Spill it (pun intended.)

19 responses to “Does Meal Planning Actually Save You Money?

  1. For us, meal planning seems to increase costs because making a bunch of small meals means we tend to end up either wasting food or buying too many different types of ingredients. We usually make one or two big batches of food through the week and eat those, supplementing with quick easy meals for the rest.

    1. Couldn’t agree more. Strict meal planning doesn’t work for me. I might try one or two new recipes a week tops (and try to ensure they use similar ingredients), while the rest of my shopping is based around what’s on special and what’s fresh at the shops.

  2. Really weird you posted something about meal planning, about a month ago my husband and I decided to do it. So far, it has worked wonders for us. We only plan dinners but we keep it relatively simple. Mon- meatballs and spaghetti and a salad, Tues- tacos and a fruit salad, Wed-leftovers, Thurs-chicken and a baked potato, Fri-fish and potatoes, Sat- chili, and sun-eating out. Sometimes it varies a little like instead of spaghetti we do some sort of pasta. We chose Wednesday as leftovers bc it’s our busiest day and Saturdays chili bc he’s home all day and Sundays we aren’t home at all so we eat out. It has saved us money bc we buy what we need only, we don’t throw away food like we used to(ex: we’d buy veggies and never use them), and we dont resort to eating out just bc we are too hungry to think of something and we don’t fight about dinner, which was a huge problem. We also are eating healthier bc normally we’d make just fish or just noodles and there’d be no fruit or vegetables. Seemed to really solve the problems we encountered.

  3. What works best for me is planning meals, not so much for a budget, but as a stress reducer. If I’ve already decided what’s for dinner, half the battle is already fought when it’s time to cook, especially on those days when I’m pretty darned exhausted and don’t much feel like cooking. (I guess it helps a bit with the budget because if I cook we’re not giving up and going out to eat!) I’ve also learned to stretch ingredients into multiple meals – one pork shoulder was BBQ for a couple of meals, then went in a salad, and finished up in enchiladas. But sometimes it’s hard to have all that inspiration at once! If you ever get a chance, I highly recommend reading Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal, which is about making the most of your groceries, and making awesome food on a tight budget. I picked it up a month or so ago at my library, and it’s a really awesome perspective on how to really get the most out of your food.

  4. I don’t do it more for the fact that I’m picky so I decide day by day. If I need something that day I’ll just pick it up on my way from something since there are so many stores. That way I don’t waste food I don’t want. Another thing is it’s just me, so most of the time when I make something, it lasts for several days, so no real need to plan ahead.

    1. Lol. Food is very expensive here in Grenada since it’s all imported, so those numbers are a little high!

  5. We plan out our meals, but only to save time! When we both get home from work late and just want to heat something up that didn’t come directly from the box and freezer, this process works out good!

  6. I don’t mind meal planning but I find it a lot of work. I would recommend making meals with less ingredients – there are usually more simple versions of a recipe out there, it doesn’t all have to be super complicated and expensive. And if you find the simpler version, then you would save a lot.

  7. Wow! Food is expensive in Grenada! I seriously find that planning meals does save money.. reason being if we have a meal plan then we are much less likely to have a cheat day and get takeaway!!

    1. Yes, it’s definitely expensive. That will be one perk of moving back home to the States next year!

  8. Kelly and I meal plan, but we have a routine. We have a monthly menu on which we always include spaghetti, two pork chop dishes, two chicken dishes, two beef dishes, two vegetarian dishes, and homemade pizza twice. I also always buy the meat in bulk and freeze it, which helps save some money. We also buy frozen veggies in bulk and keep them in the freezer. But most importantly, it’s a time saver!! No questions ever about what to make for dinner!!

  9. I started this year with written meal plans and loved how organized I felt. Instead of worrying about what to make each day I just had to look at the plan and take stuff out of the freezer. Now I just do the planning in my head. Our dinners are almost always simple but it is still taking us along time to reduce the amount that we spend on groceries each month. It is usually between $400 and $500.

  10. I think it really depends on your family structure. For example if my hubby is gone for a week I can literally eat whatever I have…cereal, eggs, sandwich ect. But my hubby likes different types of meals. He isn’t a big left over person either. So if I were by myself I wouldn’t need to meal plan, but when he is home it is best for me to meal plan, bc I cook every night. I’m sure too once you have kids it really is cheaper to meal plan than to go out and drop $60-70 on one meal….

  11. I did a meal plan for the first time a couple of weeks ago and so far I think its working great. I made a plan for four weeks using meals that I always make anyway and keeping things simple. If I don’t know what I’m going to make I tend to go for more processed, quick and less healthy stuff; this also usually means more expensive. If I’m not paying attention and a meal gets late the kids tend to start noshing on whatever they can find and then eat a meal too. This way if they know something is in the works they don’t get too worried about their tummies. I plan out the meals so that all my ingredients are related to other meals and nothing I don’t normally use. I shopped for two weeks ahead, but did have to resupply on something but other things I haven’t used. I haven’t followed the plan exactly, but have juggled some of the meals around or skipped some altogether due to unforeseen absences from home. Benefits so far: less waste, less junk, less overeating, less expense. I think less junk(=less expense) happens because I’m not focused on having stuff to get me out of a jam. Not overbuying and paying attention to what I already have and working that into the plans. I’m lucky we have our own beef and garden produce.

  12. I’ve been using meal planning for 20+ years now – ever since my son was born, and it definitely saves me time, money, and stress. The secret is to plan out the meals that you already make – your “boring” chicken and vegetables, for example, goes on the plan. I have a rotating 4 week plan. I plan for 3-4 meals a week, the other nights might be leftovers, take out, or some new recipe that I want to try. By having our meals on a rotation, I know that I won’t have the same thing for another month. I’m a working mother, and most of my meals are made in 30m. Once you have the 4 weeks planned (and it could be more weeks if you want), it takes me about 10 minutes to plan the weeks meals and make the shopping list. I have a spreadsheet that includes all the ingredients for each weeks meals, all I have to do is check off if I need any.

  13. I haven’t had success with it the few times I’ve tried. It does tend to be more expensive for me. Maybe I’m planning too many meals or getting too fancy. For me, with one kid and husband, I find it cheaper to wing it. I’ve considered a meal planning service to figure out how to do it better, but I’m afraid it will still cost more plus paying for the service.

  14. I have definitely been in the situation where meal planning makes for a more expensive shopping cart. I find the key is planning in a simple way (much like a boring chicken, vegetable, rice stir fry). Looking up a bunch of recipes often leads to the complication of needing extra ingredients as you mention. It’s also important to remember how much you will realistically eat in your household. For example, I live alone. When I meal planned, I used to follow charts created for whole families where a different style meal is planned every night. Cooking for one, I really need to only plan 3 or so meals that each create 2 portions. This provides me 6 nights. I then allow myself kind of a cheat/comfort food night, which might be take-out, a frozen pizza, mac and cheese, etc. I then keep my breakfasts and lunches excessively cheap and simple (in general). Yogurt, eggs, oatmeal, etc. for breakfast. Simple sandwich with a piece of fruit for lunch. I often make my own bread for the week, which reduces costs even more. Snacks on hand are also cheap (when I’m planning) … pretzels, cheese, fruit, nuts, popcorn (from scratch), etc.

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