A friend suggested I post on what tips and tricks I use when planning meals on a budget. She mentioned things like meatless meals and using leftovers to make other meals, neither of which I do! But those would be good tips and I know some of you do those things for a variety of reasons (like time saving & convenience), not just for budget ones.
Here’s a short list of my own tips & tricks when it comes to planning and shopping for meals on a budget:
Make meal lists that you actually stick to and then make your grocery list straight off those meal lists. And then purchase (mostly) only what’s on your list when you shop. Be sure to include any dinner parties in your meal lists so that when the party comes up, you’ve included it in your budgeted list instead of going over budget for “special” things. Those can add up quickly!
I substitute ground turkey for ground beef in whatever meals I can. Sometimes we notice the difference and don’t like it, but many times that’s not the case. And ground turkey in the tubes is usually under $2 / lb. for the leanest stuff! (Bonus: this is also a healthy tip!)
I use coupons, but only if it’s cheaper to do so than to buy the store brand. The only items I cannot or will not buy store brand on are: Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (my husband will only eat the original kind & it has to be Kraft – but, yes, he will eat that kind even though it’s cheese!), Viva paper towels (I often find coupons for these anyway and several people have actually commented on how much they like my paper towels), Puffs plus lotion facial tissues (i.e. kleenex, but NOT Kleenex brand!) and Clorox wipes (even the Lysol ones are streakier & only save you a few pennies anyway).
Buy produce in-season. Often I’ve said that it is expensive to eat healthier because fresh produce can be so expensive and chips are $1! But if you purchase in-season produce, this is often not the case. If you’re unsure, simply do a Google search to find out what time of year different produce is in-season.
Either choose recipes that use cut-up chicken instead of whole breasts or whole pieces or convert the recipe to do so. This is a trick I use for many dishes because it allows you to skimp on the number of chicken breasts you have to use. If you use whole breasts, you have to use the same amount of breasts as equal to the number of people you’re serving. But if you’re cutting it up, you can often get away with using only 2 chicken breasts for 4 people, etc.
Make recipes that are large enough to allow for leftovers. This cuts down on the amount of food you have to buy for separate lunches.
Usually pasta and rice dishes are inexpensive, filling and can also be healthy options. They also fit the bill for some of the above items listed quite easily.
Shop at Aldi’s. It’s really been helpful for me. The items I buy there are always even cheaper than Walmart and I’ve even found some incredible deals on good produce from time to time. My friend Kim is an Aldi’s advocate as well. She spends $40 a week at Aldi’s for her family of 4. She sticks to buying only what she really needs; she is also a big advocate of keeping things simple & uncluttered in her life, so she doesn’t have a huge pantry of stocked items, just what she needs for the next couple weeks only. She is not big on cooking, though, so that’s something to keep in mind. (Addendum to this: sometimes I find that shopping at two places, like Aldi’s & Walmart for the rest of what I can’t find at Aldi’s, adds up to me actually spending more than if I just shop at Walmart alone. Not sure why this phenomenon exists, but it does. So be careful! Sometimes its better to just shop at one place, even if a few things are a bit more expensive.)
And I never, never shop only at ‘grocery’ stores like Hy-Vee, Baker’s / Kroger, even Bag ‘N Save (mostly
options). Sometimes with sales & coupons, these stores can have good deals, but for the majority of purchases, I find that I spend much less money overall if I shop at discount stores like Walmart and even Target. Though Target can still be pricier than Walmart on most items, and when you’re counting every single penny like me, that adds up! Here is just one example of this in practice: I priced canned chicken (generic) at Bag ‘N Save, Walmart & Aldi’s. Bag ‘N Save’s price was over $3, Walmart was about $1.99 and Aldi’s was about $1.50 (I've since noticed Walmart's price dropped even more - hurray!). Again, those savings add up over time! And I found the same to be true on shredded cheese. Sometimes I can find specific items only at those grocery stores, so I go ahead & splurge. But rarely! Omaha
It’s kind of hokey, but I swear by using a calculator when I grocery shop. It helps me stay on budget by keeping a running total. If I go over, I have to put stuff back! (I really, really hate doing that.)
I rarely buy in bulk. Even though it may essentially be cheaper per unit in the end to do so, it usually means spending big bucks up front. And I don’t have a lot of bucks to spend all in one shot. I have to stay on budget each time. So instead of stocking up on toilet paper once & taking a huge chunk out of my budget to do so, I buy a small package of cheap toilet paper each major trip (twice a month for us). That way I stay on track every time.
I do most of my major shopping all at once, supplementing with a couple extra trips as needed (like more milk or fresh produce) but keeping those to a minimum and keeping track of the overall budget the whole time. I’ve found that if I go to the store every few days & just get a few items each time, I spend more than if I do one major trip and a couple smaller ones.
Those are the tips & tricks I can think of at this point. Do you have some you’d like to share?