Housing, transportation, and food are the big three categories that make up the bulk of anyone’s budget. Getting a handle on these three costs will have the biggest impact on your ability to ramp up that savings rate.
Our food costs can sometimes sneak up on us. We spend what feels like smaller amounts regularly throughout the month, but when you add it all up at the end, the total dollar amount can sometimes be surprising — and not in a good way.
One of the things that has been the most helpful to me in cutting down my food costs (though it’s still a work in progress) has been meal planning.
By having a plan for what we are going to make and shopping for the week all at once, we cut down on those last-minute trips to the store (where you’re losing time and just buying stuff for one night’s dinner…and probably some snacks). It also provides clarity about what exactly we need to buy when we do make that weekly shop and can drastically cut back the nights we end up ordering in.
We used to meal plan week by week, but recently, we’ve started meal planning for the whole month at once. We started doing that before a particularly busy month because we knew once that work sprint hit, we just wouldn’t have the energy to plan our week’s meals.
We don’t necessarily stick to the plan perfectly and we end up moving things around a good bit depending on how many leftovers we end up having (and other things that come up). But creating a calendar of meal ideas and recipes that can last a month makes doing that weekly meal plan and grocery list a whole lot simpler. Plus, it shows us which days we already plan to go out to eat, which has helped us make better decisions about impulse take-out halfway through the week.
Here I’ve broken down what we ate in January and I’ve linked out to the recipes we used, where available.
Dashes represent meals that we skipped (not a great practice, but sometimes the day just gets away). Meals that say “work” are free meals included in some kind of work event.
|Sunday 12/29||Out of town||Penne w/ sauce|
|Monday 12/30||Penne w/ sauce||Mushroom ramen|
|Tuesday 12/31||Salad||MYO pizza|
|Wednesday 1/1||MYO Pizza|
|Thursday 1/2||Salad||Chicken tinga tacos|
|Friday 1/3||Veggie omelet||Chicken tinga tacos|
|Saturday 1/4||Chicken tikka masala||Sweet potato burritos|
Week one went great! We hosted some friends over for dinner on Tuesday and Thursday and made a bulk batch of sweet potato burritos on Saturday to freeze and use as easy meals throughout the month.
Check out these photos of the burrito making process:
Check out that technique!
|Sunday 1/5||Chicken tikka masala|
|Monday 1/6||Sweet potato burritos||Coconut curry lentils|
|Tuesday 1/7||Coconut curry lentils||Grilled cheese|
|Wednesday 1/8||Catering at work||Grilled cheese|
|Thursday 1/9||Coconut curry lentils||Spinach artichoke chicken with pasta|
|Friday 1/10||Spinach artichoke chicken with pasta||Grilled cheese w/ artichoke chicken|
|Saturday 1/11||Out of town||Out of town|
Our meal plan held strong on week two. We spent the weekend visiting my parents, so our meals then were covered.
|Sunday 1/12||Out of town||Grilled cheese|
|Monday 1/13||Orzo Salad with mozzarella and a hard boiled egg||Sweet potato burrito|
|Tuesday 1/14||Orzo salad with mozzarella and a hard boiled egg||Sweet potato burrito|
|Wednesday 1/15||Orzo salad with mozzarella and a hard boiled egg||Burgers from Burger Cinco’s food truck|
|Thursday 1/16||Random stuff I packed (apple sauce, chips, etc.)||Buffalo chicken sandwiches|
|Friday 1/17||Buffalo chicken wrap||Pasta with breadsticks|
|Saturday 1/18||Family friend took us out for lunch||Pasta with breadsticks|
Week three saw us eating out for the first time; one of our favorite food trucks was at our favorite brewery, so we decided to indulge.
|Sunday 1/19||MYO pizza|
|Monday 1/20||MYO pizza||Work dinner|
|Tuesday 1/21||Work lunch||Tortellini with pesto|
|Wednesday 1/22||Work lunch||Celebration dinner out|
|Thursday 1/23||Leftovers from celebration dinner out||Pesto & sharp cheddar grilled cheese|
|Friday 1/24||Work dinner|
|Saturday 1/25||Work lunch||Ate dinner out before an event in St. Pete|
Week four was a busy week for work, and I ended up getting a lot of free meals from work this week. We also went out for a celebration dinner because Cassie landed a new contract, and we ate out on Saturday since we were up in St. Pete for an event. Otherwise, grilled cheese was the star of the show this week.
|Sunday 1/26||Ordered food in||Salad|
|Monday 1/27||Leftovers from ordering in||Loaded sweet potatoes|
|Tuesday 1/28||Loaded sweet potatoes||Wild rice, chicken, & mushroom soup|
|Wednesday 1/29||Wild rice, chicken & mushroom soup|
|Thursday 1/30||Wild rice chicken & mushroom soup||Wild rice, chicken & mushroom soup|
|Friday 1/31||Work lunch||Ordered pizza|
During week five I got sick, so we ordered in two days and ate a lot of soup.
Meal planning is a great way to get control of your food spending, so if you’re not already doing it, you should give it a shot. It helps to have a couple of websites that you like. We use Budget Bytes pretty often because all of their meals are lower cost and usually pretty simple to make. We do modify almost every recipe we use, but that’s just to our taste. We don’t intensely meal prep — we just try to map out what we want to eat on which days, and follow it as closely as we can.