5 Ways I Save Money by Meal Planning

meal planning
You can make this step as simple or as complicated as you like. (Photo: Emily Carlin [CC BY-ND 2.0]/Flickr)

When I first heard of meal planning years ago, I thought it was a good idea but I didn’t think it was for me. As my children got older, though, I realized that meal planning would help me on many fronts – we wouldn’t be repeating the same meals, I’d have meals planned for busy afterschool activity nights and as an added bonus, meal planning saves money.

5 ways meal planning saved me money

1. Work with what you’ve got

If you’re having a tight budget week or merely want to cut back on spending, plan meals based on what you’ve already got on hand. Go through your pantry, refrigerator and freezer and figure out what meals you can make out of what you already have. Get creative!

2. Shop the sales

Find the sales circular from your favorite store and use it to plan your weekly meals. Is asparagus on special this week? If so, plan to eat asparagus a few nights.

3. Reduce food waste

I am guilty of getting overzealous on my shopping trips and buying more food than we could possibly eat before it goes bad. When I meal plan, I know how much food I’ll need for the week and I don’t overbuy.

4. Plan for leftovers on busy nights

Ballet nights are hectic around my house. The kids and I have to get home and eat a quick and light dinner before getting in the car for the 30-minute commute to the ballet school. When I meal plan I can have something ready that can be reheated quickly.

5. No indecision and last-minute restaurant trips

Have you ever stood staring into the refrigerator wondering what you’re going to cook then say to yourself, “Bah! Let’s go out to eat!” I know that I have and that is the quickest way to bust your food budget. Meal planning eliminates this problem.

Over the years I have used several different meal planning methods – from a pen and paper to an Excel spreadsheet to specialized apps. Lately, I’ve found PepperPlate to be the ideal meal-planning app for me. I use it on my laptop as well as my iPad and iPhone.

I can quickly add recipes from popular recipe sites like Epicurious.com and Martha Stewart or manually input my own recipes. I then add these recipes to my weekly calendar and it automatically creates a grocery list of items that I need.

Do you meal plan? If so, how has it helped you save money?