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How To Make A Food Budget AND Stick To It: Mini-Series Part 3

In part one of this mini-series we looked at cutting back your “eating out” expenses. Then in part two, we took a look at the other major food category – the food you prepare at home, better known as your “grocery budget”. Now we’re ready for part 3 – meal planning!

The Basics

In part 2 of this food budget mini series you calculated your family’s monthly food budget range. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to use my family’s budget as an example. Our monthly grocery budget is $300. That includes all food purchased (except $50 per month for eating out) plus other ‘grocery store items’ such as toilet paper. Once you know your monthly food budget, the best way to help your family stick to it is through meal planning!

What Is Meal Planning?

Meal planning is exactly what it says… a plan for your meals. I know it sounds obvious, but we know from experience that tons of us aren’t doing it on a regular basis. Prior to starting our Total Money Makeover journey, my idea of meal planning was to make a list of everything I needed for Thanksgiving dinner in order to ensure I’d purchased everything prior to that morning. Turns out, that WAS meal planning, but the problem was I was only meal planning for one meal (a year)! Yikes!

*Side Note: If you aren’t on a tight budget you can still meal plan to help keep your family organized, just list the meals you’d like to eat each week and make your list from there. But for those of you like me, that are on a tight meal budget, keep reading!*

Let’s Get Started… Breaking Down The Numbers

Now that we know what Meal Planning is, it is time to break down the numbers.

My family has 3 people (two adults and one toddler). That means that I have $100 per month to feed each of us, but obviously my son eats a lot less than his dad does, so I prefer to break down the numbers by day and meal.

$300 per month divided by 30 days means that my family has $10 per day to spend on food. That is an average of $3.33 per meal. Wow! That can sound really intimidating since just a package of chicken is likely to cost that much – how on earth are you supposed to supply a whole meal for such a small price? Thankfully there are a few tips to making that happen…

How To Stretch Your Grocery Budget Strategically

  1. Make a list of your family’s favorite meals – I divided my paper into 3 categories: breakfast, lunch & dinner. I listed things like spaghetti, lasagna, chili dogs, grilled chicken salad, etc. All of my family’s favorite meals.
  2. Price Out Your Ingredients – Spend an hour at a local store (or break it into many smaller trips) to price out your recipe ingredients. For example, my family likes macaroni & cheese with hot dogs. That meal requires: 1 package of hot dogs, 2 boxes of macaroni and cheese, one cup of milk & a scoop of butter. The total cost for these ingredients is approximately $1.94. (Using this method does mean you need to estimate the cost of the cup of milk compared to the whole gallon for example.) Add the total cost of each meal into your list from step 1 above.
  3. Analyze Your Results – Now its time to take a look at the trends. Are your favorite meals on the cheap or expensive side? How do your meals compare to your per meal budget? In our case, my goal is to have each meal cost $3.33 or less. My mac & cheese with hot dogs example only cost $1.94 so that means it fits our budget well. Consequently, meals that are more expensive appear less often in our meal plan. You can also consider a few other questions: are these meals ones you like to have a on a weekly/monthly basis? Are there cheaper alternatives – such as generic brands or homemade versions? Answers to these questions will help you to have a more clear vision of your meal plan.
  4. Filling In Your Meal Plan – Now the fun begins… its time to fill in your meal plan. Our normal breakfast costs us about $1 per day. So on a day where we have our normal cereal, followed by our hot dog with macaroni and cheese lunch that leaves us with just over $7 for dinner. That means we can have a slightly more expensive dinner and still stick with our $10 per day budget. By pairing together expensive meals with less expensive ones you can do the same thing quite easily. Fill out your meal plan on a calendar or our helpful printable (link in resources below).
  5. Make Your Shopping List – Since you know exactly what you plan to eat in the coming weeks, you know exactly what to purchase. Make your list and head to the store with cash in hand. Stick to your list and your budget without cheating and you’ll be successful!

Helpful Meal Planning Resources

Congratulations! You’ve reached the end of our 3 part How To Make A Food Budget AND Stick To It Mini-Series. Now you have all the tools needed to make a food budget for your family to follow and a long list of tips to make it work. I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below. Let us know what positive and negative experiences come up during the process – I LOVE hearing from my readers. 🙂 

Happy Meal Planning! 🙂
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate marketing links that compensate me for sales.

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