We all want to cut our grocery bill, right? I get asked this question a ton in my financial coaching practice working with clients. A lot of comes down to meal planning. 

I don’t know about you….but we spend about $10k a year on groceries. That’s a freaking lot to be so wishy-washy with this. Granted, we prioritize organic foods and grass fed beef. Most of my clients are also very health-oriented and live in high cost of living areas. 

I can guarantee if you think about your grocery budget as that much money….then you likely would be conscientious about the outflow and planning of it.

So, how do you get your arms around it?

Let me first be honest that I never had my arms around this….until my financial coaching clients started asking me for tips and I realized that I had better get my act together around my grocery budget.

I mean, I can help you figure out a plan for getting out of debt or get to financial independence (FI)….but groceries? Nah!

So, keep in my mind that my tips are coming not only from my experience but I directly have talked to many of you on what you do.

What I’ve found with everyone I have spoken to is they tend to fall into one of 3 groups:

  1. If you are in this first group, you likely underbudget. This is where I was in my 20s. You budget for your groceries like you weren’t really planning on eating for the month and then it stresses you out why you are “overbudget”. I suggest increasing what you budget for if you happen to fall into this group –  I have had quite a few clients like this and with this switch (yes, I know it sounds like simple) makes a big difference in their stress levels
  2. They have a pretty good handle on it. This is not a major area for improvement. Yeah! Teach us your ways!
  3. The third group is they buy over-buy food, some of it goes to waste, and they are overbudget. The good news is that there is room for improvement with some better organization, planning, and intentionally dwindling down your pantry/freezer. Keep reading!!! This article is for you!

Buying less, eating in, is generally the healthiest, saves time, allows me to declutter my pantry/freezer, reduce waste, and throw in money saving….all great reasons to tackle meal planning. I feel less stress when I have a plan – even if I don’t follow it to a “T” every night. Saving money is a helpful bonus too!

Here’s are some tips that helped me figure this out over time – but please know that I still have room to improve:

Tip 1: Create a super intentional meal plan and use up what you already have on hand

Repeat after me – “I meal plan”. Whether you believe it or not….you gotta meal plan. If you are serious about getting your budget down, “decluttering” your pantry, eating healthier, and reducing stress around what to eat every night….please meal plan. Do not wing it. You will buy more. Trust me. I have a pantry full of “aspirational” ingredients….waste of money.

  • Realistic about your energy and time. Don’t do what I did and plan an intense meal on a day you know in advance is crazy hectic. That is a perfect night to plan on leftovers or something quicker than normal
  • If you dine out weekly or like to grab take out, then put that in your meal plan….literally don’t buy food for that day. This also allows your mind to not wonder at night if you should go out when you have a designated day(s) to dine out. You have nights when you are eating in and nights that you go out
  • Pick one or two things in your pantry or freezer that you could use up. Google or go to Pinterest for recipes that you could easily make based on that ingredient. This serves two purposes: 1) use up your food – decluttering your pantry/freezer – and 2) it’s “free” – you already paid for it. I don’t know about you, but I get an immense satisfaction from using what I already have and seeing a slightly barer freezer or pantry every day. You?

Tip 2: Evaluate warehouse shopping

If Costco works for you, then that is awesome!

For me, I stopped shopping at Costco. I would find myself in that weird zone of despising going so I tend to buy as much as possible to avoid going again. Let me say that again….I spend more money to avoid going back there for awhile.

That costs me a ton. So much for “savings”. I leave Costco with a bill of at least $200-$300 and it immediately pushes me overbudget for the month. It’s a yo-yo pattern.

Second, I think buying a lifetime supply of toilet paper sounds nice and it gives me warm fuzzies to think of it, but I hate having so much stuff. It sounds great at the store but then when I get home…..I think “now, what do I with this stuff?”. Where is it going to go? I gotta have storage for it.

So, we have not renewed our Costco membership this year…..and it’s been 8 months. I never have been more budget. If we need anything, I just buy it exactly what I need at Amazon or Target. There are usually sales.

Tip 3: Make and plan fun meals that you love to eat

Eating at home is usually not as fun as dining out. It has a stigma of not being fun, especially if you kind of come from a past of enjoying dining out a few (5?) times a week previously. I mean, how can eating at home even compete with the new adventures, fun environment, and no dishes to clean?!?

You gotta make eating at home fun. Think of it as a time saver. If you think of it as saving money, you are gonna be disappointed.

Create dishes that you actually look forward to and actually take out like take out. Your anticipation of these dishes is fun and builds positive thoughts around dining in.

This is a tip from the Lazy Genius.…but make sure sure you have a list of quick, guaranteed “crowd-pleasers” that you can get on the table in no time. Make sure those dishes are really things you look forward to.

For example, my most favorite dish ever is this one…. Dragon Noodles from Budget Bytes (I use Thai rice noodles and Coconut Aminos to make it gluten free!). You usually have this in your pantry and half a pack of noodles is more than plenty for 2 people. Add whatever protein (or keep it to eggs) and vegetables you have….it is such a flexible meal and it takes like takeout. I also rarely have cilantro or green onion on hand – but yeah, that makes the dishes even more amazing! See how flexible it is?

Have a list of dishes like this – whatever you like – that get you excited about eating at home and you can put together from your pantry/freezer.

Photo from Budget Bytes Blog. Click on pic to see recipe. Again, I make this GF with rice noodles + coconut aminos

Tip 4: Keep experimenting until you find a system that works for you

I cannot stress this enough. You have a unique personality. There are some many tips out there on the internet about what you could do to be more efficient with your groceries. But those tips have to work for you!

There is likely a system out there – some combination of all the tips in the world – that will help you become better at this.

I have been reading about people creating meal plans centered around their pantries/freezers for at least ten years….did I ever consistently stick with it? Nope!

This is why I find it so ironic that I am writing this post today. I am the most reluctant meal planner in the world….but I did it out of stress and wanting to make sure that simply I stopped stressing about what to eat.every.night. Decision fatigue when my mind wants to be anywhere but in the kitchen. Knowing kind of what I am making allows me to just tackle the cooking at 5:30 – get in, get it done, mission accomplished.

My current system is to use a separate weekly planner for tracking just this area of my life….so keeping our food in a planner helps me so help. Sounds funny, but I know what I am eating week, but plans change or I switch up the order….I didn’t like crossing out things (even white out) in my daily planner….so having a separate place to write and track what we do has been perfect for me. Plus, I can see my history – what worked, what didn’t work and I can make change my behavior faster by seeing it one place. I can get as messy as I want….I feel so much more organized and on track with it!

I got this idea from Emily Ley….so I can’t take credit for it. I was already using a separate system for kind of tracking sessions with my clients and our last check-ins, so when I heard of her idea….I knew it was a winner.

I know this sounds like a broken record but a habit is more likely to be successful if it is married up to an existing habit you already have.

As far as other systems that work well, we also buy our groceries online. I place the order online each weekend and arrange for my husband to pick up the groceries. The time coincides with when he is already out and about….so it has been a seamless process for us. Boom! Replenished food in my house with little energy.

Tip 5: Think of the benefits

Again, this tip is more for the reluctant meal planner. You can’t focus on how this will save you money.

You have got to tie it into other things that you value: 

  • less stress because you have a plan
  • reduces decision fatigue every night
  • eating healthier a bit more consistently (not to say that you can’t get healthy meals out – but you know exactly what is in the food you are eating…this is your fuel)
  • opportunity to declutter your pantry/freezer
  • emotional high because you feel like this is an area that you are learning + improving
  • make it fun

Finally...

Do you have any other tips out there for what has helped you if you aren’t a natural at meal planning? I would love to know! Leave a comment below!

If nothing else, remember this takes practices to create good habits. Just start by creating a meal plan. Be flexible. Add some fun dishes to it. Turn on that stove and get cooking. Keep tweaking it until you find a system that works for you. You can totally do it!

About Green Bites Project

Hey! I’m Darcie. I work with amazing clients on transforming their financial habits so they can live a more purposeful lives. In 2019, so far, my clients have saved or paid off over $200,000….and they are changing their financial futures. You can read more about that here.

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