This post contains some affiliate links from brands we use & love that help us grow Clever Girl Finance! Please see our disclosures for more information.
Did you know the average U.S. household wastes around 32% of its food? This amounts to around $1,500 a year! We are literally throwing our hard-earned money in the trash. By using a monthly meal planner, you can prevent food waste, save money, and time.
Not only will creating a monthly meal plan help your budget, but it will also take out the stress of the infamous question of “What’s for dinner?” You'll know exactly what you are eating every day and can even prep a good amount of meals in advance. With a little help, you can create a monthly meal planner that you and your budget will love. Let's get into it.
What is a monthly meal planner?
A monthly meal planner is a calendar of scheduled meals for the month. Basically, you'd have a meal plan for each meal of the day for the entire month. You'd also need to print out a calendar sheet and write down each meal in the boxes.
This makes it easy to prepare meals and saves money by not eating out. As you plan your meals, you'd also make a grocery list for each week of the month with the ingredients you need to prepare your meals.
Making a grocery list will prevent you from impulse buying and forgetting items when you are shopping. It's a good idea to also take an inventory of items you already have so you don’t buy things you don’t need. If it's easier, you can break this process down into weeks if you’d like.
How can a monthly meal planner save you money?
By having a monthly meal planner, you can save time and money. As I mentioned earlier, knowing what meals you'll be making and having a list will help you stick to your budget and prevent impulse purchases. Taking an inventory of the ingredients you have each week can reduce spending money on double purchases and prevent food waste.
The rule is to only buy what is on your grocery list. You’d be surprised at how many impulse purchases you make when you don’t have a list. Not to mention forgetting essential items for recipes and eventually throwing things out because you didn’t make your planned meal.
The average American spends over $3,000 eating out every year! Let’s say you eat lunch out five times per week at $10 a day. That’s $2,600 per year you are spending on eating out. You could save quite a chunk of money by simply packing your lunch instead of eating out. A monthly meal planner can help you save money and have delicious meals too.
How to create a monthly meal plan on a budget
Being on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t have a nutritious and delicious monthly meal plan. The two actually go hand in hand. When you have your meals planned and lists prepared, you can shop according to your budget.
A great way to have a monthly meal plan on a budget is to use coupons. You can plan your meals based on what coupons you find. Couponing has never been easier, thanks to the digital world. You can load your coupons on your store savings card and simply swipe it for savings.
You can also find printable coupons on sites such as Coupons.Com, The Krazy Coupon Lady, Slick Deals, and More. Another savvy way to save money is to sign up for sites and apps such as Rakuten, Ibotta, and Fetch Rewards. These sites pay you cashback for your purchases.
Once you decide what coupons you will be using, you can now make your meal plan and grocery list. This way, you don’t purchase items you don’t need or waste them.
How much should you spend on groceries a month?
The average American household spends $300-$500 a month on groceries. Sometimes we spend money on more than we need. For instance, buying generic brands rather than name-brand groceries can help reduce your monthly grocery bill. Whether you have a small or large family, there are many ways to cut your grocery budget in half.
You can save a ton of money buying in bulk. Items such as toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, pet food, canned goods, and dry food items such as rice and beans can be bought in bulk. These items don’t expire or have extended expirations dates, so you don’t have to use them immediately.
You can buy fresh food in bulk too. You will just need to plan a day to prepare your food for the month and freeze your meals. By prepping your meals ahead of time, you will save time and money. You can vacuum seal your food to increase space in your freezer and keep your food fresh.
Many people will prepare their food on a Sunday. This way, you have all of your meals ready to go for the entire week. You can do this for the whole month if you freeze your meals. This frees up a lot of time from cooking every day and keeps your kitchen tidier.
Inspiration and ideas for your monthly meal plan
Creating a monthly meal planner doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You can jumpstart your monthly meal plan and join our 30-Day Budget Meal Planning Challenge for FREE! You'll also get access to our free meal planning sheets and grocery lists.
A frugal way to create your monthly meal planner is to make a dry erase board out of a picture frame. You can print your worksheets and put them in the picture frame and use dry erase markers to write down your meals. This can save you money on printer ink. Pick up a cheap picture frame at the dollar store or goodwill.
Keep It Simple
Remember not to overwhelm yourself with complicated recipes and meals. Keeping your meal plan simple will help you stick with your budget and prevent you from giving up on your new monthly meal plan. Picking simple recipes will also save you time when preparing your meals.
Moms were famous back in the day for repurposing leftovers. You can take side dishes such as macaroni and cheese and add hotdogs or tuna for a quick meal. Use leftover vegetables and make a soup or a pasta dish. Eat your leftovers for lunch, and save money on eating out that day.
You can find delicious and budget-friendly recipes and meal ideas on Pinterest. Their search bar is like a google search for any recipe you can think of. Simply type in things like budget-friendly meals, easy recipes, or quick meal ideas, and you will not be disappointed. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- 15 Pantry Meals using 4-Ingredients or Less
- 75 Amazingly Quick Dinners For Busy Weeknights
- 25 Cheap and Easy Meals Ideas For a Frugal Budget
- 30 Quick Healthy Meal Prep Ideas for Weight Loss
Easy Crock-Pot Recipes
One of the easiest ways to prepare your meals is with a Crock-Pot. There are a ton of recipes that are quick, easy, and that are yummy too! Check out these delicious recipes for inspiration.
- Easy Crock-Pot Baked Ziti
- Easy Crock-Pot Shredded Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches
- Crock-Pot Potato Soup
- Slow Cooker Macaroni and Cheese
- Crock-Pot Pineapple Teriyaki Chicken
Less Waste, More Time, & More Money
Just think if you use a monthly meal planner and stop wasting your hard-earned money tossing out those unused groceries, you can save up to $1,500 in a year! That's money that can go towards paying off debt or even investing for the long term.
It will also keep you from feeling guilty about wasting all that food for no reason. And, you will also have more time throughout the week by planning and prepping your meals ahead of time.
What are you waiting for? Enroll in our Free 30 Day Budget Meal Planning Challenge to get your meal planning worksheets and grocery lists!