While I’m a huge advocate for meal planning, and religiously do so myself, life isn’t one size fits all. Some people may not be able to stick to the meal plan, which results in extra trips to the store to pick up extra (out of budget) ingredients last minute. I may push monthly meal planning, but one thing I push even harder is truly saving money. If you’re blowing your budget by not being able to stick to a meal plan, you’re in luck! There is still a way to save tons of money on groceries without planning meals in advance.
This isn’t a ZERO planning option!
But it does require significantly less planning than my traditional monthly meal planning routine. If you want to save money, you have to do at least a little planning. Preparedness is key.
How to save money on groceries without monthly meal planning
It’s not as difficult as you may think.
1) Know your list of stand-by meals.
The things you always eat. Tacos, burritos, hamburgers, grilled chicken, pasta, stir fry, etc.
The ingredients to make these regular rotation dishes are your core ingredients.
2) Compile a list
Your goal is to always have the pantry staples/core ingredients to make all of these meals at any time.
3) Keep your pantry stocked with your core ingredients
That way, you don’t have to plan well in advance what to eat. You’ll always have the basics on hand, like canned beans, rice, frozen vegetables, eggs, pasta, seasonings, sauces, etc.
This is only works if you..
4) Watch grocery meat sales, and stock up on mark downs
That is, if you eat meat at all. If not, skip to step 5!
For my meat eaters: You can pick up a huge package of ground beef when its on sale/markdown, then bring it home and toss meal-size portions in your freezer. A 5 pound package of ground can be frozen into 5-10 portions, depending on how much meat you need to feed your family.
Maybe you’ll find a big package of chicken on clearance. Buy what you can afford to buy, and freeze it. This is the basis of having of regular rotation of meals you can always make. Stock up when you find good deals so you always have something to make.
5) Embrace vegetarian options
Try to include at least one or two vegetarian meals into your rotation. Beans and lentils are two of my favorites, after 20 years of vehemently insisting that beans are disgusting and I’ll never eat them. Try it! Vegetarian meals are often much cheaper, as animal protein is typically the most expensive part of a meal. If your family enjoys having bean & cheese burritos, you have an option to throw together if you’re somehow out of frozen meat.
This leads us to step 6.
6) Be aware of what you have on-hand at all times
Take a regular peek in your pantry and freezer. Make sure you’re keeping stocked on the items you need to keep this system rolling. If you’re going to the store, make sure you know how much of your core ingredients, meat and produce you have. That way, if you find a good deal that’s in-budget, you can snag it!
But, speaking of that. This whole thing only works to your benefit if you:
7) TRACK your expenses
If your grocery budget is $300 a month, and you’ve spent $260 already, you need to be aware of it. You only save money by knowing what your budget is, how much you’ve spent, and how much you have left. Whether you use a cash envelope system (post coming soon!), or just keep a running total in your phone’s notes app. Track how much you’ve spent to keep yourself in budget.
While I still insist that monthly meal planning can be adapted to fit all kinds of families with all kinds of schedules, if you’re not into it, this may be the key for you! You can still fly by the seat of your pants with “what’s for dinner,” while still staying in budget. I do believe there is still a middle ground between this, and my monthly meal planning strategy. I’ll delve into that in another post soon – I’ll link here once it’s up!