How to Menu Plan When You’re on a Budget

Meal plan on a budget? How???

If the thoughts of meal planning while sticking to a budget overwhelm you, read on. You’re gonna be surprised at how easily you can save money making your weekly (or monthly) menu.

In fact, it wasn’t until my husband and I decided to really stick to a budget that I started saving money like crazy with my meal plan.

For some reason, the challenge of sticking to a set amount of money each week really motivated me. This is coming from a girl who never really considered the bank and always counted on her husband to figure out where the money was coming from. (Shameful, I know.)

Since I started meal planning, I’ve been able to cut my weekly grocery bill in half. I was shocked at the difference weekly meal planning made in our budget and I’m excited to share my best tips for how to meal plan on a budget with you!

Can Meal Planning Really Save You Money?

Not only can meal planning save you money, it’s also one of the easiest and best ways to do so! When you intentionally plan what you need for the week ahead of time – breakfast, lunch, dinners, and even snacks, you know exactly what you need to buy – no more, no less.

This also allows you to go to the store only once, which will be an incredible savings. In fact, studies have shown that the more often you go shopping in a week, the more you will end up over spending.

My husband and I love to challenge ourselves when we go grocery shopping. We stick exactly to the list without adding anything to the cart that isn’t on the list. One time we broke down and added just a few extra things, thinking it wasn’t much.

Weren’t we shocked at the checkout to find that we’d spent an extra $50 that we hadn’t planned on. The things is, they weren’t even that great of additions. Nothing we though about intentionally!

Another added benefit of meal planning is that you can plan your meals around ingredients you already have in the house. That will be a huge savings.

Have you ever found yourself buying things you already had on hand, but didn’t realize? How about the freezer burnt meat you bought months ago, but forgot about and never used. Meal planning will help you avoid those situations. 

These Tips Will Help You Save Money While Planning Your Menu

Imagine if you just incorporate a few of these tips! You’ll save yourself a ton of money! Then just think what would happen if you used them all!!

1. Shop Your Pantry First (Your Fridge and Freezer, Too!)

If you really wanna save money meal planning, then the very first thing you should do when you plan your menu is to pick recipes that use ingredients you already have on hand.

We all have the best of intentions when we shop, thinking we’ll use our ingredients for specific recipes, but that doesn’t always happen (especially if you haven’t been in the habit of meal planning up until this point.) Whenever that happens, make sure to plan your meals around those ingredients first. It will save you lots of money.

2. Keep Track of Your Inventory

When you meal plan it’s important to make an inventory list of what’s already inside your fridge, pantry and freezer so you can use up these items.

This gives you less to buy and saves you money, but also creates less waste. And I’m not just talking leftovers or extra meat in the freezer. Do you have left over lettuce? Or leftover BBQ sauce? Use meals that incorporate these, so you don’t waste anything. (Pro

Tip: You can find an inventory tracker in The Decluttering Binder. It’s super helpful!)

Also make sure to keep track of everything in your fridge, pantry and freezer that doesn’t need to be used up right away, but can be used for future meals. For example think dried pasta noodles, frozen meats or condiments.

These can all be used for future meals, again saving you money and creating less waste. Don’t forget to keep track of baking supplies and spices, so you know what you have and when you need to buy more. 

Wondering how to meal plan on a budget? Check out these easy tips to save money while you grocery shop.

3. Make Sure to Plan Your Meals Around the Sales in Your Local Grocery Store

One of the best ways to save money on your meal planning budget is to plan your meals around the sales in your local grocery store.

Take a few minutes to go through all the ads that have shown up in your mailbox (or your email inbox) this week and plan meals around them. Also compare prices of things not on sale, so you know where to shop for the cheapest food. I’ve found a great hack for how to do this that you can read about here. 

4. Use All the Food You Buy

I know it’s tempting to deviate from the menu, but don’t do it!***

Like I said above, don’t let anything go to waste. Even that half eaten lettuce head or those leftover tomato chunks in the fridge can be used for something. Get creative. Is ground beef on sale?

Use your leftover lettuce and tomatoes for tacos. Already had tacos? Make a small salad for lunch or put them on a ham sandwich. The closer you stick to your meal plan, the easier it will be to stick to your budget.

5. Use Up All Your Leftovers

You might not realize it, but your leftovers can be a treasure in disguise. I know leftovers might not be the most appealing, but if you learn to use them, you’ll stretch your budget to the max.

Freeze them, serve them for another meal, or pack them as a lunch on the go. Whatever you do, make sure you use them! Do not let them float to the back of the fridge, only to grow mold, and eventually get thrown out! 

6. Cook Meatless Options Several Times Per Week

Another way to save money is going meatless. Try planning at least one meal a week where your staples are veggies with pasta, potatoes or rice on the side. Pasta, potatoes and rice are all very filling, easy to add variety too and very very cheap!

Not to mention, you can find a variety of good meatless recipes on just about any recipe site online. 

7. Cook in Bulk

Bulk cooking is where you cook one dinner that is big enough for two or three dinners and you put the leftovers in the freezer for future meals. How does this save money?

Imagine you’re making taco soup. You can buy a larger package of ground beef, since most meat is cheaper when you buy bigger quantities at a time. You can also buy multiple cans of beans while they’re on sale. Or buy them in bulk for a discount. Another option is to soak your own dried beans overnight for super cheap.

This gives you a way to cook three meals for just over the price of one. Cooking in bulk is a great way for you to save money and stick within your budget while meal planning.

8. Stay Away From Complicated Recipes

As fun as it may seem to pretend you’re a gourmet chef, complicated recipes often call for a lot of ingredients, which means more food to buy, jacking up your food bill pretty quickly.

Something that cost only a dollar or two more might not seem to make that much of a difference when you consider it alone, but if you’re buying 20 extra items each week, that cost a dollar or two each, it can end up adding quite a bit to your food budget at the end of the month. 

Stick to recipes that are simple and basic and only utilize a handful of ingredients.

9. Shop in Season to Meal Plan on a Budget

It’s fun to try different fruits and vegetables, but a simple trick to stretching your budget is to buy fruits and vegetables in season. Not only will they be cheaper, but they will also have a richer flavor.

Also be aware that things like fresh fish can also have seasons where prices go up and down. So keep tabs on everything you buy. Use this food guide to shop in season in your local area.

10. Cook What Your Family Likes 

It seems like a no-brainer, but if your family doesn’t like what you cook, they’re not gonna eat it. Period. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to catch on to this one!

Your family (and you) will be more willing to stick to the menu, as well as eat up leftovers if you make sure you’re cooking things you family actually likes, not just what’s the cheapest. If your family doesn’t eat it, it doesn’t matter how cheap you bought it for.

Keep a running list of all the meals your family really enjoys and build your menu plan from that list. This will also help speed up the planning phase of your meal planning in the future. 

11. Join a Food Co-op

Many areas have food co-ops where a group of people will get together and buy bulk foods at inexpensive prices. Since the co-ops usually have a minimum amount for ordering, this isn’t easily achieved on your own.

By joining a food co-op, you can take advantage of great prices and there’s not usually a fee to be a part of them. Most people are happy to have several people involved in the co-op so they can make sure and meet the minimum amount for an order. I buy bulk popcorn, beans, legumes, nuts, oats, etc, in our local co-op.

To find one in your area, try googling, local food co-op or do a search on Facebook.

12. When You See a Good Sale on Food, Stock Up – But Don’t Go Overboard

Remember, if your family won’t eat what you buy, it’s not worth it no matter how cheap it is. But if you find dried pasta for a really good price, and you frequently eat pasta, go ahead and stock up.

It will save you money in the long run because pasta lasts a long time and it is something you know you will eat. But don’t be too over ambitious. If you see a good sale, that doesn’t mean you have to buy enough to last you a year! Just get enough for a couple dinners, maybe lasting you a month or two.

This will help stretch your budget tremendously!

13. Say, “No” to Unnecessary Items Such as Snacks and Junk Food

Most growing kids need snacks. And let’s be honest, most of us adults need them too, in the middle of the day! But that shouldn’t give you the go ahead to buy whatever sounds good to while you’re at the store. Snacks can really add up if you’re not careful.

In The Meal Planning Binder there’s a space for you to plan your snacks for the week. So make sure you plan out what you need so you don’t buy just want you want, spur of the moment! Those snacks can add up price pretty quickly if you’re not careful. Don’t skip planning snacks! It’s an important step in sticking to your budget when meal planning. 

14. Bake or Cook from Scratch When Possible

Everyone has a busy schedule, and there are days when popping open a can of spaghetti sauce is so much easier than making your own. And that’s ok. But try and make as much as you can from scratch (if you want to save money when meal planning. If you’re going for saving time, then skip this step! ;).

Make your own seasoning mixes. A packet of taco seasoning you buy at the store can be really convenient. But if you plan ahead, you can make your own taco seasoning with the spices you already have.

Like I said above, if you cannot buy 20 extra things each week that cost a dollar or two each, then by the end of the month you can save yourself a good chunk of change. It’s the little things like that the really add up. 

15. Use Coupons to Meal Plan on a Budget

I know! No one likes to be behind that person in line who has hundreds of old coupons they’re thumbing through in their purse, looking for just the right one.

But coupons can save you a lot of money in the long run! Just make sure to keep your coupons organized with your list and throw away expired coupons. That way no one behind you will get impatient and you don’t waste extra time at the grocery store, but you’ll save a ton of money in the meantime!

16. Use Cash-Back Grocery Apps

Cash-Back grocery apps are super simple to use and some of them can cover almost your full grocery bill, as long as you plan your menu around their list of foods.

How do they work?

Most Cash-Back grocery store apps have a list of food for you to buy. When you get home, you simply take a picture of your receipt and the products you bought, upload it within the app and they (whichever app you’re using) send you a check!

You can check out a list of cash back grocery apps here!

17. Buy Generic Whenever Possible

I know there are some name brand products that seem to be irreplaceable (I personally will never leave my Franks Hot Sauce behind), but when name brand isn’t a necessity, it’s usually cheaper to buy generic.

Most crackers and cereals taste the same, or at least pretty close, to their name brand counter parts and I, personally, have never noticed a difference in things like sour cream or butter. Whenever possible, buy generic. Your wallet will thank you!

18. Join a Meal Planning on a Budget Facebook Group and Ask for Ideas

I had no idea how to meal plan on a budget when I was first getting started. I was overwhelmed, to say the least! But since I was so serious about saving money on my grocery bill, I knew I had to do something.

I found this Facebook group and would you believe that after only one post asking for help, I saved over half of my grocery bill the first week!

Asking for help is a good way to learn how to stretch your budget, because let me tell you, there are some pretty amazing people out there with ideas that I would never think of!

19. Scour the Internet for Cheap Menu Planning Recipes

The internet is a minefield of new ideas! And meal planning is becoming such a hit that people are always posting new dinners recipes, as well as ways to save money, so all you have to do is take 10 minutes and you’ll get hundreds of ideas.

Another great place to look is Pinterest. Pinterest is definitely one of my top places to go searching for new recipes! 

20. Use The Meal Planning Binder to Meal Plan on a Budget

The most important thing about meal planning is staying organized. There are a lot of steps to becoming a successful meal planner. But no worries! That’s why I put together the perfect Meal Planning Binder.

Not only does this menu planner have space for your menus, recipes for the week, and ingredients needed, but also a place for a list of the ingredients in your pantry, fridge and freezer so you can plan meals around what you already have!

It also has places for dietary needs, local sales you want to remember, a calendar where you can write down all the busy things going on in the week and more! 

You definitely need to check it out. Especially if you want to learn how to meal plan on a budget! Make sure and click the link to find out more!

Other related meal planning articles:


What tips do you have for how to meal plan on a budget? What would you add to this list? Comment below and let me know! I’d love to hear!


Wondering how to meal plan on a budget? Check out these easy tips to save money while you grocery shop.


How to Meal Plan {on a Budget}