Thanks to Melissa from Food on the Table, a meal planning service. I’m glad that she provided this post, since I’m still recovering from my camping trip.
Setting up a budget is always a good idea when you’re trying to stay on top of your personal finances. It’s a great way to set up limits in different spending areas so you don’t risk spending too much overall. That said, sometimes budgeting isn’t specific enough for some categories. Take food as an example and you’ll see where the issues can come up. If you can spend $100 on food, where should that money go? Food could mean groceries, eating out at a restaurant, and even the snack you grabbed at the gas station. When it comes to your food budget you should consider implementing a meal planning strategy. Read on for tips on how to get started.
Meal planning is pretty much what it sounds like. Your goal is to plan out your meals in advance so you can control your spending and get more bang for your buck. The timetables and strategies for meal planning differ somewhat depending on your situation and tastes. Some people plan a week in advance because they want more flexibility. Others plan out months in advance in an attempt to save more money. Generally it’s good to have most of your meals planned out far in advance if possible.
As we mentioned before, there are several approaches you can take. The first revolves around staples and bulk foods. In this strategy you want to find meals that include ingredients that are easily bought in bulk for low prices. For example, you can often get bulk oatmeal for a great price, so you might make a plan that includes an oatmeal breakfast regularly. This strategy is generally stable over time, unless bulk prices change.
The second strategy is to focus on sales. If you choose this option then you’ll be hunting coupons and tracking down sales whenever you can. The idea is to stock up on sale items so you can use them later. In this case, your plan will need some more flexibility to accommodate unexpected sales. Depending on what you buy, you also might have to eat the same item over and over again if it expires relatively quickly. In the long run you’ll get more variety with this strategy, but that’s not always a good thing. The variety in ingredients and meals also comes with a variety in prices. It can be difficult to keep within your limits when you don’t know exactly what prices are going to be, but it’s possible if you’re vigilant.
The last strategy is a combination of the two above. With this, you plan out staple meals far in advance but leave room in the near term for meals based on sale items. This is where you get the best of both worlds: Good prices and variety. If you’re just starting out with meal planning then this is a good place to start. If you find that you would prefer one of the other methods you can always switch, and this way you’ll be introduced to both strategies.
Maximize your returns on your food budget with a meal plan. Your stomach will thank you!
Melissa is a guest author and foodie. Her weekly grocery list usually includes a mix of sale items and staples.