There are numerous ways to maximize your budget when planning your meals. Planning your meals ahead of time is the first step. When you plan ahead of time, you can limit your grocery trips to once a week which saves both time and money.
One of the best planning methods is to plan your meals based on the weekly sales fliers. Each week when the sales ads come out, browse the ads for specific items such as meat and produce. Meats and produce are generally the most expensive items in your meals, so plan around these. For example, if chicken breasts are on sale, plan a couple meals that week with chicken as the main ingredient.
When planning your menu, make a complete shopping list by looking at your recipes and evaluating what you need. Check your pantry for any canned or packaged goods your recipes for the week require. Make sure to include any refrigerated or freezer items you need to your shopping list and pick up all ingredients needed for the week in one shopping trip.
Stick to your list while you shop. Impulse items add up quickly, so resist the urge to add these extras to your cart. If you are familiar with the store, plan your list according to the store layout. This saves time in the store and time is money.
Stock up on items that you frequently use when they are on sale. This may include items such as soups, pasta, tomato sauce, and other items that are common to many of your recipes. You can create a master list of frequently used food items to look for each week. Building a pantry of basic food is a money saver since you can shop from your pantry when you need these items instead of paying full price if they aren’t on sale when you need them.
Having a meatless meal at least once a week is good on your shopping budget. There are numerous pasta, rice, bean, or vegetarian recipes that do not call for meat. Build a recipe file of these meatless meals as part of your budgeting process.
Buy less expensive cuts of meat and use them in soups, or cook in a slow cooker to tenderize them. Ground beef is cheaper in bulk so buy it on sale and divide up into smaller portions. Freeze what you don’t use that week to use at a later date.
Serve breakfast for dinner once a week. Pancakes, waffles, French toast, and omelets are less expensive than traditional dinner entrees.
Make your own mixes. Prepackaged mixes are expensive and you can easily make your own by using items you have in your pantry. You can make your own mixes for brownies, cakes and pancakes. Bake cookies from scratch rather than buying ready made from the bakery or using refrigerated dough. There are many cookbooks and websites dedicated to making your own mixes.
Check your local bakery for day old bread. Bread freezes well, so stock up your freezer with bread to use later.
Many stores or butchers offer a discount on meat that is close to its expiration date. Get to know when they normally mark this down and take advantage of this discount.
Clipping coupons can also maximize your budget. If your store offers double coupon days, take advantage of this. When you combine a coupon with a sale, you add to your savings. Only use coupons for items that you would normally buy. Don’t get carried away and buy something just because you have a coupon for it.
By taking 20-30 minutes each week to plan out your meals, you can save time and money. You will no longer be caught at the grocery store right before dinner time trying to decide what to eat or spending extra money on takeout.