By Julie Jaggernath
Meal planning is a way to get yourself organized before you shop for groceries. You decide what you want to eat for every breakfast, lunch, dinner, and all the snacks in-between. Then no matter how you do your grocery shopping – in person, click and collect, through an app, or on a website – you only buy what you need for your meal plan. When you stick with only buying what you need, it’s much easier to keep within your budget. Not convinced? Here are 6 specific reasons why you’ll save money:
1. Less Wasted Food
Throwing out food is the same as throwing out money. After all, not only do you spend cash on groceries that just feed the trash, you also have to get them, bring them home (or pay for delivery), and store them. This all costs you time, energy, and of course, money.
When you buy according to your meal plan, you know that nothing will go to waste. Fruit and vegetables won’t get mushy and rotten. Milk, meat, and cheese won’t spoil. All those boxed goodies that are so easy to forget will finally get finished before they get stale. And if you need another reason, less wasted food is great not only for you and your wallet, but the environment as well.
2. Cheaper Munchies and Snacks
Popping into your corner store and picking up a snack each day takes a serious bite out of your bank account. You might not realize it right away because you’re only spending a little at a time. But like anyone who has ever tracked their expenses has found out - convenience costs a lot more than most people realize. So how does meal planning get rid of this problem? Glad you asked.
When you’ve planned what you want to eat for the next week or two, you can buy bigger packages and portion out what you like to eat by making your own non-perishable snack packs at a fraction of the cost. If you have kids or teens, involve them with packaging their own snacks. They’ll get to eat what they want and you get to save money with less wasted food and no picked-over assorted packs with leftovers they don’t want.
3. You Use Up What You’ve Already Bought
Have you ever come home with what you thought you needed, only to find out it’s already in the back of your cupboard? Or maybe you forgot that you stocked up when a favourite item went on sale. When you make a meal plan, you have time to check what is already in your pantry or freezer. Then you can focus on buying what you actually need. This strategy helps ensure that your shopping list is leaner and your wallet fatter. It also reduces the chance of adding impulsive purchases to your cart.
4. Less Grocery Shopping Trips
How many times do you go grocery shopping in a normal week? If you shop more than once, you’re likely spending not only more than you need to on groceries, but you’re probably picking up some extra items along the way that you don’t really need.
Stick with only one grocery shop every 7-10 days to save time, energy, and money (yes, we’re saying it again). This will help you shop strategically for meal ingredients so that you can avoid picking up what you need at a convenience store with less variety or higher prices. And if you’re worried that you won’t get everything you need in one trip, use a meal plan.
5. Fewer Take-Out Meals and Drinks to Go
You might be sick of hearing that the cost of eating out adds up, but it’s true. What feels like a harmless $10 “once in a while” lunch or quick bite to eat while shuttling kids can quickly turn into a black hole of expenses sucking up your pay cheque. Drinks are often an even worse culprit. If your routine includes even a $2 coffee every weekday, then that comes out to $520 a year!
Meal planning helps you avoid these high-cost, budget breaker items and chances are that you’ll also eat better with your own home-cooked food. However, that’s not to say that you can never visit your favourite restaurant anymore. Part of your meal plan and budget can include an occasional splurge as a reward for your hard work or a break for your busy schedule. The key is to fit this splurge into your overall plan and know that you can afford the expense. Then it will feel like the treat that it is.
6. Eating Healthy Pays Off Big
Some of the money you save when planning your meals is less obvious and will be revealed over time. The most important is that meal planning gives you the power to make healthier cooking and eating choices. Foods high in sugar, fat, and sodium can add up to costly dental and medical bills.
While some healthier foods are more expensive, meal planning helps you buy the higher quality items when they’re available at a good price and/or in season. For instance, did you know that frozen fruit and vegetables often have more nutritional value than canned or even fresh items? That’s because a lot of frozen items are picked when they’re already ripe and frozen fresh at their peak. If you’ve got the freezer space, stock up when what you like goes on sale. Just don’t forget to plan what you’ve got squirrelled away into future meals!
Have a Plan to Save Money on Meals and More
Every plan is made with a goal in mind, and a meal plan is one of the best you can make for the goal of saving money on food (and eating better). But if this isn’t quite enough, there are other plans you can make as well. One of them is to book a free, confidential appointment with a non-profit credit counselling organization to review your finances with you. A professional counsellor can help you find solutions for your challenges and make a clear plan to overcome them.