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How Meal Planning Can Help You Save Money

Meal planning is the first step toward stress-free meals.

Have you ever thought about using meal planning to save money?

If not, perhaps you should.

Consider this: feeding a family of four dinner at a popular fast-food chain can cost close to $30, according to the New York Times. Not everyone eats out every week, but Rasmussen Reports notes that 58 percent of Americans eat out at least once per week. If you have seen the lines at the local coffee shop in the morning or have been a part of the lunch crowd yourself, then you know latte and lunch-spending can be a real budget buster. Spending 10 dollars a day for lunch five days a week costs $2,500 per year for someone who works a standard 50 weeks and takes a two-week vacation every year. That’s a lot of money—and that number does not include any morning lattes.

It does not have to be this way. According to USDA guidelines, a family of four can eat a week of nutritious meals prepared at home for as little as $150, which is about $20 per day. Couples can eat for a whole lot less; it can cost about $90 per week to feed them.

Planning healthy meals is not only more affordable, it is also more beneficial to your health. The National Alliance for Nutrition & Activity notes that diet-related or lifestyle diseases are on the rise and pose a real threat to personal financial security, especially when you consider health care costs and the possibility of disability or death.

Meal planning may be the answer you need. Here are some of the benefits:

Money Management

  • Generates more savings for financial goals
  • Reduces impulsive buys due to expense pre-planning
  • Saves gas due to fewer trips to the grocery store for missing ingredients
  • Allows you to plan ahead to take advantage of grocery savings, coupons, and deal sites

Time Management

  • Reduces time spent at the grocery store
  • Provides healthy leftovers for lunch so you don’t have to leave the office
  • Allows you more time for other activities when you are not making small grocery trips several times per week

Health Management

  • Helps you control portion size
  • Allows you to prepare healthier meals, which improve your health and energy levels, according to Let’s Move
  • Reduces stress—you never have to worry about what’s for dinner

How to Create a Meal Plan

Creating a meal plan is as easy as preparing a budget. Most of the information you need is already in your kitchen. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Make a list of what you want to cook for the next seven days.
  2. List all the ingredients you will need to prepare those dishes.
  3. Check to see if you have them in the freezer or pantry.
  4. Check expiration dates, so you won’t have to make a second trip grocery trip.
  5. Place items that you don’t have on a shopping list.
  6. Scan circulars, coupons, and deal sites for sales or discounts on items you need to buy.
  7. Go to the grocery store and save.

Check out free meal planning tools such as Pepperplate or the website of your local grocery store. Many grocery stores have planners that help you set meal plans, add recipes, and create a shopping list.

Final Tips

Remember fresh is great, but frozen vegetables are good too. They’re convenient and often less expensive. Buy in bulk for items that you regularly purchase, and plan shopping trips so that you can take advantage of sales.

Meal planning is an effective way to save both time and money. Give it a try, and see how much you save.

Image source: Flickr

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