January was a make-it-work meal planning month. I just couldn't find the time to keep my meal plan updated. However, it was also a huge month for savings.
I completed the Pack-a-Lunch January Savings challenge, and I ended up skipping the grocery store for two weeks out of the month.
Every month, I allocate $400 to my food budget ($200 each paycheck), and I use the cash in my food envelope for eating out and grocery trips. I have a small family, just my son, my boyfriend, and myself.
WHY I STARTED MEAL PLANNING
Just like you, I am consistently trying to find ways to cut down on food costs and cut out extra expenses in my budget. Starting in January 2018, I began tracking every dollar that I spend throughout the month. Not only am I keeping up-to-date on my expense tracker, but I am also keeping a close watch on my cash envelope spending trackers.
If you are not familiar with my budgeting method, you can read all about the cash envelope method here. Essentially, I pay all of my regular expenses online and use cash envelopes for the rest of my variable spending. If you are interested in using my budgeting method, I have a free email course that teaches you step-by-step on how to set one up. You can see more about my Budget Blueprint Email Course here.
I started noticing that almost every line item on my spending tracker was eating out. I was spending nearly $800 every month on eating out and spontaneous Starbucks purchases. I have tried meal planning in the past, but I never lasted more than two weeks.
Seeing my spending tracker for my food budget was enough to kick my butt into gear.
It made me furious that I was spending all of this money on food, rather than on my savings or paying off debt.
THINGS I HAVE LEARNED SO FAR
Here are some things that have helped me save money on my new meal plan.
- Always shop your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer first! You can cut costs by making recipes that use what you already have on hand.
- Have a planned grocery shopping list! Use this list to see if any of the ingredients you are going to buy are on sale or can be substituted for ones that are on sale. The apps I currently LOVE using are Checkout 51, Ibotta, Walmart Savings Catcher, and the Krazy Coupon Lady.
- Don't be afraid to incorporate dedicated days for leftovers in your meal plan!
- Make a price list before you head to the store. Jump online and check prices before you start grocery shopping. This will give you a good idea if you need to substitute an item or remove it completely if there is not enough cash in your food budget.
JANUARY 2019 BUDGET MONTHLY MEAL PLAN
I took time out in the beginning of the month to take inventory of my pantry, fridge, and freezer. Since completing the November Freezer challenge, I have learned to eat what I already have at home.
I have been meal planning for about a year, and one of the things that I noticed that saved me a ton of money was building my meal plan and recipes around ingredients I already have at home. I meal plan every week, but I take time during the beginning of every month to inventory what I have in my pantry, fridge, and freezer.
My inventory lists act as my quick reference guide when I am finding recipes online for my meal plan. By taking inventory of the food you already have, you accomplish three important things:
- You save money by utilizing the food you already have at home.
- You reduce food waste by becoming aware of your expiration dates and using the food that is about to expire first with your meal plan recipes. 3. You stop yourself from overbuying. It was really easy for me to forget about what I already had in my cupboard, so I would end up buying a lot of duplicates.
HOW I USE MY FOOD BUDGET
Since I only allocate $400/month for food, which includes eating out and meal planning grocery trips, the more we eat out, means the less money I have for grocery hauls.
Not splitting my Food cash envelope into two categories (eating out and groceries) has been the best decision. If I were to assign a limit for eating out every month, I know that my family would use the full amount. Having one Food envelope for both purposes allows me to say to myself, “If I keep my grocery trips low, I can eat out more.” or “We have eaten out too much this week, so we need to keep our grocery trip small.”
I am still utilizing my Instant Pot for every recipe. I can't function without my Instant Pot. It saves me so much time in the kitchen, and with my busy schedule, I can't live without it. Now that I have two liners (thanks to breaking my Instant Pot in September), I can now utilize my Instant Pot more than ever!
JANUARY (WEEK 31st – 6th)
- 12/31: Instant Pot Chicken & Potatoes
- 1/1: Instant Pot Salmon with Lemon & Dill
- 1/2: Instant Pot Chicken Alfredo Pasta
- 1/3: LEFTOVERS
- 1/4: Instant Pot Carne Asada Tacos
- 1/5: Instant Pot Italian Sausage Tortellini
- 1/6: LEFTOVERS
The first week of January was the only week out of the month where I actually planned a weekly meal plan. I spent $138.84 on groceries for the week.
I also decided to buy some things in bulk, which I didn't plan for. I like to get my bulk products from Costco. For bulk items, I got boneless skinless chicken breasts, salmon, and seasoned flank steak.
Our favorite recipe from this week were the tacos. I ended up using the leftover flank steak for 2 days worth of lunches.
I ended up bulk prepping and making our breakfasts for the week. The egg muffins turned out really well. It was nice to have something to grab & go quickly. For the muffin recipe, make sure you spray your muffin tins generously. I ended up lining my tins with cupcake liners.
Buying the salmon in bulk from Costco gave us three nights of dinners. I used a small portion for the first week of January and froze the rest to use for another week. The cost was spendy up front, but well worth it.
JANUARY (WEEK 7th -13th)
- 1/7: Instant Pot Chicken & Mashed Potatoes
- 1/8: Marinara Tortillini & Chicken
- 1/9: LEFTOVERS
- 1/10: LEFTOVERS
- 1/11: Instant Pot Italian Sausage & Peppers
- 1/12: Potstickers
- 1/13: LEFTOVERS
I spent $59.82 in the second week of January. It was a make-it-work week. In an attempt to save money on meat costs, I decided to buy whole chickens from Costco, rather than the breasts. I made a lot of my go-to meals, like Instant Pot Chicken and Mashed Potatoes. It takes 15 minutes and is really easy in the Instant Pot.
I stick the frozen chicken breasts directly into my Instant Pot with one cup of water, set the pressure cooker timer to 9-minutes, and the chicken breasts come out fully cooked and moist. I also throw in cubed potatoes and make it a one-pot meal. I mash the potatoes after I take them out of the Instant Pot.
I also made the remainder of my frozen tortellini. I love this recipe because it's easy. I keep a good stock of Hunt's pasta sauce in the pantry, and I use it when I don't feel like cooking dinner or spending a lot of time in the kitchen. For this recipe, I used leftover chicken. I like to buy all of my cheese tortellini in bulk from Costco. It comes in two huge packages. I keep one in the fridge, and I freeze the other.
JANUARY (WEEK 14th – 20th)
- 1/14: Whole Chicken & Mashed Potatoes
- 1/15: Salmon & Brown Rice
- 1/16: LEFTOVERS
- 1/17: Chicken, Potatoes & Beans
- 1/18: LEFTOVERS
- 1/19: Stuffed Peppers
- 1/20: LEFTOVERS
I didn't go to the grocery store this week. I really challenged myself to eat what I already had at home. Luckily, I had a lot of frozen chicken in the freezer from my earlier grocery trips at the beginning of the month. I ended up cooking one of the whole chickens from Costco, which gave us two dinners and two days worth of lunches.
I also resorted to my go-to chicken breast recipe again.
I made another batch of the frozen salmon that we had leftover from the previous weeks, and I used a brown rice packet that we got from Costco. The salmon recipe is speedy and easy. As a busy full-time working mom, it's perfect.
JANUARY (WEEK 21st – 27th)
I spent $26.48 in the third week of January. Mostly, I needed to stock up on pasta sauce and buy things for lunches for the Pack-A-Lunch Savings Challenge.
For the last two weeks of January, I didn't meal plan at all. I used what I had in my freezer and pantry to come up with easy recipes.
I made a huge batch of beef pasta sauce. I also cooked two boxes of Tri-Colored Rotini pasta that I had in the pantry. This gave us two days worth of dinners and one day of leftovers for lunches.
I had 4 pounds of ground beef that my mom gave me from our family farm in my freezer that I utilized as well. Making big batches, dividing them up into individual containers for future meals saved me a ton of time this week, and money.
I made a big batch of frozen chicken breasts in the Instant Pot and cooked the mashed potatoes as we needed them. As you can see, we eat a lot of frozen chicken breasts. Every week out of January I made my go-to chicken recipe.
Since I wasn't meal planning, I wanted to make sure that I wasn't going to the store for things we didn't need. Every night, I went through my inventory list that I made at the beginning of the month and updated it with the items that I used or added.
JANUARY (WEEK 28th – 31st)
The last week of January was another week where I skipped the grocery store. I call these weeks “making it work.” For us, that means eating anything left in the fridge, and using what we have in the pantry and freezer.
I ended up cooking the last whole chicken from the freezer, and I used two boxes of Spanish Rice that I had in the pantry. The whole chicken gave us more leftovers that I used throughout the week for dinners and lunches.
I made enchiladas this week. For my enchilada recipe, I cook two frozen chicken breasts in my Instant Pot with one cup of water, and cook it on the pressure cooker setting for 9 minutes. Next, I do a natural release for 7-minutes.
Once the chicken is cooked, I use my electric mixer to shred the chicken. I add spices and cheese to the chicken and roll it up in a tortilla. For my enchiladas, we use the green, canned enchilada sauce, which I also have extra cans stocked in the pantry. We like to add a lot of shredded cheese to the top of our enchiladas, but it's optional.
I cover the baking pan with foil and cook the enchiladas in the oven for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.
TOTAL MONTHLY COST
I spent a total of $253 on food costs in the month of January. $225.14 was spent on grocery trips and the remaining $27.86 was spent on eating out.
Keep in mind, that I do make other purchases when I am at the store for my grocery hauls, but I always do a separate transaction for each of my envelopes. For example, if I buy shampoo during one of my meal planning grocery trips, I do a separate transaction, and I pull the cash from my Beauty Cash Envelope.
If you are struggling with your food budget, I highly recommend starting a meal plan. It doesn't take a lot of time but could save you a lot of money in the end.
I plan on posting my meal plan updates every month. So be on the lookout for those updates!