Check out my September 2018 Monthly Meal Plan here.
October was another challenging month for meal planning. We ended up eating out more than I anticipated, which means we had to skip the meal plan the last week and a half of October. Luckily, we had enough in our freezer and pantry to make it work, and I found a new joy building recipes from what we already had at home.
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.
OCTOBER BUDGET MONTHLY MEAL PLAN
In October, we found a ton of recipes that we loved. I also got to test my cooking skills this month, as two of the recipes that I made were recipes that I made up all by myself. Usually, I am the type of person who needs a full recipe with ingredients and instructions. I am a horrible cook, and I need all of the guidance that I can get.
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. We ended up eating out a lot in October, and in fact, it was one of our worst months yet.
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!
OCTOBER (WEEK 10/1 – 10/7)
- 10/1: Teriyaki Chicken & Rice
- 10/2: Frozen Pizza
- 10/3: Veggie Potstickers and White Rice
- 10/4: Veggie Potstickers and White Rice
- 10/5: Canned Soup and Chips
- 10/6: Eating Out
- 10/7: Leftovers (Making it Work)
As you can probably notice, the first week of October we had to make it work. I didn't want to spend money on another grocery trip, so we decided to eat what we could at home.
There are a few items that I like to keep on hand for weeks like this – Pot Stickers, Frozen Pizza, and Spaghetti. Those are our go-to dinners when we don't make a trip to the grocery store. As you can see, my family is not fancy. We are totaling fine eating frozen pizza and canned soups.
I keep a lot of canned goods like chicken, tuna, and vegetables in the pantry for snacks or lunches just in case my meal plan backfires. I have learned to have a backup plan just in case we are unable to cook anything, so keeping things that have a long shelf-life helps a ton!
For our first grocery trip, I ended up spending $67.70. Our first grocery trip happened during the second week of October. I usually complete and finalize my meal plan every Sunday morning, and then make a grocery trip in the evening.
My goal is to keep my weekly shopping trips under $100, so we have some cash left over for eating out. Remember, I only budget $400 every month, so the lower my grocery trip bills, the more cash we have for eating out or coffee runs.
OCTOBER (WEEK 10/8 – 10/14)
- 10/8: Eating Out
- 10/9: Steak Fajitas with Mexican Rice
- 10/10: Black Bean Chicken & Rice Burrito Bowls
- 10/11: LEFTOVERS
- 10/12: Cilantro Lime Pulled Chicken Tacos
- 10/13: Green Sauce Enchiladas
- 10/14: LEFTOVERS
This week we did something that we have never tried before – a themed meal plan week! We ended up planning a Mexican themed meal plan, and we absolutely loved it! In fact, we loved it so much we decided to do an Asian themed meal plan for the following week. It makes meal planning fun, plus it makes finding recipes easier since it narrows down your recipe selection.
Our favorite recipes turned out to be the steak fajitas. We used the fajita filling the following day for lunches by using some leftover white rice we had in the fridge.
The recipe that gave us the most leftovers for lunches and additional dinners was the Burrito Bowl recipe. It made a ton. If you do make this recipe, I do suggest adding more salt or spices. It was a little plain at first, but adding some hot sauce or a bit more seasoning on top made it really good!
We can never get enough enchiladas in this house. Most of the time, I cook chicken in the Instant Pot, shred it, and use the canned green sauce to make it really easy. I did try this recipe this week, and we loved the home-made sauce!
For my third trip to the grocery store, I spent $47. After posting this picture on my Instagram stories, I received some criticism. One of the comments I kept getting is, “That doesn't look like $47 worth of food!” Some weeks are better than others when it comes to cost, and with this trip, I had some more expensive items (thighs, eggs, etc.). So to make things clear about the price, here is this week's grocery list with the associated cost for each item:
- Boneless Skinless Thighs – $5.26
- Shredded Pepper Jack Cheese – $2.22
- Large White Eggs (60 ct) – $9.47
- Chopped Green Chiles (4.5 oz can) – $1.34
- Rice Vinegar – $1.96
- Lo Mein Noodles – $1.98
- Jasmine Rice – $5.98
- 2 Red Peppers – $2.96
- Baby Red Potatoes – $3.97
- 6 Oranges – $4.68
- Green Onions (not shown) – $1.18
- Mushrooms – $1.78
- Carrots – $1.67
- Angel Hair Cole Slaw – $1.47
- 2 Sweet Onions – $1.31
As you can see, things added up fast this week, and sometimes that's just how it goes.
OCTOBER (WEEK 10/15 – 10/21)
- Potstickers with White Rice
- Honey Garlic Chicken with White Rice
- Chicken Lo Mein
- Eating Out
- Orange Chicken with White Rice
We ended up cooking a huge batch of white rice on Monday. I knew that would make things easier during the week since all of our meals had white rice as the side dish.
I had my first EVER meal plan fail this week. Do you see that picture above? Looks delicious right? It just shows how deceiving food photography can be. I purposely did not include a link to this recipe because it turned out awful. I ended up going through the recipe a thousand times to make sure it was not my error, but I ended up following the recipe correctly.
The texture of the sauce was extremely thick, and the noodles ended up with a bizarre taste. I have made a lot of Asian foods in the past, but never Lo Mein noodles. So I thought it could have been something I did. I ended up cooking it for the specified time, but it just didn't turn out.
In fact, it was so bad we ended up throwing the entire recipe away. It made me upset at first, thinking about all of the used ingredients and time spent cooking the recipe, but that's life for you!
We ended up eating cereal instead.
For our last grocery trip, I spent $50.52. For the entire month of October, I made a total of three grocery trips that totaled $162.22. That means we spent $237.78 on eating out.
This shows the power of meal planning and how much money it can truly save you. If I had taken the time to focus more on meal planning, I wouldn't have spent as much money on eating out. Most of the eating out takes place during work and getting lunches.
OCTOBER (WEEK 10/22 – 10/28)
- 10/22: Spaghetti with Garlic Bread
- 10/23: LEFTOVERS
- 10/24: Chicken Parmesan Pasta
- 10/25: Eating Out
- 10/26: Honey Garlic Chicken
- 10/27: Make It Work
- 10/28: Make It Work
For the third week of October, I actually found time to make frozen breakfast burritos. These are amazing and allows us to have a quick breakfast option every morning. The recipe makes a huge batch, and depending on how big you make them, the recipe can make up to sixteen frozen burritos.
Our favorite recipe from this week was the Chicken Parmesan Pasta. It made a massive batch for extra leftovers and dinners. I am a huge pasta lover, so this recipe was perfect!
OCTOBER (WEEK 10-29-10-31)
- 10/29: Chicken Thighs and Potatoes
For the last week of October, we decided to skip the grocery store. I didn't create a meal plan at all.
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.
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!