Buying Guides and Meal Plans: The Best Food Budget Hacks
When it comes to food, it can be easy to make decisions in the moment based on convenience. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about ordering pizza or grabbing takeout. But when mindless convenience becomes too consistent, it adds up fast.
This is why I see so much value in having a plan. Structure gives us what we really want: freedom. And the first step toward creating a life you love (where you actually have the freedom to spend your money how you want) is making a monthly budget. Two tools that help me with the food section of my family’s budget are buying guides and meal plans. Here’s a breakdown of what they are, how I use them, and how you can work them into your weekly routine.
What Is a Buying Guide?
A buying guide is a chart that lets you compare multiple versions of the same product. For example, let’s say you’re weighing the pros and cons of purchasing a food processor. You’ll probably start by researching different brands that sell the appliance, and then you might compare things like price, size and function. A buying guide organizes all those details into columns and rows with photos and a breakdown of the specifics.
Or if you’re all set with kitchen gadgets, there are also buying guides that compare the prices of everyday items, like cereal or paper products, at your favorite stores. With a quick Google search, you can find tons of templates that are free to download and keep on hand for your next grocery run.
How Do I Use a Buying Guide?
Think of buying guides as another form of couponing—it’s going the extra mile now, so it pays off later (literally). The key here is to think ahead. Before you get in the car and head to the grocery store, think through what you need to purchase—then use a buying guide to compare your options. You might see that you can buy one item for much cheaper by purchasing it at a different store. Or you might realize that swapping to generic instead of name brand for a few items will save you a ton. I know when my family and I take the time to be thoughtful about our spending habits, our dollar goes further.
What Is Meal Planning?
First things first: There’s a difference between following a meal plan and making a meal plan. Lots of people find it helpful to follow meal plans to accomplish health and weight loss goals. But what I’m talking about here is the action of planning out your meals each week so you decide where your money goes.
Setting aside time to plan on purpose makes you less likely to rely on last-minute convenience culture. And smart money habits like this are the key to winning with your budgeting goals.
How Do I Make a Meal Plan?
Making a plan for weekly meals looks different for everyone. Just like with using buying guides, the key here is to do this before you’re strolling the aisles of the grocery store. Set aside time on your calendar before the week starts to create a meal plan. See what food you already have on hand, look up recipes, and decide what you’ll eat each day of the week. Write down the meals you’ve picked, then create a grocery list based off your plan.
It’s also helpful to look at your calendar and see what upcoming plans you have. For example, if you know you’ll be eating out Wednesday night before church and going out for a date night on Friday, that leaves three weeknights that you should prep for. If you want, you can also include lunches and weekend dinners in your meal planning.
Now that you have an overview of how to use buying guides and meal planning, here are 10 easy steps you can follow to work these things into your life:
- Set aside time to plan your meals before the week begins.
- Check your calendar for upcoming plans.
- Look inside your pantry and fridge to see which ingredients you already have.
- Look up easy and affordable recipes to add into your routine.
- Write down your meals for each night of the week.
- Search for coupons and buying guides online.
- Make a grocery list based on your choices.
- Go shopping and only buy what you need.
- Add cooking time to your weekly to-do list.
- Enjoy your pre-planned, budget-friendly meals.
If you need help getting started, my free Meal Planner & Grocery Savings Guide is a great resource!