MMS083: How To Save Money By Meal Planning

MMS083: How To Save Money By Meal Planning

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Executive Summary

Are you looking to save money over time? You might be surprised at how much you can save with the right meal planning.

You don’t have to spend a lot of time putting together a meal plan, either. You may not even have to clip coupons. Erin Chase from $5 Dinners joins us to share her strategies for saving money and eating healthy with the help of meal planning.



Click to read full transcript


ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the Money Mastermind Show. Let’s Talk Money.


[0:00:18] MM: Welcome to this week’s episode of the Money Mastermind Show. Tonight, we have Erin Chase from $5 Dinners. She’s going to talk to us about meal planning. Hi Erin, how are you?

[0:00:30] EC: Hey, great. I’m so excited to talk with you all tonight.

[0:00:32] MM: Yeah, it’s exciting. We’re going to learn how to save some money by planning our meals, which is something I need because I am not a big meal planner. Also here with us tonight, we have Kyle Prevost of, Peter Anderson from Bible Money Matters, Tom Drake from the Canadian Finance Blog and normally we also have Glen Craig here from Free from Broke, but he was unable to join us tonight and I am Miranda Marquit from Planting Money Seeds.

Let’s get into it, Erin when we’re talking about planning meals, we about saving money planning meals, we think of clipping 50 cent coupons and going to the store with our fistful of coupons and maybe saving five bucks. This is not what we’re talking about right?

[0:01:17] EC: No, I do not think meal planning and couponing are the same thing at all. I think of them as two completely different strategies, when it comes to saving money on groceries. So yeah, meal planning I would say just in meal planning alone if you really start to think about it and stick to it and not throwing away food and have to run back to the store and not falling into some of the traps that you just fall in as you move through the week and have to worry about meals and dinners all that.

I think you can save, I don’t have any hard data on this, but I think you can save anywhere between 25 and 35% just by planning what you’re going to eat and I say that in terms of groceries. I think it would be even more if you’re lump in out for dinner or take out or drive through into your overall food. It could be like 40 maybe even 50 depending on how much you eat out and then if you’re going to transition that into more eating at home and planning your meals to eat at home.

I have heard some crazy amounts of money that people spend on grocery and not out to eat. Not high cost of living area. A family of four or five, two grand a month and I’m like, “Can I come live with you for a month? And let’s undo this,” because that’s crazy. That’s a mortgage — two, three mortgage payments, right? So that’s insane and it’s a lack of planning. If you don’t plan, what is failure to plan? It’s planning to fail. That totally applies to meals and dinner.

I think for me, I have four kiddos and I don’t like to think of myself as in the trenches anymore. I think like — the toddler trenches anyways, we’re kind of out of that but I still feel like I’m somewhat in the trenches because my boys, they never stop eating. They never stop, they do not stop, right? So it is a, like constant “you have to be a step ahead of them or I’m screwed”, right? I’m going to be spending way too much money on keeping them stuffed and all that. So I think for me, it’s more planning and not just to save on my groceries but also to not lose my mind.

[0:03:45] MM: So what about the rest of you? Do the rest of you do any sort of meal planning at all at home? Or your partner’s doing the meal planning at home or is someone doing the meal planning at your homes?

[0:03:58] TD: I got into it halfway. We went to a place here where they prepare the ingredients and you go there, you put it all together, you bring your bags home and stick them on the freezer. Just going that half distance to what Erin does is already been a big help because not only is it cheaper certainly than going out, but it’s healthier too but whenever we don’t have a meal idea ready, normally we would pick something that’s not as good like, “Let’s eat some McDonald’s.”

Yeah, saving money is one perk but just having an actual healthy meal without having to actually think about it too much. Just reach into the freezer and pull our something all the better if it’s in the slow cooker, because then I barely have to put effort into cooking it.

[0:04:50] MM: Yeah, that’s a good point. I am a huge fan of slow cooker meals as well. Peter or Kyle, do you have any experience with meal planning?

[0:04:59] PA: No but this show comes at a good time for us because we were looking at our budget a little bit and just kind of being just shocked at how much money we were spending on food every month from eating out and buying all of these pre-prepared meals and everything else. I think was looking at the USDA said that the average family spends, for a liberal budget, spends over $15,000 a year on food and some are even spending more than that.

But I think our family actually reached that last year. It was kind of eye opening for us so we are looking for some east strategies that we can use to start going down that road. I guess maybe that’s one question I have for Erin too, are there easy ways for people to get into this without going full force into it? Maybe just trying it out a few days a week or something like that? Is there something you would suggest?

[0:05:53] EC: I have all kinds of ideas. Okay, so first of all just talking about finance in general, because you guys are the finance gurus, I think and this might be slightly different but I’ve read and heard like we just had it on, that groceries are the third largest discretionary expense in your budget, right? They have the mortgage, they pay a mortgage, maybe car payment or maybe a debt payment and then groceries that ring in, for an average family of four, between six to $800 a month.

So that’s a big chunk of change so all this to say is that when you go and if you’re spending $15 grand a year, that’s way too much and you ultimately have control of that. We all ultimately have control over our personal finances but where I’m going with this is that grocery spending and food, you have a lot more control over than you think you do if you’re willing to put a little time and energy into it, if that makes sense?

So what are those strategies, what is that time and energy look like? So I think the very first thing is let’s not get overwhelmed. I think people think, “Meal planning,” and they maybe have seen something on Pinterest or they think they need to be producing or plating meals like they do on Food Network shows and putting them all out for dinner for their toddlers who just going to take it throw them on the floor, right?

No, that is silly and don’t try to do that. You’re going to overwhelm yourself so be simple, start simple. So I would suggest starting with writing down five meals that you can have this week at home. Just five, no breakfast, no lunch, don’t plan any of that just plan five dinners that you can eat at home this week. The sixth one can be the leftover, you go out twice right?

If you are already going out five times a week, you’re going to flip flop that and you’re going to stay home and you’re going to just have five meals and it doesn’t matter. It could be spaghetti, tacos, spaghetti, lasagna and tacos. As long as you’re going to have those five things and you’re going to eat them that week, right?

So things you know you’re going to like, things you know your family is going to like and just keep it really simple and just make this five meals, make yourself do it and you will see it will feel strange and it will feel awkward and you’ll be like, “What’s going on?” But as you force yourself and condition yourself through, this little simple, you will see the benefit.

You will see that, “Oh I don’t need to run to McDonald’s because I’m just going to have spaghetti because spaghetti is easier to make.” Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I don’t really care. It doesn’t have to be this amazing gourmet meal or this fantastic freezer meal that you made two weeks ago that you’re pulling out of the freezer. No, five. Just keep it simple, right? and then from there, once you get comfortable with adding into that habit, you can add in more.

Maybe you want to tweak up breakfast on the weekends where you’re going to make a quiche instead of having another bowl of cereal or whatever. So you can kind of expand and bring in more instead of going out for brunch at the Magnolia Pancake House, which is right down the street from us. Don’t ever going to do that by the way but we’re going to go and stay in and I’m going to make my own breakfast tacos.

How hard is it to scramble eggs and put it in a tortilla with cheese and salsa, right? That’s set is easy so yeah, I would say just keep it really simple. Start with five meals and then build into that. Another thing that I like to suggest for newbies is to, and even that night be a little strange for your brain. Let’s say we don’t organize the same way but plan the same way is do theme nights.

This is a way to structure to get a little more variety but structured a little more long term is to just five meals for this day. Let’s think like, “Okay for this month, every Monday night it’s going to be chicken and rice night.” So whatever variety or form of chicken and rice and then you can get a little more creative. Maybe you could do a chicken and cheesy broccoli skillet dinner one night.

Then the other night you are baking, we had balsamic chicken tonight. It was baked and I just ate it with rice. So it allows you to bring in a little more variety if you are an adventurist or home chef and then Tuesday night, so taco — okay so let’s really go with the themes; Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Pasta Night can be Wednesday, Chicken and rice Thursday, homemade pizza night with popcorn for movie date night, whatever.

So kind of theme it out so that way it gives you a little bit more structure as you go to write things down and write out those five or six meals that you will have that week. Is that helpful?

[0:10:39] PA: Yeah.

[0:10:40] MM: Interesting.

[0:10:41] EC: Keep it simple and theme it out.

[0:10:44] PA: Theme it out. And you are talking about writing stuff down here. I assume it’s pretty important to you writing everything down on some sort of a calendar or something and then you’re using that in order to come up with a grocery list is that fair?

[0:10:56] EC: Oh yeah, this is just the meal planning. We haven’t even gotten to the money saving strategies or list writing strategies. That’s a whole other conversation but yeah, so first it’s just writing it down, yes whether that’s putting it into your Google calendar at 6 PM every day, that’s your dinner spot and you just put whatever you’ll need that day.

If you are a digital person, it can be a planner app or I’m a pencil and paper girl so I write it down on my big old paper blog work calendar, it’s all one so I have it written there every day and that I think is really helpful writing it down. If I don’t do it like post it on the fridge, my kids aren’t super picky like, “Mom, what’s for dinner? What’s for dinner?” They don’t really do that which is kind of nice.

But if you do have kids that are always asking you or they’re maybe complaining about what they’re going to have for dinner, write it in a place where they can see it. So on your fridge, on a chalkboard, posted on like a bulletin board or whatever near your kitchen and they can see and if they don’t like what they see, tell them to do it.

My eight year old could plan meals, she can tell me what she wants to eat right? My six year old probably could too. Thankfully, I don’t have picky eaters, but if you do, having them do the meal planning and maybe even making a meal would be helpful and they’re maybe picky at eating but that again is another whole other conversation.

So okay, write them down and then from there, I would double check the ads first. I make my meal plans based on what’s on sale, right? Generally the meat and produce, so chicken breast and the pork tenderloin is on sale. I’ll probably plan two chicken meals, maybe one pork roast and I’ll go to spice up chops and the save them for next week.

Probably get a couple of extra packages of chicken for the next couple of weeks so that I don’t have to pay full price for chicken, right? I only have one main grocery here. So it’s hard to play store sale cycles off of each other. I have to be a little more strict with my meat but anyways, so plan your meals based on what’s on sale if you really want to see the differences, especially at meat because if you’re paying, okay let’s just do rough math.

You guys are math nerds I think. Can say that without offending everybody? Okay, so let’s say that you’re buying meat across the board, $5 a pound, right? And let’s say that you need to eat eight pounds a week maybe that’s high, maybe that’s low, whatever. That’s $40 a week just on meat. Well what if you, instead of paying that $5 a pound, what if you happen to pay $1.99 to $2.99 on a pound for — what did I say? Eight pounds? Do that math.

[0:13:46] KP: You are saving about $1,000 bucks a year.

[0:13:48] EC: Thank you, see you guys are math nerds. I should be writing these down because I’m like thinking faster than I’m talking. I’m like, “Well, what did I just say?” Okay, so yeah how much is that? Just right there, shopping the sales alone and those are very rough, sale price to regular price is probably even higher than that in certain areas. What did you say a thousand?

[0:14:08] KP: Oh well, $250 if you’re cutting there in half, you’re a little bit a thousand a year.

[0:14:11] EC: There you go, just that right there, just planning your meals on what you’re saving on groceries, we just went from $15 grand to $14 grand and that’s one change that you made in what you’re shopping, right? So it’s planning based on what’s on sale and part of it is to keep stocking up so you don’t have to pay the full meat price especially in between the sales cycles. Does that make sense?

And then from there yeah, you made a solid shopping list. You need to write everything down. That is probably my number two or three tip for grocery shopping in general is do not walk into the grocery store with half written grocery list on the back of an envelope that you just got out of a mail box. Don’t do it. It’s not effective.

You’re going to miss stuff, you’ll end up back in stores, spending more money than you needed to or you’re going to buy stuff that you already had in your pantry because you were in a rush and ends up throwing stuff in your cart. So if you can be disciplined and take that extra eight, ten minutes maybe to write out that full list based on your meal plan, you will save yourself a lot of money as well.

[0:15:18] PA: I found something on your site today actually that was extremely helpful. My wife and I are always running out these grocery list and we can never get the grocery list in the right order. We always forget things and we add it to the end of the list and we end up running back and forth across the store. But I found one of your list on your site today. I think it was even free on there as far as a grocery list maker based on department or whatever which is extremely helpful. I mean I actually downloaded it already and I’m going to start using that I think.

[0:15:45] EC: Oh good. Yeah, we have all kinds of free plannables for meal plans. I have one that’s really awesome that helps going back to that really simple idea. On the right of the paper — I’m trying to mirror myself here — on the right of the paper it’s just seven days for your dinner and if you want to draw up breakfast and snacks on the tray, you write down on the side and then your main shopping list is the full one and then there’s a spot for your budget. How much you’re wanting to spend, how much you actually spend.

That one is really cool as well but yeah, I just write my own shopping list starting with produce at the top and then I just write it out and I’ll just leave space so that I can add something to it but yeah, I’m glad you found that. That will be really helpful.

[0:16:36] PA: So what’s your whole process then for doing this every week? Do you do it all starting on Sunday, you get the newspaper ads and just kind of go from there?

[0:16:46] EC: Yeah, I usually do it Sunday. Sometimes I do it Saturday nights because I had a party on Saturday nights. I usually do it Sunday and sometimes Monday morning if we were out of town or something, but first thing is getting out my new plan paper, the ads and I usually have paper ads because I get them in the mail.

Seeing that everyone is a little bit different, you can get them online, you can get them e-mailed to you, you can get them in the newspaper usually but we get them in the mail and so I put out my meal plan page and most of the time I use that one that I just described with the meal plan on the side and then the shopping list and so I check the ads, make sure I am not missing anything I need to stock up on meat wise especially but other things as well, pasta if it’s on sale.

So I will do the meal plan and the list based on the ads and then I will go and see if there are any coupons for those particular things that I need so I could stack that additional savings later onto my other well planned list, well planned out meal plan and great shopping list ‘cause then I can stack the coupons onto that.

I think when you do those three things together, you see all of these like, “Cut your grocery bills in half and save 50%,” or whatever, that’s how you do that. You have to stack all those layers together so that you really start to see those big discounts and the big savings.

[0:18:12] MM: So let’s talk about freezing meals a little bit. I know that Tom had talked about it a little bit but you do that a lot too, right? Just freeze some meals or freeze portions?

[0:18:26] EC: Yes, my freezer cooking meal plans is almost broke the Internet, last year. So we do a lot — no I’m not kidding. We do a lot of that — not really but maybe? We do a lot of that and the way that I generally do it is warehouse shopping so I buy in bulk and then it becomes this mix and match game of the big packs of chicken, the big giant thing of six pounds of ground beef like what the heck do you do with that right?

The pork chops come in huge things. You can usually get three meals out of one tray of pork chops, so what do you do with that? So that’s what ended up being so crazy on our dinners because I put together these sets of recipes that use up all of those things, the ingredients that you buy in bulk. Eight cans of tomatoes, eight cans of black beans, you don’t want to use two and sit in there for six months.

So how do you use all of that up or most of it? We don’t use all up perfectly but so I set up some recipes that will go through in that bulk. At this point, I feel like I can just set up like 20 baggies and just literally start opening stuff like this and it will all be fine. That’s the beauty of these recipes that these plans use is that they’re very forgiving and mix and match kind of style.

So I’m not kidding. Maybe I do that sometimes? Maybe I should Periscope that and see what kind of crazy meals we end up with like just randomly throwing things at the bag but it’s super, super effective on both sides. As Tom already mentioned, right? The front side is you spend two hours and you’ll get 20 meals into your freezer. There’s hardly any cooking involved in that.

You are literary putting chicken breast in the bag. You do need to brown the ground beef if you’re going to use ground beef, put pork chops in the bag, put roast in the bag and then you just add marinades and veggies and sauces or whatever and you put them in your freezer. It’s so fast to do.

And then on the flip side, on the “Oh my gosh, let’s not go to McDonald’s today. I like home instead,” it saves you time, sanity and you’re not hitting up the drive through. That’s what I think is so effective about freezer cooking is both sides. You can get a lot done in a short amount of time and then you don’t have to worry about what you’re going to eat on those crazy afternoons or whatever.

[0:21:09] MM: So one of the things I have started doing and it’s not really meal planning-meal planning because I am making somebody else do it but I started using Blue Apron.

[0:21:18] EC: Oh yeah.

[0:21:19] MM: Because then I don’t have to plan my meals and I don’t even have to go to the store half the time. It all just kind of comes to my door and that’s one way for me.

[0:21:27] PA: What is Blue Apron? I’m sorry I don’t know.

[0:21:31] PA: So it’s a service where you pay and they send you all the ingredients for meals plus the recipe and you just cook it yourself at home using the recipe and they just send you whatever the plan is for that week but it’s not going to save you much money. It’s kind of expensive. It's not cheap.

[0:21:48] EC: Yeah, it’s not cheap but it is very convenient. Yeah, okay I may ask you something. I know you all feel this idea because I know you are all food blogger wanabees. So I have a hack to that, that wouldn’t be any more expensive but there’s problems to the hack. So my hack would be to create a meal plan based on Amazon’s prime pantry.

So all of the shelf stable stuff gift sent to you or you add those things, ideally I would have it pre-loaded in Amazon. Literally, I would fill up the box like 80% and you can add a few more things that you would like, that would save you way more and then you would obviously have to either be a vegetarian meal or you would have to go by the produce and I would tell you, if you’re going to do this, these are the things you get from pride pantry into your interior prime pantry box.

And then you need to buy eight pounds of chicken and two pounds of ground beef, a thing of carrots and a thing of celery and two onions. You would have to go buy produce because Amazon’s not gonna send you produce although I wouldn’t and if this is clear for a business model sits around, I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon picked up on it. They already have Fresh but I don’t think it’s really taken off because it hasn’t expanded like I was thinking it might.

But Blue Apron and Amazon Fresh, if they got together and had a kid, that could be really cool, so yeah. Any who, I thought about doing that I just haven’t gotten around to doing it yet. That would be my savings hack to that where it could be mostly done and mostly delivered to you and then you just have to grab like six to eight things in the grocery store.

[0:23:38] MM: Yeah and if you have a service like PeaPod nearby that will bring you your produce or whatever that works as well but yeah, I go to the store. I may have to get my lunch stuff because clearly Blue Apron isn’t sending me my lunch stuff but I get that stuff at the store but I only spend 15 to 20 minutes at the store now because I am just running in and getting a few things because I get milk delivery and everything from the dairy. So I really think it depends on your style. We haven’t heard much from you Kyle. What’s your style with meal planning?

[0:24:15] KP: I should probably use this time to just thank my brilliant and gorgeous wife for all her many talents one of the many is meal planning and we live obviously rurally as I stated on the show before. So I guess meal planning has become a part of my life because it had to be in a lot of ways or there’s not really a ton of fancy eating out options or even fast food options at all where we live.

So Erin’s whole bulk of examples, I was paying particular attention to there, and maybe I can cook with my wife. Start slow or at least give her the URL for Erin’s site or give her her Pinterest page even though that’s a major thing. But that’s why I’m not contributing a lot simply because I have no expertise to add and I am an avid listener at this point.

[0:25:11] EC: No, I think you and your wife need to get together and do what I just described. Lay out like 20 bags and literary just start to throwing stuff in.

[0:25:19] KP: Shown.

[0:25:20] EC: She’s already meal planning, she’s already a good cook, she’ll be able to handle that I know it, so I want to hear how that goes for you.

[0:25:27] MM: Well I think that we’ve managed to get it pretty covered pretty well on this episode, we’d like to do a final word here. So we’ll go around and do the final word and we’ll end up with Erin at the end and she can tell us a little bit more about what she does but let’s go ahead and start with you Kyle, it’s your last word in here.

[0:25:48] KP: So, I guess building on what Tom said earlier on the episode, any meal more or less that you eat at home, you have to try very, very hard to probably cook a meal at home and probably spend the equal amount of money and get the equivalent on the high calories that you get if you eat out. So probably starting almost anywhere cooking at home is probably better than eating out as much as you do unless you make a very, very serious effort to eat cheap and going to eat out which most people don’t.

[0:26:14] MM: And what about you Peter, what’s your final word?

[0:26:18] PA: My final word is don’t be like our family and spend thousands and thousands of dollars. We could probably bought a rental house by now, if we’ve been doing a little bit better eating out and all that kind of stuff. So I’m going to try to put together some of these ideas here especially maybe some of these freezer meals, it sounds like a great idea to just get together and spend a couple of hours on Sunday and put together a bunch of meals for the next couple of weeks. I think that being that we don’t like to spend a lot of time cooking and all that kind of stuff, I think doing it all in one big chunk like that is a great idea.

[0:26:54] MM: Okay, what about you Tom, what’s your final word?

[0:26:55] TD: On the show a few times, we’ve advocated for things like budgeting and financial planning and I think this is the same. If you’re planning and preparing, you’re going to find those opportunities to save money and in this case, eat healthier as well.

[0:27:10] MM: Great and Erin, what is your final word?

[0:27:14] EC: Yeah, I totally want to tag onto that. You have to be strategic. I still am like that. So my husband likes key lime flavored Jovanni yogurt, that’s what he likes so I buy it right? And I didn’t even realized that there was a store brand that tastes virtually identical. He didn’t complained when I bought it but it’s a $1.40 less.

Hello? I mean and I am buying that every week and I obviously use the coupons for that but there are no coupons often for that brand but still, that’s a big difference, right? But all those little things that you’ve got to go looking for now. If you do, you’ll unearth quite a bit of savings. So I’m tagging onto that one.

[0:28:08] MM: Awesome. All right Erin, why don’t you tell us where our audience can find you?

[0:28:14] EC: You can find me in a bunch of places but the main, can I say four?

[0:28:18] MM: Sure, go for it.

[0:28:20] EC: Okay, so the main website is and then I have where we do the meal planning for you and I have a course, The Grocery Budget Makeover, where we talk a lot about what we just talked about and then more in depth than that and I also just, like three weeks ago, launched a freezer cooking only meal planning website and that is called and so yeah, I’m super into freezer cooking right now. We have a lot of exciting things planned for Freeze Easy.

[0:28:52] MM: Awesome, very cool. Well thank you so much for joining us tonight. If you’re listening, go out and check out Erin’s site, some great resources on learning how to plan your meals and do it with saving money and be sure to check out, go ahead and subscribe to us on iTunes and Stitcher and until next week, be good with your money.

ANNOUNCER: Thanks for joining us on the Money Mastermind Show, get more information at Don’t forget to subscribe to the show on iTunes and YouTube and follow us on Google Plus.



Important issues discussed in this episode:

  • Do you have to clip coupons to save money on food?
  • Simple strategies for meal planning.
  • How to coordinate your schedule to work with saving money on meal planning.
  • Ways to plan way ahead, including creating freezer meals.
  • Tips for finding simple meals that your whole family will love.

Panelists In This Episode:

For a quick bio of each of our show participants, head on over to our panelist page.

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