It’s super tempting to eat out when you feel like you have nothing to eat. In reality, you probably do have something in that pantry, you just don’t know how to use it, or you didn’t have the foresight in the grocery store to make sure you had other ingredients you could use with it.
Those unused items in your pantry and the money you spend on eating out add up and will cost you a lot long term.
And, if you think of wasted money in terms of plane tickets to exotic vacations, like I do, then you’re feeling pretty bad about not being as resourceful as possible.
Liz Penzo of TIME found the cure to unused grocery items and costly dinners out though: Design a meal plan for yourself and your family, and stick to it.
Twice a month, Penzo sits down and writes out a two-week meal plan for her family. She allows each of her two children to have two picks and then she and her husband choose the rest of the meals, that way everyone in the family gets to eat something they love every week.
An example of her two-week meal plan shows that the family usually dines out one night every two weeks and then eats leftovers one night every week, which gives Penzo and her husband a break from cooking.
Penzo said that there are a few things to keep in mind when creating your meal plan and then grocery list:
1. A Long List Can Be Cumbersome
First, remember that long is not better. A month-long meal plan, for example, becomes trouble if you enjoy cooking with lots of fresh vegetables or other perishables.
2. Keep Side Dishes Simple
Penzo says to take advantage of easy-to-prepare side dishes that you can keep in the pantry or freezer.
3. Love Those Leftovers
Last, Penzo wrote that it’s important to love leftovers and stay flexible. She found that her family saves $1,400 each year because they’ve learned to love eating leftovers and mix and match foods from certain days.
4. Be Flexible With Meals
Staying flexible and not being afraid to flip flop certain nights or eat leftovers on an unexpected night will keep things easier and will help you on days you’re feeling a bit stressed. Every try breakfast for dinner? It’s awesome – and here’s 7 simple, yet delicious breakfast recipes you’re family will love.
There are also a number of other ways to bring down your grocery bill:
1. Skip The Meat Department
Quality meat adds up fast, according to All You. Simply substituting beans for meat could save you $30 or more a week.
2. Buy Frozen Veggies
If you keep forgetting about the fresh ones in your refrigerator (and they often go bad), try using frozen vegetables instead. Contrary to the organic myth, frozen vegetables can be just as nutritional as fresh vegetables because they are usually frozen at their nutritional peak.
Using frozen vegetables instead of wasting fresh ones can save you about $5 a week, according to All You.
3. Buy Milk Elsewhere
Another weird saving hack: try to buy milk at the drug store instead of the grocery store. Buying milk at a drug store (or almost any store that isn’t a grocery store) can save you about 23 percent on each gallon.
4. Try A Shorter Meal Plan
Lastly, if a biweekly meal plan is too difficult for you, then just try a weekly meal plan, or plan your meals every few days (that would me more frequent trips to the grocery store, but it would still save you money).
Your Ultimate Goal
Always buy groceries with a plan. If you know what you’re making and how you can use everything you’re buying, then you’re much less likely to waste something and then order takeout. This will in turn, save you a ton of money and get you one step closer to that exotic vacation in Bali.