Saving by planning your meals

Whether dining at home or dining out, a little planning can save you money.

Meal planning doesn’t mean dining in all the time. It means making a deliberate effort to think about what you will feed your family and when. You are making a goal and then striving to achieve it. A SMART goal is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic or relevant and time sensitive. For more on SMART goals check out the MI Money Health website.

Making a meal plan can help you stay within your spending goals and help promote strong families. According to West Virginia University Extension, eating together has positive influences on:

  • Family communication
  • Nutrition intake
  • New and old traditions
  • Childhood obesity
  • Character and social development

With all the benefits of making a meal plan, you may want to begin immediately. Here are some

simple steps to getting started:

  1. If you haven’t done so, track your food spending. Just like other flexible expenses, (e.g. transportation, personal care and basic household needs) it’s hard to know how much you are actually spending until you keep track for a period of time. Write down what you spend or keep your receipts – the method isn’t as important as actually keeping track.
  2. Discuss your needs and wants as it relates to food with all who will be affected. Getting buy-in from others in the family can help support your plan.
  3. Once you have settled on a specific amount to spend and are sure that your income can support it, determine how many meals or days you are going to plan. Everyone is different and some like to shop daily, weekly or even monthly. The important point is to agree on the plan and consider how it relates to other spending needs. Once you have a plan, you can make adjustments based on your actual experience.
  4. Consider specific meals, snacks and basic staples to have on hand. You may be trying to save by dining in, but if you have eaten out often in the past, it may be helpful to build in dining out days just for fun. Consider restaurants, menus and prices now, not on the day that you decide to go out to eat. Make it fun, but stick with your plan.
  5. Once you have a plan, put it into practice and then make adjustments. Some of you may not have liked parts of the plan or you may have overspent. Be flexible and make changes that you can all agree on.

Making financial changes in order to save money can take time and be challenging. Sometimes it helps to have help from a professional. To contact a Michigan State University Extension expert in your area, visit, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

Additional articles in this series:

Saving by using a grocery list

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