I’m on a tight budget. Even though I am able to afford to live differently I truly love the challenge and benefit of living below my means. It also has the added benefit of being able to save up for cool things like trips to Japan or a new house. With that said I meal prep 100% of my meals. We do occasionally (rarely) go out to dinner but when we do it comes from a different part of our budget. I budget exactly $50 on groceries and don’t spend a penny more.
If you’d like the spark notes version here are my top tips:
1. Plan ahead. I plan what I’m going to cook and prep two weeks out. Down to basically everything I put in my body. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack every day (weekends I eat leftovers from the past week or the upcoming week, or make something new from what I have)
2. Pay cash. It’s hard to over spend when you literally don’t have any more money. Plus it hurts a bit more watching it go. *
3. Be flexible and have a back up plan. Anticipate wanting something other than what you’ve prepped. I fortunately don’t get sick of food very easily I can eat the same meal 4 days in a row and still want it on the 5th day. If you’re not that way, have a back up plan.
Here is my monthly food budget:
$40 meal prep groceries ($20 biweekly)
$10 for restocking pantry items
There are things that I always keep stocked with the extra $10.
I use that money to replace/restock:
- Flour/baking needs (includes baking powder/soda)
- Oatmeal (good for baking or making milk)
- Peanut butter
- Spices and broths (includes soy sauce and things like vanilla extract)
- Oil (vegetable and/or coconut)
I usually don’t run out of more than a 1-2 of these at a time but if I do and it would cost me more than $10, I prioritize, purchase what is needed and wait for the other items. There are also long periods of time where I don’t run out of these things, in that case I save up that $10 and purchase things (usually in bulk from Amazon) like vital wheat gluten, TVP, nutritional yeast, or nuts and seeds (chia, sunflower and flax) I like to keep around.
What the heck am I eating?
My breakfast usually stays about the same: overnight oats, baked oatmeal cups, or breakfast burritos; all of which are super customizable. But for lunch and dinners, variety is the spice of life! I do not usually eat the same thing for lunch and dinner in a week but you can. Also I don’t eat on one meal longer than one week.
Here’s what it’s like for me. I research recipes on Pinterest, watch (too much) YouTube and go through my archive of recipes and homemade food pictures. I plan what I want for breakfast lunch and dinner for the next two weeks.
Here is an example of my plan:
Breakfast: Breakfast Burritos (black beans, kale, corn)
Dinner: Baked Jollof rice (carrots, peas, chickpeas, corn, tomato sauce)
Snack: Peanut Butter Crackers
Breakfast: Baked Oatmeal Cups (kidney beans)
Lunch: Caribbean Red Beans and Rice ( red kidney beans, coconut milk)
Dinner 1-Pot Golden Curry Lentil Soup (carrots, coconut milk, lentils)
Snack: Peanut butter crackers
After I make my plan I make a list of what I need, based off of what I already have stocked.
My grocery list might look like this:
- Canned Chickpeas x2 ($1.00)
- Canned Kidney beans x4 ($2.00)
- Canned Black beans x 1 ($0.50)
- Uncooked Lentils ($1.50)
- Fresh bagged Kale ($3.00)
- Tortillas (8 pack) ($1.00)
- Fresh bagged Carrots ($0.50)
- Crackers, 1 box ($1.50)
- Coconut milk x2 ($2.50)
- Frozen broccoli ($0.50)
- Frozen Corn ($0.50)
- Frozen peas ($0.50)
- Tomato sauce ($0.50)
This is based on store brand prices from Walmart where I do most of my grocery shopping.
In reality I would almost never buy this much at once mostly because the bags of frozen vegetables, boxes of crackers, tortillas and bags of lentils last me quite a while so that I can just incorporate them into my plan and prep for the future. I often keep my breakfast the same for the two weeks for simplicity. I can prep it all at once, freeze it and pull it out when I’m ready. I also plan to use the same ingredients in different ways throughout the two week period. With that in mind my grocery bill is usually never even this high!
After I have my plan and list, I stop by the ATM and take out the money I need for the next two weeks*. I shop on payday after work (I’m usually tired so that helps me stick to the list!). I walk in with my list, my reusable shopping bags and $20.
I prep one week at a time on Saturday and/or Sunday’s.
There are times where I’ve prepped something and by Thursday I don’t want it anymore. Not a problem! Toss the prepped food in the freezer, and use your leftover groceries (or extra cash) to make something new! From my groceries I could make lentil balls or a lentil loaf, soup, stir fry, burritos, pot pie (don’t forget the flour and baking supplies!) and much more. You can even make desserts like chia puddings, cakes or cookies.
* I’ve been cash budgeting (think Dave Ramsey) for 9 months now and I’ve been able to save a LOT and pay off thousands of dollars in student loans. Cash budgeting has worked for me (and thousands of others) because there’s a different feeling when you swipe your card and money that you’ve probably never seen gets taken out of an account. It’s painless it doesn’t feel like you’re spending anything. But it’s different when you hand over a crisp $20 and you’re given $1.75 in change that you can see and tangibly feel. If you have trouble over spending or sticking to a budget, give it a try! Check out Dave Ramsey’s cash envelope system.
Here are some pictures of things I’ve made based on this budget! I definitely eat lots of different things with very little money!
Soups (This is a one-pot lasagna soup)
Pancakes, tofu scramble and seitan bacon
Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese
Lima bean ‘Tuna’ salad sandwich