How I Meal Prep for Less Than $45 a Week
Lynette Salas is rounding out her second quarter as a Financial Gym client. She is an architectural designer living in New York City and loves hiking, baking and hosting themed dinner parties. She is currently saving for a trip to South America.
I am an avid home cook that enjoys baking, hosting dinner parties and of course meal prepping. I have always prepped most of my breakfasts, lunches, post-workout snacks, and dinners so that I could enjoy one too many cocktails on the weekend and brunch with friends.
Once I joined the Financial Gym, I had to make some adjustments to meet my weekly spending budget. I didn’t realize how much I was overspending on social engagements until one Sunday morning I looked at my weekly balance and I had $28 to spend on a week’s worth of groceries. Yikes!
Groceries and dining are extra expensive in NYC with an average cocktail costing $14, add tax and tip and you are even higher! Now what percentage of my weekly income did I just drink away...
I buckled down on social spending and grocery spending to help me reach my financial goals and here are some methods to get there no matter what your budget is.
Yes, my average grocery bill is under $45/wk.
Frankly, my grocery bill is typically under $35 a week, but occasionally I need to restock on staples or host dinner parties (which is one of my sacred cows) where the bill may reach closer to $75. I buy ingredients that are flexible, mostly healthy, and prevent me from mindless spending.
For example, I wanted to make chicken tagine after ordering it at a restaurant and paying $22. In my research I found many recipes and most of them had specialized ingredients. How authentic was my tagine? I have no clue, but it tasted incredible.
Instead of including preserved lemon and dried apricots, I just bought a regular lemon to give it some acidity and bought the apricots because I can chop those up and put them in my oatmeal. Instead of serving it over white rice, I bought quinoa because I can make a larger batch and toss it in a salad for an extra source of protein.
I mostly shop at Whole Foods.
I never understood the “whole paycheck” slight, because I have always been able to keep my spending relatively low there. I occasionally do some shopping at Trader Joe’s or a small Mexican grocery store down the street, but most of my groceries come from Whole Foods. This takes a bit of planning and know-how.
Every Wednesday I get a sales email from them and I peruse what is on sale and use that to somewhat determine my meals for the week. I also know that oftentimes their store brand, 365, is cheaper than the sales, so I take it all in with a grain of salt.
But fresh produce is where it is at! Ground beef on sale? Bolognese this week it is! Apples on sale? Hello, apple sauce!
I focus my spending on fresh produce, buying the store brand when I can, and buying from the bulk section. That oatmeal I bought to go with apricots? Bought it in the bulk section. One pound of oatmeal cost $1 and lasted me for more than a week of breakfasts.
For dried fruit, nuts and baking items, Trader Joe’s is definitely a better deal, but I didn’t figure that out until I became more mindful. I would probably shop there more but it’s a bit further away for me.
I buy wine semi-regularly
I try to keep my wine spending to under $12, and yes there are plenty of great wines in that price range. My local wine store has a Sauvignon Blanc and a Nebbiolo that are about $10. This is not something I buy every week, more like once or twice a month, but this is definitely cheaper than the $14 cocktails available at bars. If I do extra well on my social spending, then I will certainly buy more bottles or spend a bit more on a nice bottle.
This takes time...
In thinking, planning, researching and calculating. I spend time researching recipes, and I have enough cooking experience to know what can be substituted or omitted.
This all comes with time and practice and these efforts will consume less and less of you each time. I write down the grocery list and will edit it several times. Do I really need fresh cilantro AND green onions or can I eliminate whichever will be more expensive?
I also write down the estimated prices of the groceries so I can have an understanding of how much I will spend. If I can’t remember a price I will go to Instacart to get a general idea. Then I have that list and compare as I am shopping. I weigh out all of the fresh produce. I never want to spend $12 on grapes again because I thought I was buying 2 pounds and it was really 4 pounds.
There are a few caveats…
My meal prep plan is very low variety. I typically have two or three options for breakfast during the week and I make one type of lunch and one dinner for the week. While I enjoy variety, I don’t like the extra dishes and time to cook multiple items.
My office supplements some meals. Bagels are provided on Monday mornings and we generally have lunch and learns one day a week where a vendor provides us lunch. Sometimes there are more free food opportunities, but it varies. If I work late, then they also provide dinner, so if I have a deadline coming up and anticipate a lot of late nights, I’ll adjust my grocery spending accordingly.
Oftentimes, I have been surprised with how little I spent when I check out. Just last week I spent $24 on groceries. I bring my own bags to get a little off and make the use of coupons, bulk discounts, and Amazon Prime deals when I can.
It’s not perfect, sometimes I go over, but all in all I am spending way less on average than before and can therefore spend money on other items or experiences that are important to me.
If you’re interested in learning more about The Financial Gym process and how our team of Financial Trainers can help you reach your financial goals - and how meal prepping can help — schedule your FREE 20-minute consult call here.