They say if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  I’ve found meal planning to be one of the best money saving tips out there for young families trying to stretch their dollars.

Knowing in advance what you are going to eat for dinner can save you from many impulse visits to your favorite restaurant or fast food chain, as well as those last minute trips to the grocery store when you don’t have anything left in the cupboards.

Tips to Get Started With Meal Planning

Start the meal planning process by making a dinner list.  I recommend matching the length of your list to your payday cycle.  If you get paid weekly, plan for 7 dinners, if it’s bi-weekly plan for 14 dinners.

I get paid monthly and plan for 30 nightly meals (seriously).  Put your list up on the fridge, this will help you remember to take the chicken out to defrost.

Take stock of what’s already in your fridge, freezer, and cupboards.  From there, use your dinner list to make your shopping list.

I make a list for shopping at Costco (meat, dairy, vegetables, other staples), and Safeway (whatever else I require that doesn’t need to come in size XXL).  For further money saving tips, try and hit Safeway on 15% off Tuesday (1st Tuesday of the month).

Related: How To Save Money On Groceries

I split up the meat into smaller portions and use our deep freeze to store it for the month.  Some people buy a side of beef and freeze it, which they claim can save money vs. buying retail.

This takes a fair bit of organization but since we started meal planning along with tracking our monthly expenses we have saved about $250/month.  We often end up with leftovers to use for lunch, which saves us even more money.

Not only that, my wife and I have lost weight, tried and fell in love with new recipes, and have actually become really good cooks.

Stay flexible.  Although meal planning sounds quite rigid, we switch meals all the time based on our schedule, what the weather is doing (for BBQ’s), or what might spoil in the fridge if we don’t eat it right away.

Related: 35 Ways To Save Money

The point isn’t to live like you’re in the Army.  Use these money saving tips to eat a little bit healthier, and enjoy more time with your family.

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