Do you choose your groceries based on what’s on special? That doesn’t mean a shopping list isn’t right for you. In fact, by taking the time to create a meal plan and shopping list before you head out, you can get those costs down even more.

Meal planning is a great way to stay within a budget while making meals that are healthier and tastier than what you’d find ready-made in stores. It’s also great for those short on time because doing simple meal planning allows you to shop for ingredients in bulk and quickly prepare them during the week. 

Shop your pantry first

Before you get started, look at what groceries you already have in your home, and with a little creativity, you can plan some meals and snacks for the week. Go beyond the same couple recipes you rely on, and find ways to combine different items in unique ways that still let you work within your budget. Shopping your pantry gives an opportunity to save money, stretch already purchased food to its fullest potential and avoid wasting anything.

Create your budget meal plan

Write down what you’re going to have for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks each day. Just don’t get too specific. There’s no reason you can’t just write down “chicken and veg” and then pick out whichever veg is on sale once you get there. Then use that same veg three nights this week or even freeze some for next week. Just make sure to use it before it goes bad or you’ll be kicking yourself for wasting money later.

Once you’ve created your meal plan, you can use it to create your shopping list. This way, you’ll be able to purchase everything on your list quickly and easily. Planning your meals ahead of time also reduces the amount of time you spend in the grocery store.

Make a shopping list with categories

Having a plan and sticking with it can keep you on budget while shopping. Figure out exactly what items you’ll be needing and take your time writing each item down. This way, when you’re in the store you won’t forget anything or rush to buy unnecessary items. Making a shopping list with every necessary item is essential for staying on track on budget and getting all the products you need for the week.


Compare prices between different stores 

It’s important to compare prices between different stores. I tend to alternate between Woolworths and Aldi. 

Aldi has some great prices on meat and frozen good but it also doesn’t have everything I need so every second week I do a Woolworths shop online. Woolworths which costs more but has a better selection – and has some great discounts at times. Online shopping can make it easier to compare prices and find the best deals on the items you need, plus it eliminates the temptation of buying anything unnecessary.

Plus, with online shopping, you don’t have to worry you’ve gone over budget. You know exactly what it’s going to cost and you can eliminate unnecessary purchases before checkout – this is a much more embarrassing thing to have to do in real life at the register. 

Doing this has gotten my average shopping price down around $100 a week. 

Stick to your list while you’re shopping… unless you see a great discount on something you need.

Think twice before impulse buying something just because it’s on sale. Saving money does not always mean buying something cheaper. But at the same time… you may be able to find discounts on things that you will need. It doesn’t make sense to walk past a 50% off item just because you haven’t run out of it yet only to pay full price next week.

(Always buy the 5kg bag of rice on special from Woolworths or you’re a crazy person.)

Buy in Bulk

Bulk purchasing allows you  to spread the cost of a product over more units, meaning that individual items in the purchase cost less. This is especially helpful when it comes to pantry staples like paper towels and cereal, which are frequently used household items. With smart shopping and bulk buying, you can stock your shelves without breaking your budget.

How meal prepping can help save you money

Meal prepping is another great way to save money on your shopping list if you’re organised enough. It can be costly to get started but once you’re in the thick of it, you can seriously save some money. Start by just making a double portion of your meals and freezing half. Next week you get to eat it again without having to cook.

Buy foods that fill you up

Eating healthy on a budget is possible with some strategic shopping and meal planning. To save money and still get full, opt to buy foods that are nutrient-dense but inexpensive. Filling options include dried beans and grains such as lentils, black beans, quinoa, and oats. You can also stretch your food dollars by making hearty stews and soups with legumes, canned tomatoes, and frozen vegetables.

How to meal plan when you’re actually poor

If you still can’t afford your groceries and you certainly can’t afford to buy in bulk right now, the next step is to find a food bank near you. You don’t need to be homeless to use them and you definitely don’t need to feel ashamed. Most of these organisations serve the elderly, families with children, and low-income households. You might need to be a resident of the area where the food bank is located and meet certain income requirements, though. You can often find out if you qualify by visiting the food bank’s website or calling their office.

Food banks often provide food hampers for those in need. These hampers typically include canned goods, meat, bread, fresh produce, dairy products, and pantry staples. Some food banks may even offer frozen meals or specially designed nutrition boxes for children. So if you’re really struggling right now, start with the food bank and do your meal plan backwards. Get your hamper and see what you have to work with. Figure out what you can make with it and what you can freeze. If there’s any extra ingredients or items you need, add them to your shopping list.

Anything that you can, buy from the junk shop or second hand stores instead of the supermarket or department stores. These stores offer clothing, furniture, and other household items for significantly less than what you’d find in a regular store. Facebook Marketplace is also a great way to find inexpensive or even free items. You can search by location and keyword, and filter your results by category. 

Being organised is not just for rich people. With careful meal planning and some budget-friendly ingredients, you can create healthy, delicious meals even on a tight budget.