Saving up for a big vacation? Saving to move out? Saving for a new car? Unfortunately, money doesn’t exactly grow on trees. But, what if I told you that you have more money than you ever imagined? The key to unlock some extra cash? MEAL PREP!
Now, I know you’ve heard about meal prep from hundreds of others, but they’re missing part of the message: IT’S EASY!! And, not only does meal prep give you healthy options, it also legitimately puts money back into your pocket! This is crucial for all of us in first apartments (or saving for our first apartment!) because any extra cash saved absolutely makes a difference.
Step 1: Add up what you currently spend
Add up what you’re currently spending to determine what you can save. Here’s my breakdown below:
Breakfast costs: $1 per day * 7 days = $7
I mostly ate a hard boiled egg for breakfast, sometimes with oatmeal or a granola bar.
Lunch costs: $8 per day * 7 days = $56
We have a cafeteria where I work, so I would generally purchase a big salad for lunch every day. Add a snack for my 3pm lull, and the total hit right around $8 on average. On the weekends, my SO and I generally go out for lunch instead of cooking at home. I estimated a $8 lunch for myself on each weekend day.
Dinner costs: Chipotle ($10) + Homecooked meals ($6 * 3 nights = $18) + Out to eat ($15) + Random takeout ($10) + Frozen meal ($3) = $57
While this is variable, we were eating out a few nights a week or ordering takeout. Above was an average week for us.
Weekly total: $120 per person! Holy smokes, that adds up to $480 per month, or $5,760 per year!
We wanted to make a change to start to save money to purchase a house and wanted to be healthier by cutting out restaurant food as much as possible. And guess what? We are down to $45 per person each week! That’s right, each of our meals costs between $1.50 and $2.50 after following these meal prep guidelines. Annual total? $2,160. Over $3,500 saved EACH…that can go straight to purchasing a home.
Finding these savings will take a little time. Choose one day in a week to knock it all out — you’ll need 2-3 hours.
Step 2: Research recipes and prepare shopping list
- Research recipes that are appetizing, healthful and use basic ingredients, and save them (I Google “lunch meal prep” to find some awesome options!)
- You will need 2 recipes for lunches and 7 recipes for dinners (or a few recipes you can make multiple nights), plus a basic breakfast option.
- Pro Tip: Find recipes you can double and tweak for a second meal, for example, chicken cutlets Tuesday, chicken tacos Thursday.
- Recipes with lots of vegetables will be cheaper than recipes with processed foods
- Pro Tip: Look for recipes with similar ingredients! If a recipe calls for half of a lemon, look for a recipe that includes lemon so you can save money.
- On paper (see image above!), write out all of the ingredients needed for each recipe in order
- Pro Tip: It doesn’t have to beautiful or Instagram-ready! Do this quick to save yourself some time
- Create one shopping list by taking all ingredients from your recipe pages and combining them together.
- Pro Tip: Consider adding healthy snacks to help you avoid the office vending machine. Baby carrots and trail mix are my go-to’s!
- Extra Pro Tip: Organize your grocery list into the store’s departments. List all produce together, frozen foods together, dry foods together, etc. for quicker shopping.
- Extra-Extra Pro Tip: After you have your list, estimate the cost of each item using your grocery experience. If the total is far more than you can afford, head back to Google and find recipes with more wholesome ingredients to eliminate expensive processed foods.
- That process should take you under one hour. Then it’s time to shop!
Step 3: Hit the grocery store
- Grab a snack before you start grocery shopping…trust me on this one!
- Don’t feel the need to shop at multiple grocery stores unless you really need to penny pinch. I shop at a superstore and choose the store brand when possible to cut corners.
- Don’t panic at how much food is in your cart! It will look like you are shopping for 6! Remember that vegetables are very inexpensive!
Step 4: Once you’re home and unpacked, cook your recipes for your lunches.
- Depending on your comfort in the kitchen, you can take the recipes one at a time, or cook both at once. Don’t feel overwhelmed!
- Pack your lunches in microwave-safe containers and store in the refrigerator.
- Store the rest of the food and pack snacks!
These two or three hours have become therapeutic for me! Plus, knowing I have cheap, healthy options has made a big difference. Be sure to pack your lunches in the morning and use all of the food you purchased for dinners!