Budgeting can be scary.
We know that’s not how you expected us to ease our way into this, but if you know us at all, you know we tell it like it is. So here’s the big, fat bandaid we would prefer to rip off sooner rather than later: Budgeting can be tough. And it’s not always fun. But while it takes some getting used to, you’re better off budgeting than blowing $50 (that you don’t have) at happy hour.
Just like going to the gym, working for that promotion, and virtually anything else that requires discipline, putting in work now will reap rewards later. And yes, budgeting requires work—particularly when it comes to the weekly food budget. It’s work to set aside time to meal prep. It’s work to say no to coworkers who ask if you “want to grab lunch.” Most of all, it’s work to think of better, more valuable alternatives than turning to Postmates.
Because, let’s face it—that $18 pizza always ends up costing well over $30. Don’t say you haven’t been there.
We understand your time is as valuable as it is limited, so we have a few suggestions when it comes to those extra-busy weeks. Here are a few tips, recipes, and services to make that budget a little more doable.
If you’re new to budgeting, you don’t have to buy a deep freezer or a Costco membership to make things work. If you’re a household of two or live in a city, the old saying “buying in bulk” might not be the most feasible.
You don’t need to overhaul your life in order to overhaul your budget. Many times small, very doable changes make a big impact. Here are a few small changes you can make to save money each week.
Studies show Americans waste roughly one pound of food per day. Let’s think about this for a second: If your goal is to shop for budget-friendly meals, but you end up throwing ingredients away, what progress are you making? To prevent food waste, try to cut your grocery list in half, but make a bi-weekly trip to the store. This will keep fresh fruits, veggies, chicken, ground beef, and other ingredients from spoiling.
And set a goal to use every perishable ingredient in your fridge. Various combinations of meats and veggies can easily be baked into casseroles, wrapped into a taco, or even folded into an enchilada.
Grocery stores charge a premium for prepared ingredients, including chopped fruits, sliced veggies, and pre-seasoned seafood. These purchases can run double the price of their unprepared version—even though they’re the same food! Try buying whole watermelon over cut-up chunks, whole zucchini over zoodles, or whole bell peppers over that fajita mix.
Also try thinking about how you approach the butcher counter. Many times, bone-in, skin-on cuts (like chicken thighs) run half the price of the more popular cuts like boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
If you’re reading this list thinking, “All this is well and good, but I don’t have time.” Listen, we get it—we have jobs too, and we know how hard it is to strike a balance. But ordering takeout should be kept to an absolute minimum, as delivery fees, taxes, and tips could end up being more than the actual meal. Instead of dropping $25-$35 on delivery, try to find a healthy, affordable meal delivery service that runs for—oh, we dunno—$11.99 a meal?
We promise, there are plenty of cheap dinner ideas out there beyond ramen, peanut butter and jelly, and grilled cheese (although man, do we have a mean grilled cheese recipe). Here are a few easy dinner ideas that will fit perfectly into your budget.
If you love Italian comfort food, you’ll love this recipe for chicken parmesan. You need just six ingredients, including frozen breaded chicken breasts, tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil. Not only is this recipe incredibly easy to make, but since it uses so many non-perishable ingredients, you significantly cut down your chances of food waste.
Going back to our point about inconvenient ingredients, allow us to direct your attention to this recipe for easy chicken leg quarters. While you’ve been spending your evenings baking chicken breasts to a crisp, you’ve completely overlooked more affordable (and in our opinion, better tasting) cuts. Chicken leg quarters run a fraction of the price of white meat, hardly require any seasoning, and give you more bang for your buck than your typical purchase.
Looking for a really cheap dinner idea? How does spending $3 on a meal sound? This budget-friendly dish packs protein-filled white beans, kale, pumpkin seeds, and seasoning into a baked sweet potato. Even if you buy organic ingredients your total cost should run you less than $12 for four servings.
Craving Mexican food? Rather than spending $30 at your favorite Tex-Mex restaurant (and that’s not including the pitcher of margaritas), try these homemade smothered burritos. You’ll bake ground turkey, sweet potatoes, canned black beans, and cheddar cheese into a flour tortilla until it’s ooey-gooey delicious.
Here’s another budget-friendly hack to mix into your week: Incorporate Meatless Monday into your routine. It’s no secret that the butcher counter costs exorbitantly more than the produce aisle, which is why you might want to consider more plant-based option. These Greek sandwiches—featuring fresh, crispy veggies like roasted red peppers, tomatoes, red onion, and cucumber—are a refreshing, vegan dinner idea that won’t break the bank.
When we consider affordable dinner recipes, beef and cheese lasagna isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind. Ground beef, mozzarella, ricotta, and parmesan cheese are pretty pricey ingredients, all things considered. That’s why we love this green veggie version, featuring basil pesto, zucchini, broccoli, green onion, and breadcrumbs for an affordable twist on the Italian classic.
If you’re looking for a cheap recipe idea, a stir-fry is the way to go. With just a few veggies, protein, and soy sauce, you have an easy dinner at a very low cost. This Chinese pepper steak combines bell peppers, onions, and flank steak (one of the cheapest cuts of beef you’ll find!) in a simple, Asian-inspired sauce. Top with sesame seeds and serve over rice to complete the dish.
In our humble opinion, pork is one of the most underrated sources of protein out there. Beef and chicken get all the attention, but pork is often more flavorful, moist, and certainly more affordable. These easy mustard pork chops take all of seven minutes to cook, using ingredients commonly found in your fridge. Pair with store-bought applesauce as a side dish for a completely budget-friendly, easy meal.
We're going to be honest with you: Many times, saving money ends up costing you time. It takes more time to cook a homemade meal than it does to dial takeout. It takes more time to grocery shop than it does to have food delivered. It takes more time to meal prep, clean-up, and plan ahead than it does to grab Chipotle on your way home.
But it doesn't have to.
If you're trying to strike a balance between time and money, try Tovala. Purchasing a Tovala Oven starts at just $199, a fraction of your other kitchen appliances. And unlike your other kitchen appliances, Tovala takes a fraction of the time. Using the Tovala app, you can search for easy, cheap meals that are ready in just 20 minutes. Most recipes require seven ingredients or fewer, and some take less than 10 minutes to prepare. And since we prefer to keep things simple, none of the ingredients will cost a great deal of money (or time, for that matter).