Meal Planning when You’re Almost Out of Grocery Money

There are some simple, but important, strategies for stretching food and meal planning when you don’t have much money left in your grocery budget. These tips will help you get to the end of the month without overspending your grocery budget – and not feed your family PB&J or mac-and-cheese three nights a week.

Yes, it is possible to stick to your grocery budget, shop for healthy food, and not run out of grocery money by the end of the month.

If you’d like to see me work through a step-by-step example, watch the video below.

1. List Available Ingredients

When you are low on your available grocery budget, you need to list and count your main ingredients. Accurate pantry and freezer inventories are incredibly important when meal planning. But, individual amounts of each item should be counted and also added to your list.

For instance, you should list how many cans of corn you have on the pantry shelf, instead of merely notating that corn is available to use.

Likewise, when it comes to perishable ingredients, you need to know that you have 8 carrots and 10 potatoes, rather than simply, “1-pound bag of carrots” and “5-pound bag of potatoes.”

Prioritize your list of perishables.

Make certain that items with the shortest shelf life appear at the top of the list. This will visually remind you to use these ingredients first, minimizing incidences of throwing away produce, dairy, or meat which has rotted in the refrigerator.

You can use a piece of notebook paper to create your list of available ingredients in your refrigerator or my Perishable Food Inventory worksheet.

Listing and counting all on-hand food products allows you to easily divide those available ingredients amongst several recipes, knowing you have enough needed supplies on hand and won’t run out.

2. How Many Meals Do You Need?

Look at the calendar and determine how many days of food you need to provide for your family and how much money you have left in your grocery budget.

These two pieces of information will allow you to create a menu plan filled with recipes, which allow you to get to the end of the month without overspending your grocery budget.

Although the number of days you need to fill may seem daunting, the key to succeeding is to plan your menu topically. That means you’ll plan the weekly number of meals you need by overall category: main dishes, sides, salads, soups, dessert, and miscellaneous.

It’s helpful to cook recipes which will feed your family for more than one meal.

3. Keep meals simple

Topical meal planning allows you to create a limited number of low-cost recipes, which can then be mixed and matched for lunches and dinners.

The “formula” for Topical Menu Planning each week:

  • 3-4 main dishes
  • 2 soups
  • 2 sides
  • 2 salads
  • 2 miscellaneous (Breads, Muffins, Tortillas, etc)
  • 1 dessert

It’s very important to leave one day of the week empty on the menu planner. I know from experience, some finished dishes last longer than you think they will. By the end of the week, you have earned a day out of the kitchen. A “clean out the fridge” day will allow you to put all the leftovers out on the table so your family can feast on items which might otherwise languish for way too long and wind up being thrown out.

Here’s an example of three- week topical meal plan.

Simple frugal recipes

If you’re looking for simple frugal recipes which will feed a hungry family of four, here are photos and links from the three-week menu, which is pictured above.

Main Dishes

Sides and Salads


4. Focus each week’s meals on one low-cost main ingredient.

Pick one, low-cost ingredient that you have a LOT of and use that as your main ingredient that week. It’s a bonus if your focus ingredient adds fiber, protein, and helps stretch your meals.

Dried beans are the perfect example. They are unbelievably cheap and check all the boxes we want when it comes to doing a great job of filling up hungry people without breaking the bank.

To avoid overwhelming your family with one basic flavor, make sure at least half of your recipes that week do not contain that ingredient.

5. Buy any additional needed ingredients

I call this my “fill in the blanks grocery list.” You’re not looking for make a full grocery run. You are getting only ingredients needed to complete the recipes on your menu plan. You know how many dishes you will be preparing and you have a focus ingredient. You need this grocery list to be comprised of only what you absolutely need.

There should not be any soda, snacks, or prepared desserts on this list. Remember, the goal is to get to the end of the month using only the grocery money you still have available – and not one dollar more.

Here are some questions to answer before you started on creating your grocery list.

1.What recipes can I make using only the ingredients I already have on hand?

Fill in as much of your meal plan with recipes which don’t require you to go to the store at all. If you need inspiration and ideas on what you can make using basic ingredients, check They have a huge database of home-cooking favorites to choose from. You’ll also find step-by-step instructions and video tutorials at their website.

2. Are there any ingredient substitutions I can make?

You can completely blow out a grocery budget when you decide to make dishes which use expensive, specialty ingredients. Avoid these recipes or find comparable, lower-cost substitutions. These substitute ingredients should, ideally, be something you already have on the shelves at home.

3. Are there any ingredients I can buy which stretch meals and lower the cost per serving?

Budget-stretching ingredients are low cost, can be uses in a wide variety of ways, and allow you to stretch recipes to feed more people. Examples include: russet potatoes, pasta, and rice.

4. What low-cost basics do I need to buy?

For me, as long as I have onions, celery, and carrots, I can create any number of recipes and feed my family for well under $1 per serving.

Cautions before you head to the grocery store

Before you leave home to head to the store, there are some important things you need to keep in mind.

Don’t spend all your available grocery money all in one shopping trip. Leave some money left over. You may need a few dollars toward the end of the month if you run out of something critical. Having an extra $20 will allow you to buy a few items without going over your allotment of food money,

By using all these strategies, you’ll be able to successfully bridge the gap between feeding your family using what you have on hand, while not overspending your diminished grocery budget.

The key to spending less on groceries

Finding yourself low on grocery funds is frustrating, especially it happens often. However, there are many, easy ways you can consistently spend less on groceries (and still eat healthy food).

The key to always getting the lowest prices on food, begins with understanding where to find the best deals at the store. Here are ten steps to get you started.

5 thoughts on “Meal Planning when You’re Almost Out of Grocery Money”

  1. Hello Hope,
    Could I please get your recipe for your Baked Potatoes with Cheesy Vegetable Topping? I have lots and potatoes on hand right now and that looks really tasty. Thank you for your menu planning videos. We really enjoy them.
    Thank you,


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