Ballin’ on a Budget–Ditch the Bare Cupboards & Empty Refrigerator

I’ll admit it…with the craziness of the holiday season I totally didn’t keep up with this series in December. But I’m back on the horse for January! Today, I’d like to continue with a series that highlights easy strategies for BALLIN’ ON A BUDGET. Each month, I’m going to propose something for all of us to ditch in order to free up some line items on our budgets with values that can go to more practical expenditures like paying down on debt and saving for special occasions. (You can catch up on past suggestions HERE.) Whether you’re actively pinching pennies or simply want to re-direct some of those pennies to better serve you, this series is for you! So, let’s get started…


When you’re trying to save money, or simply don’t have much money, any kind of spending can be difficult.

But here’s the thing…you’ve gotta eat. Like…to SURVIVE.

Back in my mega-broke years I repeated this re-assuring refrain to myself (“YOU’VE GOTTA EAT”) as a mantra of sorts.

You can tell yourself you’ll save money by staying home on Sunday instead of carting yourself to the grocery store and stocking up with food for the busy week ahead. But, “You’ve gotta eat.” So you pick up drive-thru fast food on the way home from work every night. You can tell yourself you don’t need to bring a snack with you because you’ll only be gone a few hours. But, “You’ve gotta eat.” So you  splurge on an over-priced granola bar. You tell your friends you can’t afford to go out to a restaurant with them and head home to the lone can of soup hanging out in your pantry. But that doesn’t fill you up and *say it with me now* “You’ve gotta eat.” So you catch up with those same friends at a bar and proceed to order appetizers galore!

All of these scenarios can be avoided with a little planning and a weekly trip to the grocery. If the check-out line has you meeting your edge as you listen to the beep-beep-beep of your bank account depleting, DON’T. PANIC. Just gently remind yourself, “I have to eat, damnit!” It is WAY better to do it on your own terms and stick to a budget. So, the next elimination you can make in your journey towards getting financially fit is to ditch the bare cupboards and empty refrigerator. 

Now I know this can be a hard habit to kick. Not only is there the cognitive dissonance with spending money in order to save money but planning ahead, studying sales, hitting the stores, and making your own meals takes brain space and time and practice. But if you give it a go, trust me, you’ll start falling into a routine. It will get easier. Heck, it might even become enjoyable. And you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank in no time.

Why not fill your fridge and cupboards with foods that makes sense? Food you love and food you are excited to cook?

Here are four easy steps to get you started…

Week 1. Brainstorm potential meals. 

Alright angels, this week you have it pretty easy! Grab three sheets of paper and set them out in front of you. Label them Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner and go to town with some listing. Consider all the dishes you know how to make off hand without a recipe. Jot those down on the appropriate sheets first. Think of all the meals you enjoy creating and write ’em down. Throwing a few ingredients together–like smoothies or sandwiches… Include those. List off the things you know you could throw together in ten minutes or less for those times you need to pack a lunch in a hurry. Brainstorm more elaborate items you might want to make when you have a long Sunday of sitting at home. These lists can be as long as you like (take the whole week to make sure you get everything down!) just make sure you’re considering these two questions–

  1. Do I enjoy eating this?
  2. Can I feasibly make this?

If the answer is yes to both then copy it on down!

Super pared down example to help you get the idea —

Breakfast – cereal, oatmeal, smoothies, pancakes with sausage, scrambled eggs with spinach and bacon, avocado toast, greek yogurt with fruit and granola

Lunch – salad topped with lean protein, berries, and avocado; grilled cheese and soup; pb&j with crackers and veggies/fruit; cold cut wrap with yogurt and trail mix; beans and rice; baked potato (or sweet potato) with toppings of choice; triscuits & cheese, grapes, pickles, and mixed nuts

Dinner – chili and cornbread; grilled salmon with grain and veggie; spaghetti and meatballs; your own version of a Chipotle burrito bowl; minestrone soup; black bean burgers with sweet potato fries and corn on the cob; chopped salad with a lean protein; homemade pizza and a side salad; breakfast for dinner; stir-fry pork and veggies with noodles/rice

Week 2. Gather pantry staples. 

Now that you know what types of things you’ll be preparing in your kitchen, you can start building up your essentials. Take a look at your three lists. Are there any common denominators in terms of ingredients? Any staple item which is used in the creation of several of the meals on your lists?

From the list above I see a few pantry staples which may be worth considering keeping on hand all the time. Oats, eggs, pancake mix, crackers/trail mix/nuts, beans, rice/quinoa, cornbread mix, pasta, peanut butter, and sweet potatoes would be a good starting place.

Once you’ve added these common denominator ingredients to your pantry staple list, consider ingredients which may act as ENHANCERS for the meals you brainstormed. Just a few add-ons can go a long way in taking your food from boring and blah to delicious. Think: Olive oil and vinegar to make a quick and easy salad dressing or a spicy mustard to jazz up that cold cut wrap. Maybe you like your food with a kick so you throw in hot sauce and Cajun seasoning. Perhaps you like Teriyaki sauce for marinating or a sprinkle of cinnamon on your morning oats. You get the idea.

Purchase as many of these items as you can this week. If you can’t afford to grab the whole kit and kaboodle? That’s ok. You can start adding a few pantry staples to your repertoire each week you shop. And as you run out of these items, replace them.

pantry staples

Week 3. Make a meal plan. 

At this point you know what meals you can (and want) to make and you have some pantry staples on hand, time to take a stab at a little bit of handy-dandy planning! Take a glance at your calendar to first get an idea of what your week looks like. Are you super busy? Do you have any evening meetings or activities? Any meals already accounted for–like breakfast provided at a conference or a special birthday dinner planned with friends? Will you have time each morning to pack your lunch or do you need to do it the night before? Or even prepare them all on Sunday?

Once you’ve taken stock of all your weekly happenings and considerations, start pulling meal ideas from your brainstorm lists to create your weekly meal plan. Make sure to keep in mind the pantry staples you stocked up on last week in order to keep your grocery bill as low as possible.

Example from the brainstorm above–

Monday: B- Greek yogurt with fruit and granola. L- PB&J with crackers and veggies. D- Chili and cornbread.

Tuesday: B- Oatmeal. L- cold cut wrap with yogurt and trail mix. D- Leftover chili and cornbread.

Wednesday: B- Oatmeal. L- PB&J with crackers and fruit. D- Breakfast for dinner.

Thursday: B- Oatmeal. L- salad topped with lean protein, berries, and avocado. D- black bean burgers with sweet potato fries and corn on the cob

Friday: B- Oatmeal. L- cold cut wrap with yogurt and trail mix. D- Eat out for date night.

Saturday: B- avocado toast. L- baked potato (or sweet potato) with toppings of choice. D- minestrone soup.

Sunday: B-  pancakes with sausage. L- leftover minestrone soup. D- stir-fry pork and veggies with noodles/rice

Week 4. Hit the store and get cooking. 

This is the week to put all your planning into action. Start your week with a trip to the store to get all the items you’ll need to pull off that meal plan. Bring the plan with you or make a shopping list. Study the sales. Compare prices in the store. If you need fruits, go for the ones in season. Need veggies? Check fresh AND frozen. Grains? Look for which one is on sale or hit up the bulk bins.

Once you’re home with all your loot see what happens. Give your week’s worth of meals a go! If you experience hiccups along the way that’s ok. Figure out what you could do differently in the future. Practice makes perfect and finding a way to cheaply feed yourself with out a lot of fuss DEFINITELY takes practice. If you think it might help in your journey, take this week to jot down any thoughts, notes, or inspiration in a journal. Read through it when you sit down to make your next meal plan and KEEP GOING! You got this!!!

kitchen tools


Week 1 —

31 Healthy Meals You Can Make in 10 Minutes or Less

Quick Dinners to Make at Home

Good and Cheap (PDF Cookbook)

8 Fast Dinners for Busy Runners

Week 2 —

Stock Your Kitchen: Pantry Staples

How to Stock a Healthy Pantry

Week 3 —

How I Cut My Grocery Bill by $1000 a Year

Memorize This Grocery List

How to Eat on a Shoestring Budget

FREE Weekly Meal Plan Printable

Week 4 —

Favorite Trader Joe’s Items

6 Ways We’re Keeping Our Grocery Budget Low

How to Maximize Your Saving With Coupons

How to Make 5 Week Day Dinners on a Sunday

An Entire Week’s Worth of Meals in 9 Easy Steps

Do you have your own tips or resources for keeping food in your pantry and home-cooked meals in your belly? Is this an area of your “spending diet” that you struggle with? Do you think following these weekly steps could help? Let’s chat in the comments below!

And tune in next month when we tackle GYM MEMBERSHIPS!



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