16 Menu Planning Mistakes You’re Making Each Month

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Do you plan a menu? If so, has your grocery budget dropped or are you still looking for ways to save money on groceries? You might be surprised at the number of people who are actually still struggling with high food costs despite the fact that they’re planning a menu each month. The answer might be more simple than you think; it really could boil down to just a few simple menu planing mistakes you’re making each month. I know for me personally, when I realized I was making these easy menu planning mistakes, it was like a light bulb went off in my head. Once I realized what I was doing, I was able to fix them and then work on really getting my grocery bill down.

Menu Planning Mistakes You Don't Know You're Making - Is your grocery budget *still* too high? Make sure you're not menu planning wrong! These menu planning mistakes are easy to make, but hard to catch!

When I say that these menu planning mistakes are hard to catch, what I mean is that they are hard to spot if you’re making them. Why? They’re super simple to do and anyone could be doing them without realizing it. If you are, you likely won’t see it until it is too late and you’re trying to dig your family out of a financial crisisLike a lot of other things in life though, if someone else points them out to you, things suddenly become a lot more clear and you’re able to see the tree through the forest so to speak.

Menu Planning Mistakes You’re Making Each Month

Keep in mind too that your issue with skyrocketing food costs may not be a result of menu planning mistakes at all. It could be an outside source such as higher prices at the store. It could be the fault of simply not having enough money. It could be caused by a lot of things. The first step though in trying to save a failing grocery budget is to make certain you’re not making any of these menu planning mistakes. If you are, you’ll have a much harder time cutting costs no matter what else you may be doing to save.

Not planning a menu at all – One of the biggest menu planning mistakes I’ve ever seen is to simply not have a menu at all. Having a menu does more than allow you to know what you’re having for dinner. It also keeps you from eating out often, allows you to buy on sale and more. If you’re not already planning a menu, start planning one the next time you go to the store.

Not taking a freezer inventory – If you’re not taking a freezer inventory before you make your menu, you are very likely buying products you don’t need which is again; one of the biggest menu planning mistakes you can make.  Having a fresh inventory before you pull our the cheap family recipes that are going to be on your menu, means you know what you need to buy and what you don’t need to buy.

Side Note: Want to make taking your freezer and pantry inventories easy as pie? Grab our FREE printable kitchen packet right HERE. It’s got both inventory sheets, recipe cards and so much more!

Not taking a pantry inventory – Another one of the big menu planning mistakes you could be making goes hand in hand with not taking a freezer inventory. If you’re not also taking a pantry inventory, you’re most likely buying groceries you don’t need. Now please don’t misunderstand me; this isn’t always a bad thing. If you’re trying to build a stockpile on a budget, it can be a good thing. Just be sure you have the money in your grocery budget to do so and make sure you’re still taking a pantry inventory before you plan your menu.

Making your shopping list before your recipe list – This was one that I recently caught myself doing so if you are, don’t stress it. Just fix the issue before it becomes a real issue in your budget. It can be really tempting to make your grocery list based on the sale ads first and then add your menu items once you’re done. What happens though is that you can spend your entire grocery budget on those sale items and never get to the point where you’re making your menu. Instead, work your list and menu the other way around. Take a freezer and pantry inventory first, then load your menu with whatever recipes you can make with what you have on hand. Only then should you look at the sale ads and only long enough to fill out the rest of your menu.

Making recipes from the sales ads first – Again, along the lines of the last menu planning mistake I mentioned, filling your menu with recipes made up from the sales ads first will usually lead to you not having enough wiggle room in your budget to get enough recipes for your entire menu. This is especially true if you are planning three meals a day versus only planning dinners. Instead, after your inventories are done, make as many recipes as you can with what you already have. The less you have to purchase each month, the more money you’ll have to spend when you really need it.

Not taking advantage of leftovers – One of the first things my family did when we started our journey to becoming a zero waste home was to start making better use of leftovers. Why you would cook food only to throw what was left away, I’ll never understand but it is far more common than you might think. My own home did it for quite some time, but once we started eating them for lunch or even dinner the next day; my grocery budget dropped by over $100.00 a month.

Not using coupons when you shop – I used to be an extreme couponer, but over the years, I made the decision to stop extreme couponing and instead to practice responsible couponing. Coupons can be extremely addictive, but done correctly, they can also save you some pretty significant money. If you’re not using printable coupons like THESE or digital coupons when you shop, you’re wasting money. Just be sure to only use a coupon for an item you need and never buy anything simply because you have a coupon. That’s a good way to waste more money than you need to.


Side Note: Do you ever shop for groceries onlne? If so,  be sure to sign up for an Ebates account before you shop. Ebates is a cash back shopping site that will pay you cash back on qualified purchases. Plus, Ebates will give new customers $10.00 in FREE cash back when you create an Ebates account and make your first qualified purchase of $25.00 or more. You can check them out HERE.

Still confused about how Ebates works? Be sure to check out my Ebates 101 post right HERE.


Not using cash back rebates when you shop – Along with coupons, you should make sure you’re using cash back rebate apps such as Ibotta when you plan your menu. If not, you could be committing one of the biggest menu planning mistakes around ; not trying to save money on your grocery list. When you sign up for an Ibotta account HERE, they will pay you cash back when you purchase an item they have a rebate for. Build $20 in your account and cash out instantly for Paypal or gift cards.

If you don’t think you’d ever buy anything Ibotta offers rebates for, you’re wrong. A lot of the time they have rebates for things such as fresh produce and even occasionally milk!

Not cooking for your family – As crazy as this sounds, one of the biggest menu planning mistakes you can make is to make meals that cater more to the individual than it does the family. Tacos are a good example of this. It can take quite a few tacos to feed a family of four which can get pretty expensive. Make those tacos into a taco casserole and you will use less of every ingredient and feed your family just as much food. When you’re planning your menu, make sure you’re feeding the family as a whole and not each individual.

Not making freezer meals – Freezer cooking is popular for more than one reason but the biggest one – in my opinion – is how easy freezer cooking makes menu planning. When you’ve cooked your favorite freezer recipes, you’ve already got recipes to add to your menu with no – or few- extra ingredients needed!Not only will it save you money in your grocery budget, but it will also help you save money on eating out since you’ll be doing less of it.

Not accounting for snacks – If you have kids, you have a part of your grocery budget that accounts for snacks which means that one of the biggest menu planning mistakes you can make is to avoid planning for snacks in your menu. Your kids will need to eat whether you plan for it or not which means that in order to save as much money as possible on food, you need to take the step to plan for them. Most snack recipes, such as our homemade Uncrustables recipe can be frozen until they’re ready to be eaten so there really isn’t a good reason not to plan for them.

Planning recipes that are too expensive – I love making my Copycat Olive Garden Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo recipe, but the truth is that even though it’s anOlive Garden Copycat recipe, it still pretty expensive to make. Around $20 per batch and for my family, I have to make two batches to feed us all. While the more expensive recipes are okay to have once in a while as a treat, the truth is that if you’re eating expensive recipes instead of cheap recipes every month, you’re making a huge menu planning mistake. Instead, make a list of your favorite recipes that can be made for $5.00 or less, sign up for a menu planning site such as MyFreezeEasy or check out a blog such as 5 Dollar Dinners for help.

Not having a meatless meal or two each week – Steve is very much a meat and potatoes kind of guy, but twice a week, we have a meatless meal. Why? Because simply put, meat is the single most expensive part of a grocery budget. By cutting meat out of your menu, even once a week, you’re likely to save $20 (or more) a month depending on what type of meat you cut and what your current grocery prices are. Instead, opt for vegetarian options, a salad night or pasta without meat for those nights you are eating meatless.


Side Note: Really want to kick up your savings a few notches? Grab my book, Six Dollar Family: From Six Dollars to Six Figures! It’s packed with more frugal living tips, practical DIY’s and more! Currently available in paperback, Kindle and Nook formats.


Shopping before you plan your menu – Earlier we talked about not making the mistake of making your shopping list before you plan your menu, but I feel it should also be said that you shouldn’t shop before your list is made or your menu is planned. Without either, you’re going to spend more money and there’s no doubt about that.

Relying too much on boxed or frozen foods – Another one of the most common menu planning mistakes is relying too much on processed foods that come in boxes or frozen. Not only are these types of foods typically more expensive than their homemade counterparts, but they’re quite unhealthy for you with added preservatives, chemicals and usually massive amounts of salt. This can cost you big bucks later on with your health so make sure you are trying to stay away from them as much as possible when you’re planning your menu.

Making your menu but not sticking to it – Finally one of the last menu planning mistakes, you’ll want to make sure you’re not doing is to make your menu but not stick to it. Not only are you wasting money, but you’re wasting time too! If you’re not going to stick to it, simply skip it so you don’t have the guilt that can come with breaking your budget and busting your menu. Simply make a list before you go shopping and hope you’ve got enough food to feed everyone for the month.

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Stacy Williams

Stacy Williams is a 37-year old wife to a USAF Gulf War Veteran, mother of two teen girls and fur-mamma to a rescued pit bull. The face and brain behind the frugal living and lifestyle blog Six Dollar Family, she also owns and manages Long Haul Wife, Republic Preparedness, The Genealogy Queen and a handful of others sites. By the age of 30, Stacy had overcome a drinking problem, a drug addiction, divorce, survived domestic violence, and had built a life for herself and her daughter after spending 10 months in a homeless shelter. Stacy is passionate about homeless advocacy and addiction education.  Her first book, also called Six Dollar Family is available on Amazon.

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  1. Cynthia Holley says:

    We have an auldis where I live that I shop every week. The first thing I do is find out what their meat special is for the week.
    Then I find a recipe I like with that meat. Then I check the sales flyer for auldis and price chopper for the other ingredients
    Or specialty food I need to buy at price chopper. I can get the basics at auldis, but I have to go to price chopper for menu
    Stuff auldis does not carry. I also do the pantry / freezer inventory to make sure I am not buying doubles. When I shop at price chopper I also do the fuel discount and store card for savings. I live alone and my grocery bill is 60 dollars a week. I have found a good way to control your budget is to put a small calculator in your cart and add up the items as you shop. This way when you get to the checkout you will not be over budget. I also shop with baskets instead of plastic bags. Another savings.
    Since I am zero waste I transfer plastic containers to reusable containers that I bring with me. Then I bag the disposable
    Plastic and put it in The stores trash can. That way I save money with the trash.

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