Inventory: My First Step in Meal Planning and Saving Money on Groceries

published Mar 23, 2015
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(Image credit: Jessica Fisher)

So, you’ve got some goals for your money — that big trip, the new car, the debt-defiance — and you’ve got a food budget to help you tell your money where to go. You might think that the plump grocery fund is your carte blanche to go shopping, but there’s something you need to do first before heading out.

Nope, I’m not talking about meal planning or grocery list making, though those are super important. Your first step requires a mere pause in your kitchen to take inventory.

Take inventory of what you have.

An inventory is key to meal planning, and more importantly, saving money on groceries. If you don’t know what you have already, you are liable to buy duplicates or pick up items you don’t need because you’ve got something else that will work at home already.

In fact, you may be able to save yourself a trip to the store in the first place if your pantry is already well-stocked. If only you know that before you go shopping!

(Image credit: Jessica Fisher)

When we were newlyweds, I thought meal planning meant making a list of whatever I wanted to eat that week and buying the groceries to go with it. In my food-loving fervor, I rarely checked what we already had. I cringe at how much food I wasted because I hadn’t planned better.

Loving good food involves a certain respect for taste, but I think it also asks us to be mindful of waste. If we love food, then we’ll do our best to make the most of it.

An inventory can be a great reminder to enjoy what you already have before you buy more things you love.

How to make a quick inventory-based meal plan

1. Scan what proteins you have on hand. These will be the building blocks of your meal plan.

2. Brainstorm meals that you can make with those items. What do you already have in the pantry, fridge, and freezer that will complement your main dish selections.

3. Make a short list of items you need to round out your week’s worth of meals.

I’m always looking to up my game in grocery savings, so I’d love to hear from you. How do you make sure you use what you have instead of buying more that you might not need this week or month?