The CHEAPEST Way to Start a Blog and Make Money

A few days ago I announced on my Instagram that I had begun paid freelance writing, and that I kind of fell into this because of blogging. Since then, I’ve had several friends (in person and online) ask me, “How did you make your website?” And to answer everyone, I decided to make this post.

But there is another really, really important reason that anyone considering a blog or website needs to read this. I’m in a few “blogging networks” online. AndVigLink bannerrecently, a few online acquantainces of mine posted within these networks that they had lost THOUSANDS of dollars to freelance website designers. This was before they had even put up a single post. These were both people with the intent to monetize their sites, but instead found themself out a lot of money and completely discouraged. Both have no intent to blog again in the future. My heart sank and my chest got tight as I read their long, pained recollections of what had happened. Unfortunately, the way their stories read, it did not appear that legal action would be possible. These people had begun something new and scary, and others online took advantage of that. I don’t want that to happen to you. If you want to start a website, I encourage you to do it in the CHEAPEST way possible, and to upgrade once you are making real money. Please, don’t put yourself into a situation of large financial risk for a website right out the gate. That adds so much more pressure when there is already a learning curve to blogging. Believe it or not, blogging does take a decent amount of work, even if it’s just a hobby. If you have any intent to monetize, put in the work over the dollars at first.

But you DO NOT need to spend thousands of dollars to set up a simple site, create a logo, or anything like that. If you intend to monetize, a website will not be totally free, but it certaintly doesn’t need to cost much!

What I’m going to do is walk you briefly through the following.

  • How to Set Up a Website
  • How to Make Your Website Pretty
  • How to Make Money with Affiliate Links
  • How to Make the MOST Out of Everything Mentioned Above

How to Set Up a Website

First things first, you need a domain name, and a web host. I’m also going to say that you will need once you have those. So three things. Now, I wish I could tell you that you can create a website for free, but that isn’t true if you want to monetize. If you want to monetize, you will have to pay some money. Think of it as your “rent.” You are renting a place on the internet by paying for your name and web host. But the good news is that you can start really, really small. Which means that you can do this fairly cheap! I’ll show you the cheapest. In fact, for the average person it will cost under $60.

The CHEAPEST way to get a domain name is almost always …they have website names as low as $0.48 a YEAR. Those typically have crazy ending though, like “” instead of “” More realistically, your domain will probably cost $10-$12 a year if you want something that ends in “.com” If you don’t mind a “.net” or “.org” then you can scrape by with a bit less.

Domain names for just 88 cents!

The Next Step is Web Hosting. I use, love, and recommend SiteGround. I did a lot of research before deciding on my web host because speed is everything in the world wide web. SiteGround is also really affordable. In fact, the plans start at $3.95 a month. TAKE THE CHEAPEST OPTION. Seriously. They will try to upsell you, but keep it the cheapest for now. You can always upgrade later. Now in full disclosure, I’m an affiliate. that means I get a comission if you use SiteGround through my link (which I appreciate sincerely).

What I just did was cut down my own potential profit by telling you to take the cheapest option. Why? Because I want you to actually do well and not lose a ton of money. I want YOU to create a website without spending lots of money. And on that note, you may hear more about other web hosts being a great web hosting option. But what I learned in my research was that some other hosting site pay out more to affiliates. That means other websites may be more inclined to talk about those sites because it gives them a higher return. Keep in mind, I could’ve signed up to be an affiliate for those other sites to make more money regardless of if I actaully used them or not. And sadly, some bloggers do this to make more money. I wish this didn’t happen, but this post is an attempt to get you set up for success. Part of that is being aware of poor practices in the industry.

Web Hosting

So If you do this all at the minimum, your website for one year should cost you $10 for the domain name, and about $48 for the hosting. So for under $60, you could have your website. You will need to connect Namecheap and Siteground, but there is an easy tutorial for that (click here!)

How to Make Your Website Pretty


This is where a lot of people seem to run into paying a lot of money. Aspiring bloggers go out and hire website designers or logo designers etc to make them something pretty. You don’t need that if this is a starting blog. Get set up with WordPress.OrgSiteground is already set up to do this, which is another reason I have enjoyed them. Click here for a tutorial on How to Install WordPress. This is the exact tutorial I used too!

If you don’t know where to start….pick a theme you like! If you look at the bottom of my site, there is a phrase that says “Kale by” There are many free themes available, and that’s my recommendation. Currently I use a free version myself. Why? Well, that brings me to the next portion:

Web Hosting


WordPress has plugins available that can help you make changes to your site or theme. Think of a plugin like an app. It’s a small tool that helps focus on one area of your website. A common one is Easy Google Fonts. This plugin allows you to change the font throughout your website. This is important because it takes your generic theme that others might use, and gives you a way to customize it! In addition, this plugin allows you to change the color, size, and spacing of the fonts. And this is just one example of a plugin. There are literally tens of thousands of free plugins that allow you to further customize and enhance your site. Some ones I have used that have helped the most are

  • Easy Google Fonts
  • Insert Headers and Footers (NEEDED if you want to monetize and have little coding experience)
  • Ad Inserter (also NEEDED if you want to monetize)
  • Jetpack
  • Yoast SEO
  • Contact Form
  • SumoMe

All of those plugins are FREE and will make your life much easier if you choose to create a site. None of those are affiliates, they are just awesome.


A quick way to see more official is to create your own email with your domain instead of a gmail account. My email is…but I used to have a gmail account associated with my site. Making the switch (which was included free with my web hosting) made everything feel more official. There are tutorials on setting up email and getting email on your phone here.

How to Make Money With Affiliate Links

There are literally opportunities to make money through affiliate links anywhere. It really depends on what your niche is. And I’d like to quickly suggest that you only look for affiliate links AFTER you are in the process of writing something. Creating a crappy post only to put up an affiliate link isn’t putting your best work out there. That poor practice I mentioned above? The whole, “mention something to make money”…..this is a poor practice found within ANY niche. That doesn’t mean affiliate links are bad. That doesn’t mean the people you follow do what I’ve said. But some do. So please do me and your future readers a favor and make yourself money with integrity. Specific Tips:

  • Write your post organically. Once your writing is done, look for any items or programs that could potentially offer an affilaite link. Go to that main website and look in the footer of the website for the term, “affiliate.”
  • Many companies run through affiliate networks (VigLink is my favorite, but Share-a-Sale, Rakuten, Impact Radius are a few others). Amazon Associates is probably the most widely used. Some of these sites have stricter application processes. Don’t be afraid to apply again after you have become better established.
    VigLink banner
  • Talk about the things you love even if they don’t offer an affiliate comission. Give your readers value. I love Schmidt’s natural deodorant. I have zero affiliation with them directly. Yet I tell anyone who asks me about natural deodorant about them. There are other natural deodorant brands that I have access to affiliate income from….but I don’t walk about them because they don’t work for me. And I’m cool with that.
  • Add in multiple links to the same thing. If you mention a product or service, have a link every time that product or service is mentioned. Maybe your reader missed the first one. Maybe every link gets the reader a little more curious. Maybe it takes three or four links before the reader clicks. That makes a difference!

    This was my very first affiliate link. It’s for a debt snowball/avalanche calculator. Travis and I actually used this and I wanted to tell EVERYONE about it because it’s awesome! It motivated us to pay off debt SO much faster. That’s the type of affiliate link you want. Something you believe in and would talk about anyways.

How to Make the MOST Out of Everything Mentioned Above

The coolest thing about the internet is how much information is out there. The reason this post is so straightforward is because you WILL be able to find the solution if you feel stuck.

  • Option 1: Google “how do I …..” and there is a high chance someone has already had the same issue. No really, 9 times out of 10 this has worked for me. Then, try whatever answer comes up. I have witnessed so many people who expect an individual answer to everything, even when the answer is easily found on the first page of Google. Take some initiative and look through the info that is already out there. You can do it! 🙂
  • Option 2: Ask for help from the provider. Whether it’s with your domain name, web hosting If you have an issue with your web hosting, reach out to the web host! If you aren’t sure how to use a plugin, reach out to the creator of that plugin. If you don’t quite understand the affiliate link program you signed up for, ask for help! Each of the things I’ve mentioned in this post have support teams. And often, you utilizing those services bring them revenue too. They want you to succeed because it also brings them success

Start Now and Learn as You Go

As Christy Wright says in her book, Business Boutique, “Give Yourself Permission to Be a Beginner.” You will get better as you get more comfortable. You can always come back and change things like formatting later. But you have to start somewhere. Start now. Don’t wait for the “perfect” website, because the perfect website doesn’t exist. 

Phew. That was a doozy of a post. And really, this could be WAY longer. If you have ANY questions, please comment them so I can answer. I may make additional posts too. Someone else might have the same question too, so don’t be afraid to ask. I want you to get started as cheap as possible. So get started, it doesn’t need to be expensive!


This post contains affiliate links as outlined in the Website Disclaimer.



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Find Something Free That You Love, and Do It Often.

I’ve been reading a lot lately, and it has brought more joy back into my life than I can explain. You see, reading was a true joy in my childhood. I went to the library on a weekly basis and would read for hours. My mom happily used the time to run errands, and I got to look around and find whatever seemed interesting. In college, during my first year I made it a practice to read a little bit for fun every single night. I did this on my iPad, and sometimes it was only a few pages. But reading allowed me to decompress in a way unlike any other. It also happens to be free if you use the library. Unfortunately, I stopped this practice over the last five years until a few months ago. Thankfully, I found reading again and it feels like a beautiful safe space for me. So this is my challenge for you; you need to do more of something you love. And there MUST be something out there that is free (or almost free) that you can do. Deep down you probably just got a whisper of an idea that you are either opening up to or subconsciously shutting down. Don’t shut it out. Find that thing, and do it. Here are a few suggestions if you feel a little uneasy or stuck.

Suggestions of FREE Things YOU Can Start Right Now


I already started with this, but get a library card. Now I loooove highlighting and writing in books, so sometimes I do actually buy books. But it has to be special and something that I know will be highlighted and written in (for me, that most recently was A Simplified Life by Emily Ley – more on that to come). And here’s the thing, mix it up when it comes to the books. For awhile, I was stuck in the mentality that I needed to read to learn. Now? Sure, I’ll read something informative, like The Power of Habit. But then I’ll throw in something silly like Yes Please by Amy Pohler or soul enriching like Girl, Wash Your Face. Honestly, I’m probably going to re-read the entire Harry Potter series in the near future. Read whatever you like, even if it’s teenage/young adult romance novels. Or cookbooks. Or books about meteorology (guilty as charged). Sometimes, I like to look through cookbooks solely for the pictures. Not even for recipes, just for the pictures. Food photography is gorgeous, and there’s something about a cookbook that makes it better than scrolling through Instagram. If you have ever liked reading, I urge you to get a library card and go read a book that just looks fun to read. No pressure to learn, no worries about what someone might think of the genre you selected. Just read!

Running (or Walking)

Here’s the thing, the gym is awesome. But if you haven’t been there to exercise in a while, it can be intimidating and maybe an unwanted investment at this time.  Not to mention, moving your body doesn’t require an agenda or a goal. So do you know what you can do for free? You can run or walk. That may depend on your fitness level, or what sounds fun. Just because you can run doesn’t mean you always have to. Sometimes, it’s a lot of fun to simply get outside, away from distractions and just walk. Let your mind wander and breathe. Maybe take your partner, or family, or pet along with you. Or maybe go alone and just soak in the time by yourself. It can be at a popular spot, or simply around the block.

Pause: Here is the part where maybe you just thought, “I don’t have time.” Usually that thought comes up with any suggestion of exercise (which remember, I’m only suggesting if it’s something you like!) And that’s where I’m going to really challenge you to carve out a little bit of time to focus on whatever if your fun thing. Try 10 minutes. ANYONE can find 10 minutes if they really want to. Prioritize 10 minutes to do something for fun for yourself.

Mix Up Your Makeup

If you wear makeup, whether it is to simply feel good about yourself or  feels like a chore…try something new. I’m going to make the assumption that SOMEWHERE you have an eyeshadow palette lying around. Try something crazy. Do a huge smokey eye. Try the 50s liner and a red lip. Play around with makeup FOR FUN. The best thing is that you can wipe it off. If you don’t want anyone to see it, then don’t let them. If you do, then awesome. Show it off! While makeup certainly isn’t free, I know that most of my makeup wearing friends already own more than what’s needed in a lifetime. Even though I’ve really pared down my makeup, I still own four eyeshadow palettes. And sometimes, I break out the bright blue and teals because it’s fun. And you can always check YouTube for some crazy inspiration. Seriously, the artistry is amazing. Some creators use their entire faces to do looks, or even transformations. It’s worth a try if you want to.


If you don’t want to spend the money on an activity you think you might like….try volunteering! If you like mountain biking, or are thinking of doing a triathlon, then volunteer at those events. If you love plants but maybe don’t have the time, money, or space to dedicate to a greenhouse of your own, volunteer at a local garden/green space. Maybe you love science, so volunteer at a museum. Whatever you love to do that would cost you too much money, find a way to volunteer. This allows you to make connections and spend time around something you love. Be careful that this is something that also gives a creative benefit to you and doesn’t become a burden. Make sure you love it and are the best volunteer you can be. But if you have an interest, get involved in that space.

Try a Unique Recipe

So this won’t exactly be “free,” but since you need to eat to survive, it shouldn’t take away from your typical spending. Find a recipe that sounds fun and make it! Have you ever tried eggplant? Because my rustic balsamic eggplant is heavenly. Or maybe you’ve never actually MADE pasta sauce before. Did you know it doesn’t have to come out of a jar?! Find something that sounds decadent, and make a big batch. Then you’ve also done some productive meal prepping too. Good for you!

Trust Yourself, but if You Still Don’t Know, Check YouTube.

YOU know what it is you like. So do that. And forget what anyone (even your family!) might think about that thing. If you like it and consciously make the time for it, and it’s free….then do it. Having to work with a tight budget can be a constraint, or it can be the perfect excuse to try something new and fun. Your time and that choice is what you make of it. The experiences you have are yours to choose. Do not let your financial goals make you feel as though you can’t have fun. Deep down, you know something that was fun to you as a child is out there.  And if you aren’t sure…start clicking around YouTube. Actually, watching random videos on YouTube just might BE your fun thing, and that’s cool. Do that. But YouTube is also home to pretty much anything you could ever care about. So you may find an interest that you can do for free based off inspiration on there.

The world is yours, so find something free that you love, and do that thing. If you have a fun, free thing, tell me down below. Even if I’ve said it here, or if you’re worried I’ll think it’s silly. I promise, your fun thing is never something I would make fun of. Being creative is a lovely thing and you should always do that.




Ways to Save Money AND the Earth at the Same Time

Today’s post contains no affiliate links because all of those would encourage online spending which means additional shipping (i.e. resources for packaging and tansportation). This is just informtion to save money and the earth at the same time. 

Let’s Save You Money, and Together Save the Planet #EarthDay

Today is Earth day! Did you know that earlier on this blog I had an entire portion dedicated to lower waste ideas? I streamlined this site to be about money and food (if you’re new I want to help you save a lot on groceries but not sacrifice your health) per the recommendation of a business coach, but this is still something personally important to me. I’d like to give you tips on how you can save money and do so in a way that is also helpful to the planet. The goal? Save money AND the earth. Keep reading for ideas and I encourage you to share your tips in the comments as well so others can see. Also a quick disclaimer that certain tips are geared towards those in the U.S.

Use the Library

Libraries in the United States are alive and well, and you are majorly missing out if you aren’t using them! A library card is FREE. And did you know that most libraries now have access to free e-books, magazines, and audiobooks? Seriously, forget Audible. That sh*t is expensive and 99% of people who “recommend” it do so because they get affiliate revenue (not a bad thing in and of itself, but something to be aware of). Also most libraries have DVD’s you can borrow also. I was able to easily get ahold of every season of How I Met Your Mother. To us, this was a huge deal since its no longer on Netflix *tear* Not many things in life are free, so definitely make use of this! This is a perfect way to consume content, save money and the earth! Go get a library card tomorrow. I’d say today but it’s Sunday and most are closed. If you are in the U.S. click here to find a local public library near you!

click the link to see original posting of this.

Refuse to throw away food.

This is a gigantic issue in the United States. Food waste is normalized here and that is sad. Hunger is a worldwide problem, and also food waste is resource waste. Those foods require resources to be produced, grown, processed, packaged*, and shipped. Of course another side of this is your money. You go to the store and spend $100 on food. A week later you throw out half of it because Chipotle just sounded better for lunch or that Friday night. Would you take a $50 and burn it? Or just throw it out your window? Nope. But I bet you’ve done similar to the scenario I mentioned.Unfortunately these are the same thing. Actually, the Chipotle scenario is worse because you’ve also wasted the resources it took for the $50 of food to get into your house. Good news. You can do something about it and save your money! If you are getting close to food going bad, do one of the following:

  • Freeze It! Seriously. Future you will thank yourself for having a fully prepared meal just ready to heat up. If it’s only ingredients you have, still freezing them can be great with meat or produce. Fruits bout to turn make excellent desserts or smomothie additions.
  • Make broth – this is specific to vegetables, but I love making veggie broth in my instant pot. In fact, click here to see the recipe (and know that the spices are interchangable with whatever you have). If you don’t have an instant pot, you can do the same thing with a crock pot or a stovetop it just takes longer. You can also do the same with cooked meat by making bone broth.
  • Throw a leftovers party – Invite over some friends and family to come over for dinner. Don’t feel bad about using leftovers to feed people, especially if you can find a way to repurpose them and bring them to life. Encourage those you invite to do the same. If you want adult beverages to be involved, you then have the options to say no to straws easily, and save a boatload. Cocktails and other drinks have a huge profit margin at restaurants that you can save at home. Dinner parties are awesome, even and especially when the food is repurposed leftovers.  You will all avoid wasting food, will save money instead of going to a restaurant, and will get to spend some quality time with people you care about. 
Veggie Broth made from almost-too-old produce. Perfect for using in recipes, and was “free” to make! (click to see recipe)

Shop Secondhand

Most commonly people thing about shopping for clothes secondhand, but it goes SO far beyond this! That is a great place to start though. If you haven’t watched the movie The True Cost, I recommend it. That is a sobering reminder of fast fashion and how the workers are treated. Beyond the people too, the waste created is astronomical. Thankully, the stigma against shopping secondhand is starting to disappear. People are willing to embrace the history of items and understand that there is a positive impact on the planet buy purchasing used goods.

Other secondhand items to save money and the earth

  • furniture
  • art – seriously, I’ve gotten GORGEOUS paintings at ridiculously low costs.
  •  children’s toys/accessories
  • seasonal decor
  • books (if you want to purchase vs. visiting a local library)
  • textbooks – these deserve their own category because they cost as much as rent
  • CARS – this cannot be emphasized enough. The depreciation on a new car is nauseating. If you aren’t a financial person, that means the money that you lose buy purchasing a new car is a lot just because it’s new and loses value quickly. One of our cars is a 2003, but you’d NEVER guess by looking at it!
  • kitchen accessories
  • home decor
  • technology – yes, we want the newest and greatest. Sure. But we all know that Apple and Samsung will outdate our new stuff in a year anyways. Just get over it and be happy with something a little older. It will save money and the earth!
most of what you see here was acquired secondhand (either purchased or given free)

There are a lot more of secondhand items that are great to buy. What is your favorite secondhand purchase? Mine is a gorgeous painting. I bought it off Craigslist from an actual millionaire for $40. He said that he almost felt bad selling it for that price because he knew his wife had spent over $1000 and paid to have it professionally mounted/framed. They didn’t use it, and I think it’s stunning and it’s displayed in my home.

Conserve Utilities

Seriously, this will save you money and the earth pretty easily. These changes require intention, but can make a difference in your budget and the planet.

  • Unplug things! If you dont use an item often, unplug it. Think things like lamps in guest rooms, an electric tea kettle etc. This conserves electricity (which costs money).
  • Lights off – I grew up being scolded for leaving lights on. Now I know why! Lighting a house for no one is a waste of money and energy. Just don’t do it!
  • Cooler showers – better for your hair, skin, wallet, and the planet. I’m not saying to take a COLD shower, I’m saying to re-evaluate if your showers are blistering hot every time.
  • Brushing your teeth? Turn off the water! – This one gets me. Think of how much fresh water is being wasted in the time that you brush your teeth. Just TURN OFF THE WATER while you brush. It doesn’t affect your tooth-brushing capabilities, but it does save gallons on gallons of fresh water.

Sell Unused Items

This puts money directly into your pocket, and gives life to the secondhand market. Shopping secondhand keeps those items from the landfill. I’ve already given you ideas on what to buy, but if you have extra things or want to do some spring cleaning, sell some stuff! Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Garage Sales, Let Go, Mercari, Poshmark, Thredup, Ebay, Amazon. All of those are great ways to sell things. And if you held onto these items and they aren’t selling? If in good condition, donate them to a charitable organization, or list them free on one of the previously mentioned websites. Let these items have a new home and new life. I have a post on Zero Waste Decluttering full of more information.. Click here for that post.

Only Buy What You NEED

If you take nothing else away from this post or from earth day, take away this. Only buy what you NEED. Overconsumption is the biggest danger to our planet AND our wallets. Why? Unused items that are thrown away (please don’t. remember that tip about selling or donating?) are wasted production resources and wasted money. This is especially important if this overconsumption is with plastic items or in plastic packaging. Why? Plastic doesn’t fully break down. Whether your thing to buy excess of is makeup or woodshop tools or crochet hooks or baseball cards. We all have that “thing” they love that is tempting to buy when it isn’t needed. Maybe you have a few. But if you can control that temptation, you will save yourself money and will stop the cycle of overconsumption that is so dangerous to our planet. 

I hope these tips have inspired you to make an impact in your life on both your finances and towards our planet. Did you know that most of the things I’ve changed in my own life that help save the planet were actually done to save us money? Yep! I love to learn more too so if you have tips to share below, please do!


Other Related Posts


How To Meal Plan, Prep, and Shop On a Budget (Whole30/Paleo)

I’ve been “meal prepping” for years. Only recently did my husband and I realize how ineffecient we were actually being with our meal prepping and our meal plan. Sure, we could have several meals cooked up, but by the time we’d get to eating those meals, they’d be soggy. OR, we would pick out a few yummy recipes and be out of food by Wednesday night. And somehow, we’d still manage to spend way too much money. Sound familiar? Well keep reading, because we’ve gotten our meal planning, shopping, and prepping down to a science. Our family of four eats Whole30/Paleo for about $100 a week. Sometimes it’s slightly more, sometimes it’s slightly less. When I started working towards this, we spent $800 a month to eat Paleo/Whole30. I literally cut our bill in HALF. Along the way, I’ll also give you some money saving tips too! Oh, and before you go, “Rachel, I live in a high cost of living area, there is NO WAY my budget will be $100 for a whole week.” I hear you! My dad is from Hawaii and I was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. I get it. Not all areas are created equal, but the good news is that this game plan works in any location and will help lower any budget. In fact, if you do live in a high-cost area, consider tracking the difference my meal plan/shop/”prep” makes and let me know how it works! I’d be willing to bet you will also save a lot. Just ignore my”$100″ and follow the methods below.


Step 1: How to Meal Plan

Once you get into the “groove” of this, planning meals becomes more reliant on compromising 1. What you want vs. 2. What you have available in your freezer/pantry. I don’t care how much storage space you have; it’s important to rotate these items through to keep your budget down and avoid anything expiring.

For now, let’s pretend you have nothing in your fridge, freezer, or pantry. This is unlikely, but work with me. We try to balance a few things.

Plan something that just sounds GOOD

We eat mostly Whole30 compliant meals, but we live our “Food Freedom” by making sure to include a tasty sounding meal. For example, this week I wanted meatball subs (on actual buns) and hubby wanted rice with our fajitas. So we will compromise on things like that. Obviously this would be different on a round of Whole30, but for our normal lives we’ll incorporate these items. We just plan for them to make sure it isn’t something at every meal.

Balance Proteins

Our meal planning lists don’t look the prettiest. Usually we scratch things out, and add arrows where we decide to switch meal days. The biggest thing we were bad at before was “stacking proteins.” To us, this is where we would accidentally prep a week of chicken straight, followed by all red meat. This led us into burnout and “I’m SO SICK of ______.” So now, we make sure to have a good mixture. Even this week (pictured below) we realized we were planning to eat poultry four days in a row this week. SO we reworked it.

Start of this week’s meal plan. My hubby’s handwriting is better than mine!

Planning Around Sales/Leftovers

This leads into how we shop, but I always check my local stores for any really good sales. This is especially important for proteins or unique veggies. Above I said to pretend there’s nothing in the house, but typically this also feeds directly into how we’d meal plan. For example, if there were leftover mashed potatoes, I would repurpose them into mashed potato cakes (click here for the recipe) and work that into our breakfasts. If using leftovers, make sure to incorporate those early on in the week and balance your proteins accordingly. 

Don’t Forget Sides

We were the WORST at this a year ago. We’d have tasty entrees ready to go, but nothing else on the side! So make sure to have some easy veggies planned and other sides on your menu too. Your meal plan should always include the full meals (or at least say “veggie” or “grain” as a placeholder)

Plan as a Family/Couple

Our toddler doesn’t get input, but hubby and I work through the meal plan together. That is how we incorporate the items we want and agree on our meals. In the past I created the “perfect meal plan” for the week, only for my husband to go, “I don’t want that,” once it was cooked up. This led to some major frustration and the occassional unplanned pizza night. So then, I’d say, “Fine. YOU plan and cook.” And he would! But then the opposite would happen. We’d eat exactly what he wanted and I’d want nothing to do with it by lunchtime Wednesday.

Eventually, we realized that it just might be a good idea to include each other in the planning process. Shockingly, it worked. Now, if one of us “doesn’t” want something, we have to justify why we’d want to go against our meal plan AND our budget plan. Because wasting food is wasting money.

Plan any Treats/Extras

This has been a bigger thing lately because of my pregnancy, but I’ve been wanting paleo treats lately. No problem, we just plan for them! We also include an extra “fruit/vegetable” to pick up but leave it open ended. I.e. the list literally says “fruit” and “extra vegetable”

Write Down What You Need as You Go

Once your plan is set, make sure you write down everything that you need to make it happen! This leads into how we shop..

Step 2: Shopping for Meals On a BUDGET.

Keep your Shopping list electronic

As we work through our meal planning, we will create our shopping list together. We use the Google Keep app. It’s free and this isn’t a sponsored recommendation. My hubby told me about it, and it’s awesome. Before we used Google docs, but Keep allows you to check off items as you go. That way, you can click off items as you shop! It’s actually helped a lot with the next item. It also allows anyone invovled in the meal planning process to add to it as well (assuming you’ve shared the list with them in the app, which I highly recommend!)

Prioritize Budget Friendly Stores

Not all stores are created equal. That probably doesn’t surprise anyone, but it’s amazing to see how our budget transformed when we “prioritized” our shopping. You see, once you have your shopping list, you can make sure to shop the cheapest place first. I admit part of this is based on geography. I’m able to shop at Aldi, Walmart, Sam’s Club, a regional store, and a local health food store all within a few minutes of each other. It’s about a 30minute drive from our house so it makes the shopping list extremely important.  What has saved us a TON of money is shopping stores in this exact order:

  1. Aldi
  2. Walmart/Sam’s Club
  3. Meijer (Regional grocery store with tons of produce/meat options)
  4. Local Health Food Store/Trader Joe’s/Ordering Online

Again, you might be thinking, “Rachel, I don’t have an Aldi, there is no hope for me!” or “I live in a remote area, this isn’t even possible” and that’s just not true. Find out which stores are the cheap ones and get there first. Figuring that out may take an adjustment period, but you will get into a groove. Where I went to school there was only Walmart and a few (like 3 total) grocery stores. That meant I had to do almost all shopping at Walmart, and fill in any unique Whole30 items online because they weren’t available in person. Things like coconut aminos I had to buy on Amazon.   That’s okay! Make what is cheapest in YOUR area YOUR main shopping place and work from there. For some, Trader Joe’s might actually be the cheapest, but for us it’s somewhere I try to avoid because we’ll overspend. Maybe Thrive Market would be a good option if you are really remote, but I’ll be honest we have not used that service so I’m not comfortable recommending it. I just know it exists.

Shop ONCE Whenever Possible

This is why you need to write down every ingredient needed during the meal planning process. It also makes life a lot easier when you have to get to multiple stores. Plan for one large “shop” and get everything you need. Now, I get it. Things happen, and you may need to “fill in,” but the more you can avoid that, the better you will stick to your budget.

Get the “Extras” On Sale

I mentioned above that we always plan for an extra “fruit” and “vegetable” or “side.” These will 99.9% of the time come from whatever is on sale at Aldi (or your cheapest equivalent store). We intentionally leave this open ended for the sales.

Buy Protein in Bulk

This isn’t realistic for everyone, but we had a “sinking fund” for meat in the past. Last year, we bought 1/4 cow from a local farmer and had it processed at a local butcher. We are just finishing up the last bits of this cow a little less than a year later. Everything from ground beef to porterhouse steaks cost us under $3/lb. Granted, this was a large upfront cost and required our chest freezer (purchased secondhand for $20) but has saved us immensely in the long run. The meat is also local and fresh, which is a huge draw too. If you have that option available, look into it! If not, or for other protein types, the next tip is mroe helpful.

Stock Up When There are Deep Discounts on Protein

I always, always check for heavily discounted meats when I do our shop. This week, the “extra” item I came home with was a large pack of bone-in chicken drumsticks. I scored these for $0.69 a lb! While they won’t be used this week, they will be in our chest freezer for future meal planning. I always check the “manager’s special” stickers where the meat must be used or frozen in a short time-frame. Again, if you can allow a few extra dollars in that week’s shop, then you will ultimately save money in the long run. I have bought $35 hams for $5, Ground chicken for $1/lb, and other great deals.

Cashback Apps

I avoided using an app for a long, long time. My opinion was that these apps are made to cause you to spend more money. Which is true. Cash back grocery apps want to tap into that part of your brain that go, “oh yay! A sale! I need to buy that!” But I decided to give it a go because people were asking my opinion. So now I use ibotta but in a very specific way. I scan my receipt after I walk out of the store. I do ZERO checking beforehand when it comes to food. Do I miss sales? Inevitably, yes. But it keeps me from overspending and I get a little bit back. TBH I’m saving for a new laptop (the one I’m typing on right now is from 2012) so anything I get from ibotta is going to go to an Amazon gift card towards that. If you want to get the $10 bonus offer, AND help me with that dream, click here to sign up free and get that $10 welcome offer.

Step 3: Meal “Prepping”

You might have noticed there are quotes around the word “prepping.” That’s because we don’t fully meal prep anymore. We used to fully make EVERY meal for the week on Sundays, but that left us burnt out. Both hubby and I work full time. I’m also a full time online grad student, and we have a toddler and a puppy. We NEED our weekends to keep sane (side note, I even try to do our “shop” on Friday after work to further give us the weekend).

Chop, Chop, Chop!

We make sure to chop/slice/dice/mince everything that needs to be done for the upcoming week. Recently, I bought a mini chopper from Aldi for $8 and it has been a game changer. I can get onions done in a fraction of the time as before. Also, remember how I said we like our weekends? Usually, we will do this portion of meal prepping while our toddler is napping or contained (coloring in her high chair, eating a snack etc.). Often Netflix is involved.

Make ALL of Your Breakfasts

Typically, breakfast is our one redundant meal. Whether if it’s a frittata, or sausages and greens etc, we typically eat the same breakfast all five days and fully meal prep these over the weekend. We just make sure to change these up from week to week. This week, I bought two packs of Sam’s Choice Chicken and Apple Sausages, sliced them in half and seared in a cast iron skillet. It’s a Walmart/Sam’s Club version of the Aidell’s Chicken and Apple Sausages. We’ll have these over greens and with a side of olives, so the prep was super easy this week.

Marinate/Pre-Season Meat

If we are going to make a meatball or meal that needs meat or veggies marinated, we’ll get that going today too. This means any defrosting, slicing, and seasoning. It doesn’t take much effort, but goes a long way in the flavoring of the dishes and the ease of cooking the night of.

Have the Sides/”Snacks”/Treats Ready

Often, I’ll roast up veggie sides this day that will reheat fairly well. Things like

  • Roasted veggies (carrots/peppers/brussel sprouts)
  • Hard Boiled Eggs
  • Cooking Rice
  • Potatoes
  • Sauces (Mayo/Ranch etc)

Pre-Roast or Casserole Prep

This is very dependent on the Meal Plan you’ve created for the week, but if yout need a roasted vegetable (I’m thinking things like spaghetti squash based dishes) then we’ll prep that. OR if we make a casserole, we’ll try to get the casserole prepped or at least the components ready to go. The whole point is to limit the work done throughout the week. Dishes used to be a major concern, but now that we have our dishwasher this isn’t as big of a deal, I’ll just run it throughout the week (almost daily with all of our glass meal prep containers)

I hope that gave you some tips on how to meal plan, shop, and meal prep to make life a bit easier, cheaper, and healthier! Let me know what your #1 tip is when it comes to planning/shopping/prepping in the comments. Thanks!


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