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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Paying Off Student Loans As a Young Married Couple

It’s no secret to anyone in their 20s that student loans in the U.S. are at an all-time high. In fact, many of my fellow 20 somethings are putting their lives on hold becuase of student loans. One of the most common of these is marriage. With so much debt, who can afford to get married? And I don’t just mean the ceremony and reception, but really everything after that. But you can get married, regardless of how much you have in student loans. Here are some tips for how to get through them while paying off student loan debt. And yes, I mean pay them off. And who am I? If you haven’t read my about me, I’m 24 years old and my husband (age 25) and I had a combined six figures in student loans. And neither of us are in medical or law. I have been there upon graduation. It feels overwhelming at first. Looking ahead towards your life and thinking, “how can I get through this?” Let’s walk through some tips because you do not have to put your life on hold because of student loans. And while these tips are specific to student loans, they can be applicable to any individual debts that you and your partner may bring into a marriage.

Know and Share EXACTLY How Much is Owed BEFORE the Big Day

My husband and I got married before either of us had graduated college. We’d had some discussions on student loans, but to put it nicely, my husband actually had no clue what he owed. We found out after the wedding exactly how much was owed, and I nearly had a heart attack. That’s really a different topic for a different time, but I share that quick story because it’s important. This is true of any type of debt. Make sure your future spouse is aware (and that you yourself are aware!) of exactly what you are bringing into a marriage. Some couples put off or even avoid marriage because of student loans. While I’m not suggesting that, it goes to show the impact student loans have on our generation.

Ask Yourselves: Is this Debt, “Our Debt” or, “Yours and Mine” ?

While it is my personal opinion that marriage should include joining all things, including finances, that may not be the case for you. Many couples choose to separately pay off debts, and that can be okay, but it also could cause issues with buying a home and other future financial goals. It is important to have this discussion before “I Do” in order to come up with a complete plan. And this isn’t something that can be mostly clear. So will you work together to pay off both of your loans together, or will each earner be in charge of their own loans?

Why does this matter?

The common ways to pay off debt quickly are with either the Debt Snowball or Debt Avalanche. I won’t get into the full mechanics, but the debt snowball is paying off loans from smallest to largest by dollar amount. The debt avalanche works from highest interest rate down to the lowest interest rate. While there are merits to both methods, my husband and I actually used a hybrid method.

The reason it is vital in knowing if you will both work towards paying off student loans together or not is because it could drastically effect how your payoff is set up. It may also be hard on motivation. For instance, we had paid off over $40,000 in my husbands’ student loans before we put an extra dollar towards mine. I will not lie to you, that was HARD. I would go to work knowing that everything I worked for would go to loans that didn’t even have my name on them. That is a breeding ground for resentment, so not having a shared vision is critical. Also this is why the discussion needs to come up before and all amounts of debt are shared. Another important reason is that you can actually get stuck with your spouse’s student loan debt.

Dream Together

Paying Off Student Loans can feel like a marathon and a sprint at the same time. It should be a sprint to avoid paying more in interest, but if you have six figures that still requires focus for a sustained time frame. So during this time, also dream together and plan other fun (affordable!) things along the way. My husband and I have a dream to travel to Iceland together for our five year anniversary. We’d also love to live on a lake house. Those goals become easier with debt freedom.

Some Questions to Help You Dream:

  • What’s one place you want to visit?
  • What’s one band you’d love to see live?
  • Who is your favorite sports team?
  • Is there a type of house you envision owning?
  • If you were handed $10,000 and told to “blow this on something fun, absolutely nothing practical,” what would you spend it on?
  • Would you change your career path if there weren’t bills to worry about?

Be Content In the Process

Without sounding too cheesy, make sure to remember that YOU are in control about how you react to your situation. Do what you have to do to pay off your student loans. Invite friends over instead of going out. Drink the cheap wine (and less of it because you know it’ll give you a headache otherwise). Drive the same car you had in highschool. Just know that this is a season of life. The sooner you can get through it, the sooner it’s onto fun things! Marriage isn’t easy, but working through student loans can bring you both closer. It’s about perspective, a plan, and following through.


Auto Ship Your Pet Food: Yes or No?

Until we got our Australian Shepherd puppy, I was pretty against anything labeled “auto-ship.” Whether that be from Amazon or Walmart or wherever. It seemed like a great way to miss out on better in-store deals. But I’m going to go through why you should consider it as a good idea auto ship your pet food, and I’ll steer you away from some items to avoid ever clicking that “auto ship” or “subscribe and save” from. Switching to auto ship pet food has saved us time and money. That’s right. It wasn’t just a convenience purchase, it actually saved us money too! I’m going to look at two options, and Neither of these require a membership fee to use. That’s right, you do NOT need to be an AmazonPrime member to get the discounts or free shipping! But does that mean Amazon is the better option? Not so fast….

What do your pets eat?

Really, this seems to be the biggest factor, and why I never thought to look online before. You see, my husband wanted our puppy to eat Blue Buffalo Wilderness Puppy food. This isn’t just regular Blue Buffalo or Blue Buffalo Puppy. This is Blue Buffalo Wilderness Puppy. It’s completely grain free and is a really great nutrition option. But it is REALLY expensive. Painfully expensive. But Travis was very insistent that this is what our dog was going to eat. So I immediately began trying to figure out how to get it for the cheapest.

Why did I turn to autoship to my pet food?

I (wrongly) assumed that autoshipping would come with a “convenience” cost. After all, instead of driving to a store/pet food store, the food would arrive to my doorstep. That had to come at a cost right? Wrong. Again, this may depend on your type of pet food. But here is another example that surprised me. My cat’s food was actually cheaper on Chewy than it was at Sam’s Club on sale. That was eye opening for me. I had assumed that since I was “buying in bulk” with Sam’s Club that it had to be cheaper. Wrong! So I created a second autoship for our cat food too. The good news though is that I can easily cancel either autoship if a crazy good deal pops up for either of our pet’s food. That leads me into a comparison of the two “big” pet food auto-ship vendors: and Amazon. I found Chewy 100% because of TV ads that ran around Christmas, and I figured Amazon because….well, really, what don’t they do? Autoship


  • No Membership Fee
  • Free Shipping on $49+ orders*
  • FAST Shipping (1-2 days…. Ours have all shipped in under 24 hours)
  • 5% discount on many items
  • Ability to change order until it is processed
  • Ability to change frequency until it is processed

A couple of notes on the above. The *Free shiping on $49+ orders must be on the final price. That means, if your food is one of the many 5% discounted items, the shipment may fall under the $49 because of the discount and thus shipping is charged. The shipping cost will likely be higher than the 5% you saved, so this is something to really watch out for! In our case, this was true for our dog food, so I added in cat litter bags (a $2.50 purchase) to bring the cost up to just above $49. You might be thinking, “aha! You fell for it! They got you to spend more $!” And while it’s true that Chewy got more money out of me, it still saved us money because those cat litter bags cost more locally. I wouldn’t ahve thought to put them on autoship, but they are a consumable that runs out with about the same frequency as the dog food so the matchup was perfect. If I were adding in a new toy every time, then I’d think different. So this got us the free shipping and cheaper cat litter bags than anywhere.

Also, while Chewy’s website policy (and autoship reminder email) states you have up to three days until your autoship to change your order, I’ve actually changed it the day before without issue on two separate occassions. It’s smart of Chewy to have this policy in place in case something does prevent the changes, but just know that there’s a decent chance you can make changes until just before it ships.

The nice thing is that the auto-ship reminder emails also allow you to change the date or cancel. That way, if you found a great deal locally, you could just push out the autoshipment. Or, if you realized that you way overestimated how much food your pet ate, you can adjust. For us this is really nice with a puppy because the amount he’s eating has changed. I’ve had to edit my order date every time because of how his food intake changed. The good news was that it was really, really easy.

The only negative I found with my own ordewr was that our cat food doesn’t come with the 5% discount for autoship. That said, it’s always been “on sale” and was by far the best price regardless. So I’m not that mad. We have two autoship orders set to the frequency needed to make the $49 shipping minimum. Our dog food one it set to every 4 weeks because that’s about what he’s been eating, but our cat food is only every 12 weeks. Really, these could get combined, but so far we haven’t because of how the dog food has varied. Eventually these will become a combined order. I do have some bad news though, Chewy only currently serves the continental US. I’m from Alaska so I understand the frustration here. Autoship (Subscribe and Save)


  • No Membership Fee (Amazon Prime is NOT required to use and get the discount)
  • Free Shipping on $25+ orders*
  • 5% discount on many items
  • Ability to change order
  • Ability to change frequency

Amazon has had subscribe and save in place for years, but when I went to look for our pet food, it cost more on Amazon than it did on Chewy by a few dollars. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough to make me go to Chewy. Well, as of today and writing this article, the price is the same on our Blue Buffalo Wilderness Puppy

A HUGE turnoff though in comparison to is the shipping. When I went to place my order with Amazon Subscribe and Save, the “Free Shipping” option estimated my delivery as “between April 4th and 6th”….that is a full 6-8 days (4-6 business days) away! Of course, this is a hook to get consumers to sign up for Amazon Prime, which then means “Free 2 Day Shipping.” But what happens if, like today, you realize “uh oh! I’m going to be out of pet food in only a day or two!” You then feel compelled to rush out and buy some in the meantime. With Chewy, you’d still be able to go and select “ship now” and get the food in time for your pet. A huge thing for those outside of the continental US, you actually have the Amazon Subscribe & Save option! When I went to the Amazon site it said to estimate 5-9 business days for delivery to AK. I did not check beyond that, but the option IS available. Slow, but it may still save you money overall.

Now as far as the ability to change your order, according to the Amazon website, you do have this option available. Since I have not used the service, I had to read the policy, which is quite vague. There is no clear cut-off listed of when an order frequency or quantities can be changed. If you have any experience with this please comment below and I can edit this post to reflect that. For now, see the image of the policy as of the date this was written.

as of 3/29/18…link goes to the current info on Amazon.


Also, Amazon does not offer a discount on the cat food we order either, so the prices are the same.

Overall Thoughts: Auto Ship Your Pet Food? It depends, but it’s worth looking into for everyone.

  • It’s worth considering setting up an autoship for your pet food. Things to consider…
    • Can you easily buy your current food, or is it a trip to a separate store?
    • Does your pet food go on sale or have coupons regularly?
    • Is moving the pet food harming your health (i.e. back problems, weight lift restrictions etc)?
  • Do you already have an Amazon Prime membership?
    • If yes – then really either option would work well
    • If no – it is NOT worth paying for a membership just for this, look at Chewy instead.
  • Do you live in the continental US? If the answer is no, then forget about Chewy and take a peek at Amazon.
  • Settup up auto shipments on pet food allows for easy budgeting. You know the date that the food will be shipped (payment processed), and you can schedule that into your budget accordingly. We keep a separate line item for “Pets” in our budget, so it’s nice to see this visually scheduled.
  • Overall, if you choose to autoship your pet food, I recommend Chewy unless you have AmazonPrime and want to feel that you can get more use out of it. Or if the prices are significantly lower on Amazon. That portion of “research” is up to you. For us, they were identical cost-wise, but the shipping is where Chewy got our business. We gave up AmazonPrime a year and a half ago (I’ll post on that more later), but if you are interested in a Free 30-day trial (just remember to cancel if it isn’t for you!) click the image below. This might end up being a good option for those outside the continental US.

Items you should NOT Autoship to Save Money

Some of these items listed will save you time though. So if time is more valubale to you, then maybe you would want to set these up for a “subcribe and save” type offer. For us, I just order when there are sales. I would miss the sale prices if I chose the subscriptions! And while Amazon does offer a 20% discount on diapers that have a subscription, the costs I’ve found elsewhere are better in person, especially when looking for sales.

  • Basically any household consumable that you can purchase elsewhere for a similar price. Again, you.will.miss.sales.
    • laundry detergent
    • toilet paper (all paper products)
    • dish soaps
  • Diapers & Wipes- there are too many sales elsewhere!
  • Items that change in price, like my favorite Coconut Oil (link!). The price varies drastically and I mean doubles itself!


Originally: While this post may appear to be affiliated or sponsored by, it isn’t. Ironically, I will only receive affiliate income from Amazon purchases related to this post. These opinions are my own and honest, and in this case I think your best option is the one which gives me nothing. That’s okay, because I want you to save yourself time and money!

Edited July 2018: I now have an affiliate link for but hey, I’ve promoted them for MONTHS without one! I love them regardless 🙂

Products Mentioned (these images are clickable and link to Amazon)

Our Cat Food
Our Dog Food

Walmart Grocery Delivery? Are Delivery Services Worth It?

Walmart has announced it will begin a grocery delivery service! According to this article on MSN, the service will have a $9.95 flate rate fee for delivery of a minimum-$30 purchase. What does this mean? It means major competition against both Amazon and Shipt. Amazon has a shipping service available near Whole Foods, and Shipt works with various grocery retailers across the US (though clearly, not Walmart).

Is Walmart Grocery Delivery Worth it?

At this point, you need to look at the value of your time and transportation. Frankly, Walmart Grocery Delivery is a game changer. The reason why Amazon and Shipt are overlooked by myself and others on tight budgets is because not only is there a delivery cost, but the goods purchased come at a higher cost as well. If I were to utilize Amazon’s service through Whole Foods (which actually isn’t possible since I don’t live near a Whole Foods), my grocery budget would at least double. In my region, Shipt serves Meijer. While Meijer is certainly more affordable than Whole Foods, it’s still much more expensive than Wal-Mart for groceries and household goods. Also, Shipt in my area has a delivery fee AND an annual membership fee. For me, Walmart is 25 minutes away, and the nearest Aldi is a smilar distance. What hasn’t been ensured is the proximity of the deliveries. If Walmart in my area were to deliver, I would absolutely pay for this service. The driving time alone is about $10, so for $10/hr for this service, it seems very worth it. However, this brings me to my next point.

What About Walmart Grocery Pickup? And Other Grocery PickUp Services?

Since the Walmart Grocery Delivery service will be “expanded to 100 cities by the end of the year” according to the Wall Street Journal, this means many cities will not have this service. Again, this comes back to the value of time and transportation. The nearest Walmart to me that does Grocery Pickup (which is FREE!) is about 35 minutes away. If you have free time in your day, then that $10/hr is probably worth it to save and just do the free pickup. But if you are as overloaded as I was only a month ago (full time engineer, full time wife, mom of a toddler, and full time MBA student), that $10 for an additional hour sounds amazing. I found the Sam’s Club In-Store pickup (also free!) to be a hugre game changer. I mentioned Meijer before, so I will bring it up again. The nearest Meijer to me does not offer pickup (it does have Shipt), and the closest Meijer that does have curbside pickup has a cost! So that isn’t worth it to me at all.

Will I use Walmart Grocery Delivery?

If it is available to me, I definitely will try Walmart Grocery Delivery and review it. I think there is a huge benefit to the ordering online. It allows you to plan your grocery list efficiently and not get sidetracked with in-store impulses. This is key for us when we Meal Plan/Shop for our Whole30/Paleo meal plans (click here to read how we do this on a tight budget!). Of course, online shopping can come with its own impulses, but overall for us the cost is lower when we order online. The biggest thing that makes me want to try this is that Walmart is already one of our primary places to shop based on cost. In my opinion, the only way this could get better is if Aldi did the same thing. Now my question, would YOU use Walmart Grocery Delivery? Do you use another grocery delivery service that you would potentially cut? Let me know!



Other helpful links…


How We Meal Plan/Shop/”Prep” Whole30/Paleo on a Tight Budget

Is Worth it for Pet Food?

Cleaning Products Worth the (Extra) Money

3 Ingredient DIY Household Cleaner

$10 Gift Card With Sam’s Club Membership

the only affiliate link is the Sam’s Club link, which gives me a credit that I use for groceries. We’ve paid for our membership since the beginning of our marriage. 


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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