What’s the best way to save money on the food budget?
With food being one of the largest parts of the food budget, we often struggle with how to make cuts without feeling like you’re not feeding yourself or your family properly. This is definitely not the case and I have proved it in my $100 Cheap Food Challenge I wrote about in 2010. This case study does some quick interviews with people to discover that, not only do people have no clue how much they spend each month on food, they think it’s impossible to survive on just $100 per person per month. Now, granted, it is more difficult to live on $100 per month when it’s just one person, but it gets easier as you add more to the household. If you have five members of the family that you’re feeding, it’s easier to limit your food spending to $500 than for the single person to keep it under $100.
While it’s not easy to change your habits, it is easy to reduce the cost of food for the month by following a few simple guidelines. These guidelines aren’t going to suggest you eat off of the dollar menu at fast food restaurants or simply eat rice and beans or Ramen noodles. While those foods are in fact cheap, they end up being expensive in the long run when considering how unhealthy you’ll become and have to pay more for doctors, prescriptions, etc. So remember, just because it’s cheap now doesn’t mean it’s the most cost effective way to eat and live long term.
Most people look at the way they eat as a necessity in life, but it’s amazing how much you can save if you plan, eat the proper diet and take the time to cook at home. The choices you make at the grocery store or convenience store (*gasp!) really affects your budget, even if it’s just $10 at a time. Let’s take a look at the suggestions Cheap Food Here has put together since being on their mission to eat creatively on a modest budget.
1. Don’t eat out!
Believe it or not, eating out is the fastest way to blow through your food budget. It may seem convenient and delicious and trump anything you could make yourself at home, but it’s amazing how much you can save by staying out of restaurants. If you do decide that taking a break from cooking is a must, do it sparingly and don’t order drinks if you can help it. Drinks end up costing as much or more than an extra entree.
Another way to save money is to share an appetizer and an entree. Typically that is more than enough food to satisfy you and you’ve saved the loot from the extra box of carry-out you would have let go bad in the fridge later that week.
2. Ditch the bottled drinks
It goes without saying that you should already ditch the smoking habit if not for the health concerns but for the cost. But in comparison, drinking soft drinks or bottled juices, waters, etc are driving your food budget through the roof! Not only are most bottled drinks unhealthy, they are extremely expensive.
The sale of bottled water dropped by 9% in 2008 and I imagine it’s been going down since then and for good reason. Why not just carry your own water with you when you’re out and about. This cuts back dramatically on cost as well as help reduce trash.
3. Stick to your grocery list
There isn’t anything the retailer wants more than for you to act on impulse during your entire shopping trip. But hey, I know it’s hard to avoid the fancy packaging, the end caps and aisle violators that just insist on having their products jump into your cart. But make sure you know what you’re up against and have a clear objective in mind. Get only the items on your list, put the blinders on and get in and out as fast as possible.
4. Make sure your coupons are actually saving you money
A lot of times it’s not cheaper to use a coupon. If you know which stores to buy your staple items from and check the prices before even leaving the house, you’ll save more money than if you had a brand-named coupon for a product you don’t normally buy. Those manufacturers want you to buy their expensive products, so they try to make you think you’re saving money with a coupon. Most likely there is a different brand without a coupon that will cost less than the brand-name with a coupon, so be careful how you price out products and really look at the end price.
5. Reduce pre-packaged meals
Although it might seem smart at the time to buy the box of macaroni and cheese or the frozen Healthy Choice meal, there is hardly any nutritional value in most pre-packaged meals and considering the portions, you could easily make the same meal from scratch for less money. Buying the ingredients and making it yourself with the proper type of seasonings and salt will be more delicious and healthy. It’s good to make meals in bulk and then freeze them in separate containers when you’re ready for them throughout the week. Be careful when you see pre-packaged meals that look quick and easy; a cost comes with the convenience.