Food. It does a body good. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always do a budget good. If you’re looking to save some extra cash this month, a great place to look for saving potential is in your weekly or monthly food budget.
Here are a few areas to reassess your spending habits and cut down on your food costs:
Embrace Basic Recipes
I’ve always enjoyed cooking but I’ve made the mistake of confusing ‘being a good cook’ with ‘being a master of advanced and lengthy menus’. That meant experimenting with monstrous recipes and getting a little too ‘Iron Chef’ in the kitchen. But I always ended up paying for my involved culinary endeavors – both in time lost and excessive ingredients wasted. Complicated is not synonymous with delicious. It’s the ‘extra’ garnishes that can actually end up costing the most.
The recipes you choose don’t have to be complex. Most of my favorite dishes are made up of 5 ingredients or less. By consequence – they’re easy, and they’re generally affordable. Scaling back on the ingredients is one of the most dependable and simple ways to cut back on some of your food expenses. Start small, start simple. But start cooking.
As many of you probably know – bacon has had quite the year in the culinary sphere. And I’m pretty happy about that. Why? Because bacon packs a serious flavor punch. And a little goes a long way. Flavorful cheeses, or spices can have similar functions in a recipe. By adding concentrated flavor to generally affordable food items like pasta, eggs or grains you can add variety to your routine – without sacrificing the depth of a meal.
In the case of pricier meats or proteins, using them as a way to highlight the dish rather than as the main feature can save cash in the long run. Adding strong oils or spices can also stretch flavor throughout the meal.
Decrease Food Waste
$5 strawberries look beautiful while they last, but are considered a lost cost once they begin to mold. Americans throw away an average of 40% of their groceries due to spoilage. Looking at that statistic in terms of cash spending, that means that they’re paying an average of 40% more than they need to be on their grocery bill.
When I looked at my own habits, I realized I was almost meeting the statistic and tossing out about a third of the food I was buying. That meant that I was essentially paying a third more for the items I was eating. While it seemed daunting to cut my food funds by any number, it was less intimidating to cut my food quantity. I obviously didn’t want to cut out perishables entirely, so I simply bought less to avoid any surplus going to waste. Buying less, and adjusting my real vs. imagined food needs helped me to fully realize the financial impact of food waste on my budget.
Take note of what you’re constantly tossing out (it’s often produce), and start buying less of it. Avoid lost costs by actually using up what you do buy. Regroup, and assess savings at the end of the month.
And to help fight against food waste…
Utilize Your Freezer Space
The freezer is an incredible luxury when you think about it. No need to dig out a cellar, no need to can for the long winters ahead – it’s a valuable, modern day appliance. And its benefits go beyond storage for your surplus ice cream.
Freezing food is a great way to cook in large quantity or buy in bulk without fear of food spoilage. Since food keeps longer when frozen, you can also store seasonal food and vegetables that would otherwise be pricey when purchased out of season. That being said, freezing food is only a money saving opportunity if a few actions are met: mainly that food is labeled and eventually consumed.
The general rule for edible goods is ‘when in doubt, throw it out.’ Unfortunately, that results in food waste and a hit to your budget. Labeling your freezer meals and including ‘eat-by’ dates can help prevent against that. If you’re unsure of how long things will keep, foodsafety.gov has a handy dandy chart to check out.
Adopt An ‘Every Other Time’ Spending Approach
I’m on a pretty strict food budget myself, but I still buy the premium Greek-style yogurt. Yeah, that’s right. I buy the yogurt that’s 4 times as expensive as regular yogurt. It used to give me shudders when I looked over my receipts, but since I enjoy it so much, I found a way to make it work in my budget. Here’s my not very exciting secret – I only buy it every other shopping trip.
I’m a firm believer that you should enjoy the food you eat. There’s no point in denying all temptation, especially since you’ll be surrounded by it in a grocery store. If there’s a splurge you enjoy (let’s say the expensive pint of ice cream) and it’s unreasonable to make it a regular item in your budget, spread your spending. Pick a few of your costlier items and assign them as ‘every other time’ kinds of purchase. You’ll effectively divide the cost between two trips. If you’re spending an extra 30 dollars each month on these extras, that means a 15 dollar savings without having to give up what you love entirely. It’s give and take, but it’s a reliable way to decrease overall spending.
Resist Individual Packaging
I’m the first to admit that I like things all prepped and packaged in the ‘just right for me’ sizes. Things like pre-packaged baby carrots, grab n’ go snack sizes - items of convenience. They’re fun, they usually fit in the palm of my hand, and they basically cut out the process of divvying up portions. But they cost me so much money compared to the bigger ‘family’ sized options. Unless they’re on sale, individually packaged items aren’t going to be the more affordable option. Say no to those cute little tubs of yogurt and you’ll likely see an opportunity for saving.
If your budget is on the high side each and every month, take a look at your receipts, assess where you might be able to implement some of the tips above, and experiment with what works under your own spending structure. As you start reducing your costs, especially while paying off debt, you will no doubt run into some challenges. But with the tips above and your own motivation there’s no doubt you can do it.
This is the first post in a series of food budget related posts. As always, we love to hear your opinions. Are there topics in particular that you’d like to see? Recipes, budgeting tactics, step-by-step planning? Pictures of cats eating cake?
Credit for Image 1 Hindrick S
Credit for Image 2 Digitalnative
Credit for Image 3 Thomas Hawk