Cut Your Food Bill in Half!
There are lots of tricks to saving money. Here are some practical ideas that you can start using TODAY to SAVE BIG every month!
From starting with a better understanding of your current budget, to creatively using items you have on hand, to avoiding the grocery store traps, to finding little products and services that will help you keep more money in your pocket….It’s all here!
- Find a financial software package to understand your spending habits. I invested in Quicken; it was life-changing. I was able to see just how much money I was spending on EVERYTHING. For example, that morning stop at Dunkin’ Donuts was costing about $40 a month! Forget that – I can buy us each a thermal cup at Ross for about $6 and we can bring our coffee with us! The real splash of cold water on my face — the amount of money we were spending on groceries (about $14,000 a year) and restaurants/fast food/coffee shops (almost $5,000 a year). All in all, what we saw in our financial track record wasn’t pretty, but it was eye-opening.
- Take stock. I check the pantry, the freezer, and the refrigerator each week to see what is there that I can use. When I first started this journey, I was amazed to realize just how much food was stockpiled. In fact, I had enough food to get by for nearly two weeks without a major shop to the grocery store! With our new budget goals, I plan around what’s on hand. Part of our old problem was buying in bulk and having items on hand that we just did not use. I now avoid that by careful meal planning and using the pantry wisely.
- No More Deli Counter. Deli is EXPENSIVE. It’s also full of sodium. There is such a thing as a microwaveable thermos. Ok, so it was bigger (on the outside) than I expected when it arrived from Amazon, but if it meant I could get away from packing deli sandwiches and expensive (not to mention unhealthy) processed foods for lunch, well, count me in. For more lunch ideas, see this post.
- Plan your Meals. This is a biggie! I had always read that you should do that, but we were so busy that I couldn’t afford to bother, right? WRONG! It only takes me about 15-20 minutes on the weekend to take a look at what’s on hand and find some recipes online. And, by doing this I’m saving a significant amount of money – more than if I took on a second job! I try to plan for a week or two at a time. Initially, I read somewhere that one should plan meals for a month at a time. That did not work for me because there are too many variables. You never know what you’ll have left over from the week before, or what’s on hand. For example, I bought ground beef at Walmart and, because they did not have the size I ordered, they doubled my package for the same price! I separated the beef into thirds and froze two. I now had two more meals to plan around ground beef that I hadn’t anticipated. If you are so inclined, feel free to use my weekly meal plans (you can find them by clicking the Weekly Menus at the top of the home page). These weekly plans include links to recipes, grocery lists, and even the cost of the ingredients.
- Avoid the Traps! There are a few that I’ve found to be deadly to your budget. One is planning recipes that are advertised as budget-friendly because their cost per serving is low, but, in actuality they are more expensive than you think because they call for ingredients that you will have left over and not use again. Another is buying too much in bulk. In my previous life, I would come out of a BJ’s with a cart of about $150-$200 worth of goods, but not a well-rounded supply of food that I could use for a week or two of meals. What’s more, I assumed that the costs were the lowest I could get because they were in bulk. I’ve learned that is not necessarily the case! Again, the key is planning wisely.
- Use leftovers. You may not need to cook dinner all seven nights. In the first few weeks of my our new lifestyle, I planned to cook a different meal each night. I soon realized that we had so much left over each time we cooked, that some nights we could get away with leftovers. It may not be ideal for gastronomic foodies, but we were perfectly satisfied knowing that was more money in our pockets. Also, know that there was prepared food in the fridge, when the kids ask “what’s there to eat?” I can list off a several options.
- Shop only once a week. We chose Sundays as our day to shop for groceries. Not running to the grocery store every time we felt we needed something, prevented us from buying extraneous items. Another plus, we began to better understand how much food we used per week. For example, in the first week of January, I bought one large box of cereal. We ran out before the end of the week so I knew that in future weeks, I needed to buy two boxes of cereal. This understanding helped me to get a better handle on how much I needed to spend each week at the store.
- Get Buy In. I wanted to avoid the moans of my children when I decided on this plan. After all, cutting back on groceries would probably mean less junk food in the house. I cut a deal with my teenage twins. If we kept our grocery budget to $550 in the month of January (as opposed to over $1,100 as we were used to spending), they would each get $50 that month. In fact, just tonight, I looked in the pantry and saw we were low on a sparkling water. My son said to me, “That’s alright, Mom, we can hold off until Sunday!”
- Compare Prices. This is harder than it seems — Every store carries different brands and different sizes. It would be great if they all listed the price per ounce, but they don’t. Adding to the frustration, Publix, Winn Dixie, and Aldi’s do not list their prices online. I’ve posted a few articles on this subject in this blog, such as my most recent one here. I will continue to add to this comparison shopping as time goes on. My personal take-away was that Walmart was the store to beat for our weekly shop, but, there are a few things I will go to BJ’s or Costco for.
- Use the Walmart Grocery App. You can read why here. In short, this app saves you time since you can order your groceries from your phone and just drive to the designated pick-up spot where the nice staff members will load the car for you! It also prevents you from adding impulse buys to your cart since you are not actually in the store. Lastly, they double items if you order something they don’t have. The first week I went for my pickup, they substituted a 5 lb. package of ground beef for the same price as the 2.4 pkg. I ordered! The next week, I scored a free case of water!
- Invest in a Few Tools of the Trade. I bought a few thermos cups from Ross that we use regularly to avoid the drive-thru. I also found a microwaveable thermos online that I can use for our lunches. Something as simple as a $5 apple divider can also make your life much easier when you are sending the kids out the door with a healthy lunch that includes apple slices. These little things can have a big impact in your life!
- Eat out for Less. With so many ways to score discounts on restaurants, you can eat out for less by checking out these ideas. My birthday meal was at a great tapas restaurant, complete with Flamenco dancers, but at abut 15% off thanks to a Groupon!