Think you can't take a big bite out of your food budget? Eating fewer restaurant meals is one way to save, but there are plenty more.
How much of your money gets gobbled up by food?
If you don’t know, you should be using a free tracking service like PowerWallet to find out. But however you discover what you’re spending, don’t be surprised if it’s hard to swallow.
For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Making Health Easier site has a sobering statistic: In 1960, about a quarter of what Americans spent on food was for meals out of the house. By 2011, food eaten away from home swallowed half the average food budget.
Since restaurant meals are typically more expensive and less healthy than home-cooked, one way to salvage both budget and waistline could be less eating out.
But dining in can also be problematic. According to a study from the Natural Resources Defense Council, from farm to fork, waste consumes up to 40 percent of American food annually. Within a household, the council says, “About two-thirds of household waste is due to food spoilage from not being used in time, whereas the other one-third is caused by people cooking or serving too much.”
But that’s just the beginning. Depending on where your money’s going now, it’s possible you could slice your food-related expenses by up to half. Check out these ideas:
1. Buy discounted meat, poultry and fish
What most of us do is create a menu, then go to the store and buy the ingredients. A better way might be to plan our menus around what’s on sale.
One of my local grocery stores, Publix, puts different cuts and types of meats on sale every week. Grab what’s on sale. If it’s your favorite, stock up.
2. Eliminate soda and sugary drinks
Not only is this good for your health, it’s good for your wallet. Last year, a Gallup poll showed that nearly half of Americans drink soda every day.
Stick to water whenever possible; it’s nearly free. Need more variety? Buy powdered drink mixes or tea and make it yourself.
3. Opt for whole instead of cut produce
A container of fruit salad at my grocery store can cost $5. But when I buy the fruits separately and slice them myself, the same money will pay for a week’s worth. Slicing fruit isn’t rocket science.
4. Try Meatless Monday
Monday isn’t a requirement, but consider joining the Meatless Monday movement. Less meat can mean less fat, clearer arteries and lower expenses. If you can’t imagine a meal not centered on meat, look online for recipes. There are thousands upon thousands.
5. Buy only food
Do you grab home essentials at the grocery store, where laundry detergent and deodorant cost more? You’re paying extra for convenience. Stores like Walmart and Walgreens have much better deals. See The 10 Best Things to Buy at Drugstores and learn how you might find some items super cheap, even free.
6. Make your own snacks
Cheez-Its, Goldfish and all manner of snacks are a quick pick, but they add up when you check out. Pack lunches and after-school snacks with fresh fruit, carrots or homemade granola, and you’ll lower your calories and spending. Strung out on Goldfish? You can make them yourself.
7. Visit farmers markets
Big-box grocers offer a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, but variety doesn’t translate to inexpensive. Visit your local farmers market, which may be less expensive, or go straight to the farm. See 7 Ways to Score Cheap Locally Grown Food for more.
8. Buy generic
From flour to salt to pasta, you can save 30 percent or more with store brands. This works for practically everything on your grocery list. But even if you hate generics, it’s hard to argue it’s worth paying more for these seven things.
9. Make more
If you’re stocking up on meat and veggies, why not cook extra? Roast a chicken with veggies at the beginning of the week and use leftovers for chicken salad, tacos or a pasta dish. Stretch your meals.
10. Make essentials yourself
When it comes to staples like bread, pasta sauce, soups and stock, save by making them yourself. There won’t be any mysterious or unpronounceable ingredients, and you can create the flavors you prefer.
11. Make lists — lots of them
I use Wunderlist for my grocery list, and share it with other members of my household. They can add items when we run out, and it means I don’t have to be the pantry police. I build my list from my meal plan for the week, which is based on what’s on sale and what I already have on hand.
Create a cycle: See what’s on sale, make a meal plan, add items to your grocery list. Once you get into a groove, the time spent is minimal. And the beauty of a list, when used properly, is that it prevents impulse buys.
12. Shop more often
This may sound counterintuitive, especially for busy families. But buying less more often can save money in the long run.
I go grocery shopping two or three times a week rather than making one big trip every other week. I buy the freshest products, which are consumed before they go bad, reducing food waste.
13. Grow your own
Whether it’s on your apartment patio or in your backyard, you can grow your own herbs, vegetables and possibly fruit. See how to start your own garden.
14. Clip coupons
Look through weekly circulars, grab the Sunday newspaper, and look online for coupons. Stack manufacturer’s coupons with store sales. Ask if your store will price match.
15. Clean out your kitchen
Take inventory so you can see what you need and what you have on hand to work with. This is especially important for your refrigerator, where items can get lost in the back or leftovers can be forgotten.
16. Don’t waste money on organic
Some shoppers swear by organic and others think it’s unnecessary. But there are two things we can all agree on: It normally costs more, and there are some items for which the potential benefit is minimal. For example, fruits with protective skins we don’t eat, like bananas and avocados, are much less likely to be affected by pesticides. See 10 Foods You Shouldn’t Buy Organic — and 12 You Should.
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