Just because you are on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t eat amazing food and be healthy. Here are some helpful tips for saving money on food…glorious food!
I always tell people when I get sick of the finance business that I’m going to find employment is the supermarket industry. No matter what economic situation the world is in, we still need to eat. Imagine how much money we could save if we didn’t have to nourish ourselves every day. Next to accommodation this is the biggest expense for most of us, especially if you have a family. It’s obviously a lot easier for singles and couples to make drastic changes to the food budget than it is for families, but here are some great solutions for cutting your food bills, saving for your dream vacation and still being mindful of what you put in your body.
1 – Write a shopping list and stick to it.
I really am not one for writing out budgets, after years of living frugally I’ve just learned to keep a mindful record of money in Vs. money out, but with shopping you have to know what you need for the week and stick to it. How many times have you done your main shop and then gone back to the store 2-3 times during the week to buy what you forgot and inadvertently extras you don’t need and haven’t budgeted for! Those extra visits can add up to an extra $60-80 a week to your food bill. Having a clear plan of what you need for the week is the key to saving money on food expenses AND saving time.
2- Plan your meals and cook at home.
I know…..this requires a bit of forward planning, but if you are cooking at home (it really is the cheapest option in the western world),
then you either spend the time planning ahead for the week, or spend even longer planning it day by day. The easiest and quickest way to do this is cook it bulk and eat it over a few days. Now some people don’t like eating the same thing every day (boo-hoo!), but I grew up extremely poor and i’ll eat anything and be grateful for it. I have no qualms about eating the same stew or casserole for dinner 3-4 nights in a row. If you don’t like doing this and have a busy working schedule, then your options are limited to fast meals like pasta, stir fry’s and salads. By cooking in bulk you can buy ingredients in bulk and you only have to cook 2-3 times a week and save your treats and dinner out for the weekend.
3- buy fresh and do your own prep.
Have you ever really thought about how much extra that bag of lettuce is compared to buying an actual head of lettuce? It’s usually $3.00 more expensive and for what? Paying somebody else to spend the extra few minutes running it under the tap and chopping it up? Once again it’s something you can prepare ahead and eat later.
4- Breakfasts and Lunches.
These same principles for dinner can be used for breakfast and lunch. Instead of spending $5.00 a box on sugary cereal, buy some rolled oats in bulk at the health food store and make up some refrigerator oatmeal jars. They are super yummy, easy, can be made into any flavor, last a few days in the fridge and are very nutritious. Lunches can be pre-made sandwiches, salads or explore the amazing variety of the Bento Box craze. Left overs, rice, snacks and thousands of other options can be made into a lunchbox Bento that can offer something different every day. Remember that you can adjust to a new eating regime, just give yourself couple of weeks and you will be craving your new healthy options, and your body and wallet will be happier for it.
5 – Try foreign food
This is going to be a hard sell, but hear me out. As much as I love US culture, the standard American Diet (or SAD), is just that…SAD! There is a whole world of flavors out there that most of us are are completely unfamiliar with, especially when cooking at home. We all fall into a routine of preparing the same handful of recipes over and over and being afraid of trying something new. I have great news! there are literally billions of international recipes online and most are cheap and simple to prepare. If you find it difficult to start, try a cuisine with similar taste profiles and cooking methods to western food, such as Persian, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern. Once you have experience in that you will be confident enough to branch off to more complicated and bold foreign food affairs. Another benefit of expanding your diet is learning about other cultures and it’s a perfect way to take a mini cultural immersion when you can’t afford an overseas trip at this time.
6- International Markets.
Most people don’t know this, but one of the cheapest places to shop is at an international food market. Whether it be Asian, Indian, Arabic or Mexican you can be sure to find some good deals, even if you choose not to diversity your cooking experience. Here’s a couple of prime examples. A 1 lb bag of basmati rice is over $4.00 at the regular store. You can buy the same rice for $1.50 at an ethnic store and that’s not all, spices are considerably cheaper at almost a quarter of the price. Another benefit is that a lot of the markets make their products everyday so you always find something fresh and even if you only go once every month or two, you will notice the difference. Its also fun to try new things. Make an effort to pick up 2 new items you’ve never tried or heard of before, who knows, they may be your new favorite snacks, and if not, well, at least you have a fun story to tell. I also think its important to get children to try new flavors and experiences early and allow them to develop and open mind.
7 – Increase your plant consumption.
Outside of the western world, meat and dairy is a real treat and I mean a real treat! Don’t get me wrong, meat is my favorite food ever and if I could eat it at every meal I certainly would. I remember when I was a kid, i’d always save the meat for last and savor every bite. Mmmmm protein…..But really, dietitians are right when they say we don’t need as much as we think we do. If you look at other cuisines around the world, meat is not the main focus, most of the bulk and tummy fillers come from vegetables, legumes and starch. Asian cultures go as far as to say as the rice and noodles are first and everything else is an accompaniment. Rice, lentils and beans are super cheap (you can even afford to buy them organic), and they provide a very rich nutrient profile. Most of us westerners are not used to eating this much fiber, so unless you want to be skywriting your name is the sky every minute and alienating people around you, cook them very well and even consider sprouting before using in recipes.
8- Meat and Dairy
It’s no secret that meat and dairy can add a huge amount to your weekly grocery bill and the solution is obvious….buy only on sale. I have a favorite yogurt brand that I adore, but I refuse to pay $1.50 a cup for it, so I’ll buy it when its under $1 and get a couple weeks supply, also, consider making your own, it’s extremely cheap and easy and without any additives.
If you want to save money on meat you have to be vigilant and flexible. Instead of buying your usual cuts, look whats on sale and improvise. If a recipe calls for ground beef, buy ground turkey or chicken is on sale, then buy that. Also consider buying meat in bulk and freezing it. Its helpful to have meat in the fridge when whipping up a quick dinner.
9- To coupon or not?
I don’t do a lot of couponing because I don’t buy (or recommend buying) a lot of processed food. I try and keep away from the middle rows of the supermarket and shop around the edge, but coupons have a valuable place in budget shopping, especially if you have a family and buying in bulk. It’s great for disposable items like cleaning supplies and toilet paper, but remember before you embark on a new couponing regiment, keep in mind the time and energy you are spending in this pursuit, and make sure it’s worth the net savings.
Yup I like fancy fu-fu coffees as much as the next person, but are they really worth nearly $5.00 a pop? nope! These should definitely be put in the ‘once in a while treat basket’, and our daily caffeine needs should be made up of more humble options. I know people who spend $10 a day on coffee. That’s $3,650 a year! urgh! what an absolute waste….
I purchase a $7.00 bag of coffee beans every 2 weeks, grind them and make individual cups in my Keurig and its actually quite nice. You get the fresh made coffee taste for only a few cents per cup.
Energy drinks also make for really expensive urine. Try brewing fresh ice tea or coffee and taking a natural energy supplement.
Alcohol is cheapest at the big national discount chain stores and online, but don’t forget the 6-pack mix and match deals at local supermarkets. You can get 30% off already discounted wines and beers when buying 6 or more. If you are interested in purchasing wine by the case online is a great place to look, especially when individual wineries have sales.
12 – Dining Out
I usually try and save my restaurant experiences for when i’m on vacation, it adds something else for me to look forward too, plus eating out all the time is no good for the waistline or my wallet. Most restaurants add salt, sugar and fat to make their food extra yummy and that I don’t need in my diet on a regular basis. Plus I like to cook for myself so I know exactly what i’m eating and how much. If you do decide to eat out regularly use coupons, look up the menu online first and give yourself a budget, go during happy hour, and don’t be afraid to ask what’s in your food and how it is prepared.
13 – Entertaining at home.
This can be a much cheaper alternative to eating out but you have to be smart about it. Things can add up quickly and luxury artisan items can completely blow your budget. Ten items at $7.00 is $70! Look for recipes that taste great, but don’t contain any high ticket items, or consider buying one or 2 luxuries and serving them as a stand alone (e.g imported olives, cheese etc.)
So there you have it, great ways to save money on groceries and have fun in the process. Experiment, expand your mind and wallet and enjoy!