Each month I struggle with how much we spend on food. Each month when I sit down to analyze the budget I am floored at how much money we spend on groceries alone, more or less eating out at restaurants. We typically only eat out once or twice a week on the weekends and maybe buy an inexpensive lunch once in a while during the week, but it all adds up.
I tell myself that eating gluten-free, organic, non-gmo foods is much more expensive than if we didn’t eat with those dietary restrictions and preferences, but I was raised very budget conscious with two accountants in my immediate family and I am constantly looking for ways to save. And let’s be honest, my husband, daughter, and I are all food lovers and now with another baby on the way, I am eating about 300 calories a day more than usual. And may I add, that I love to cook and love to cook different meals each week, which adds to buying ingredients that I don’t always have readily available in the pantry.
So how much should we realistically be spending on food? Financial guru, Dave Ramsey, recommends spending 5-15% of your take home pay on food, which includes groceries and eating at restaurants. Even though most months we fall somewhere in that range, I still want to save more money in this category. So here are some tips I have learned along the way to help save money but still not miss out on a healthy, delicious, and versatile diet!
- Cut Coupons – Do people even do that these days unless you are a die-hard couponer? I remember being a kid and cutting out the coupons each week from the Sunday paper, but the only time I ever buy a newspaper these days is on my child’s birth date, in honor of a special occasion on a date I want to remember fondly, or on Thanksgiving morning to look through all of the Black Friday ads! If you have been following my posts on social media for a while, you’ll know I love Target and I save money each time I go there because I not only have a Red Card that I save 5% on all purchases and I also have Cartwheel to save even more money on the items I buy, and I get text messages on various coupons that are hand crafted for me. Every time I go to the grocery store (or even Target) the cashier hands me a handful of coupons based on my purchase that I can save and use for my next visit. So even though it’s not exactly that same as when I was younger, coupons still exist and if you look for them, you will find them!
- Look for Sales – When I go to Kohl’s to buy clothes for our family, I only go when I have a 20% off coupon and or a $10 off coupon that is either mailed to me or emailed to me. The same goes for the grocery store. Each week I am sent an ad for every local store of all the food that’s on sale that week and I make a note of it as I am make my meal plan and grocery list for the week. I also go to different stores each week, depending on which one has the most items I need that week on sale.
- Meal Plan – Each week I plan out every meal we are going to have for the week. I avoid cookbooks because the recipes are long, complicated, and consist of a pinch of this and a pinch of that of ingredients that I generally do not have stocked on a regular basis. Instead I search meals on Pinterest that look simple, quick, and use the least amount of ingredients. I especially like the 3-ingrediant meals, one-pot meals, and almost anything you can put into a slow cooker. Follow me on Pinterest and check out my Family Dinners board and all the recipes I pinned by following this link https://www.pinterest.com/parentologist/family-dinners/?from_navigate=true
- Cook Big Meals – Make a simple pasta dish, a casserole, or a soup in the slow cooker that will leave you with a few days worth of leftovers. You might need to double the ingredients but depending on what ingredients you use, you still should save some money from making 2-3 meals out of one dish instead of having to cook multiple meals each week!
- Buy Generic Brands – Each grocery store you go to has their own brand of most major items. I know we are used to our favorites and what we are most familiar with (we are all creatures of habit) but you may find that generic is less expensive and tastes too similar for you to know the difference!
- Make and Stick to a List – Before you step foot into a grocery store make a list of only the things you need, not want, and then when you are at the store stick to the list! The same mentality goes for a restaurant. Before you go, look at the restaurant’s menu online and pick out what you want to eat before you arrive.
- Don’t Go Anywhere Hungry – Whether it is the grocery store or a restaurant, do not go ravenous for food. Just from your hunger alone, you will buy more than you intended to because your stomach will be larger than your budget. You’ll end up getting home with much more than you intended and most likely will have bought things that aren’t good for you. If you are starving, you probably aren’t going to buy extra fruits and veggies, you will most likely buy things that are more desirable like salty, savory, and sugary foods. Maybe it’s just me, but I have seen it and experienced it too many times myself and or with others and know it’s the truth. On the same note, before you go to a restaurant have a little food before you arrive. Maybe have a cheese stick before you leave the house or some almonds to satisfy buying appetizers and possibly dessert that will add tremendously to your bill!
- Pay with Cash – A dear friend of mine gave me this advice not very long ago and I honestly haven’t tried it yet, but I have seen this tip on various money saving websites and really should give it a go. My biggest fear and or hesitation is that even if I meal plan and stick to a list, when I get to the check out, what if I didn’t bring enough cash? What do I do? Do I tell the cashier to take away some of the food I bought? How do I decide what food doesn’t make the cut? I suppose paying with cash ensures no impulse buying, but it still makes me nervous. I suppose I can try it by checking myself out. Then I can take my time seeing my bill add up and also not feel as guilty or embarrassed if I have to put a few items in the “go-back” basket.
- Do a Weekly Run – We used to go grocery shopping twice a month, the day of or after we were paid. This worked for most things, but most of our fresh fruits and veggies would deteriorate before we would even get to use them at the end of that second week. So now, we go weekly. This way, I know better what our weekly budget should be and try to stick to it as best as possible. If we go over one week I try to plan to buy less the following week to make up for the loss. Doing a weekly run also means not making little trips for odds and ends throughout the week. That’s where the budget gets you! Those little $20 trips add up and end up costing you in the long run. If you can wait, add those little items to your list for the following week. You probably don’t need it as much as you think you do!
- Keep It Simple – Don’t feel pressured to cook extravagant meals each night for your family. Instead, make sandwiches, soups, and salads. Especially now that it’s summer, a heavy, warm meal may be something you want to minimize and avoid anyway for the time being. Add protein, veggies, nuts, and even dried or fresh fruit to your salad and that will make it a meal in itself. What will also save you money is by having these fresh items readily available to you for free from your own garden! Yes, you heard me, plant your own fruit trees and vegetable garden and keep a fresh herb garden, too!