I did this guest post almost a year ago on Our Freaking Budget (one of my favorite budget/finance blogs!) and decided I wanted to share it with you guys over here too.
For me, food is one of the most delightful parts of life. I incorporate treat consumption into all of the other activities I do for fun. Once, when I was first married (almost five years ago), I told my husband that I was frustrated because we didn’t have enough money for me to spend on my hobbies. When he asked which hobbies I meant, my knee-jerk response was “going to Cafe Rio.” Let me explain. I love going out to eat, and my favorite restaurant is a Mexican place called Cafe Rio. The food is so amazing, it’s addictive. It started in Utah but has begun to expand nationwide so if you have one in your town, go try it! He still jokes with me about my main hobby being eating at Cafe Rio, but it was kind of true. If I want to see a friend I haven’t seen in a while, we always meet there for some lunch. If we go on a double date, we always end up there because everyone likes it and can agree happily upon it. If we want takeout for an evening in? You guessed it.
The problem was we had a vicious cycle going with our food budget (or lack thereof.) We’d been spending so much money on groceries, but were sick of the meager meals we could make with them. It’s worth mentioning that we were both students, working and getting home after 7 pm every night, starving and tired. This would lead us to grab fast food for dinner more often than we should have just because it was easier than having the same grilled chicken again and again. Our food-life was unsatisfactory. I became determined to save more at the grocery store, but where to start? We had really only been buying what we considered necessities: cereal, milk, eggs, cheese, frozen chicken breasts, etc. But for some reason it was breaking us.
Typically we were spending almost $100 a week on food: $50 on groceries and $30-$50 eating out. After a few months of strategic grocery shopping – using coupons or price-matching where I could, we were only spending $20 a week on groceries and $20 on a date night. Now I no longer use any coupons, and we have been trying to eat out less (once every other week) and spend about $35-$40 a week on our groceries. Here are the things I do that have helped us shave down our food budget while still feeling satisfied with our meals.
Knowing your store’s sale cycles is key. Typically a grocery store will put a certain item on sale once every three months, but that can vary a little depending on where you shop. I suggest asking your store’s manager about how the sales work. Stock up on things you like to eat when they are on sale, buying enough to last til the next time it will be on sale. For example, since we eat a lot of black beans I only buy them when they are on sale for .40 cents a can or less. If I buy 12 cans at .40 cents each I’ve spent less than $5 for three months’ worth. If I buy them once a week for .80 cents a can, I’ve spent almost $10. If you use this principle with everything you buy, it all adds up and you’re spending 50% of what you would have on the exact same items. GrocerySmarts.com is a great resource for finding out where the sales in your area are each week. Price matching is a great way to keep your shopping at one trip a week instead of going from store to store to get the deals.
Planning your meals takes the question “What should we have for dinner tonight?” out of your life. If you spend an hour once a week deciding what to have each night that week, make a grocery list, and shop only once, you will save a lot of dough. You will already know what’s on the menu, can prep ahead of time if needed, and won’t be tempted to head to the drive-thru instead of dealing with dinner. It helps if you choose budget-friendly meals that might include similar ingredients but that have a different flavor so you don’t feel like there’s no variety. Also, when the budget is tight, go the safe route – choose things you know you like. At my house we always keep corn tortillas, black beans, frozen corn, salsa, sour cream and cheese around. They are very cheap and last a while. Then we can choose savory chicken, sweet pork or spicy beef enchiladas, tacos or salads, and and we’re both happy at the end of the day. We throw in some other budget friendly chicken dishes, soups or salads between the Mexican food nights. Planning your meals around what’s on sale that week is especially effective.
This is a busy person’s life saver. Prepare a bunch of different meals all in one session, throw them in the freezer (in gallon ziploc bags) and pull them back out ready to heat and serve. You can also put together slow-cooker meals, freeze them and then just dump the frozen contents in the crock-pot before you head to work one day. This is an awesome way to use food you buy on sale. I like to make big batches of shredded pork in the slow-cooker and freeze it in different serving sizes so it’s ready to go on busy nights.
So there it is, saving money on food made easy. More room in the budget for the fun things, like eating at your favorite restaurant or splurging on some Nutella (never on sale, still worth it.) We have some great Freezer Cooking tutorials and easy, cheap recipes you can check out, and I love Money Saving Mom’s resources too. What are some ways you have found to save money on food without feeling restricted or bored?