Wherever life takes you, you still have to eat. So does your family. But your food budget has been ballooning out of control for months now! Rein it back, with the help of these tips.
*First off, actually have a budget. How much can you afford to spend? Depending on your income, a healthy budget can range from as little as $25 per person weekly to as much as $76. Get started here.
One way to keep yourself on track: buy gift cards for the exact amount. (When they’re gone, you’re done buying.) This is especially smart when you’ll get gas rewards or extra rewards — a few times a year, for example, our local Sprouts store offers a 10% discount on purchased cards. Holiday sales often include a bonus of some kind, as well.
*Hold your costs down, especially during rough times. This series of articles has ideas for spending as little as $15/person per week for a family. This is also an excellent short-term way to save money for an unexpected car repair, or your emergency fund. It’s also a good way to explore different foods, including vegan and cultural menus, which often cost less than the typical meat and course-heavy American diet.
*Why are you going out to eat? If it’s because you’re rushed, or just plain tired of cooking, there are better reasons to spend extra for this pleasure. Cutting back on dining out will save you money every time. Coupons, specials and careful choices (like sticking to the earlybird menu, or eating dessert at home) help out, too.
*Start the day out right. Cereal is one of the more expensive things you can choose, and should be reserved as an occasional treat. Consider instead boiled or fried eggs, oatmeal, or a banana with your favorite hot drink. (Or indulge in your favorite leftover — cold pizza is still the breakfast of champions around our house.) Make breakfast burritos ahead and stash them in the freezer for quick meals. (More portable goodies are here, including homemade pop-tarts.)
*Coffee to go? Make it yourself. Buy a machine that lets you set it up the night before, invest in a good travel mug and quality beans (and a grinder), and you’ll have better coffee than Starbucks ever made.
*Take advantage of the season. Farmers markets and stands are winding down in colder climates — which means extra savings for you. Go toward the end of the morning, about11:30 a.m., when the vendors are thinking about packing up. Make an offer on their leftover produce. Often you can pick up a box of tomatoes, apples or squash for quarters on the dollar. Store the squash in a cool, dry place, and put fruit and veggies in the crisper — they’ll keep there for weeks.
*Ready-to-eat meals in the freezer saves you from going out. Pick up a few during your next grocery trip — or a few frozen pizzas. They may be more expensive than making your own…but they’re still considerably less than even fast food.
*Cook double. You went to the trouble of homemade casseroles, bread and cinnamon rolls? Make twice as much as needed, and freeze the extra. They’ll come in handy some night when your family gets home hungry.
*Serve breakfast for dinner. Pancakes, eggs, and sausage are a reasonably-priced alternative…and filling, too. Serve with fresh or canned fruit.
*Make the rounds. Where does your store keep its marked-down items? Every time you stop for groceries, check the bins. It’s surprising how often you’ll find produce, meat and seafood up to 50% off usual prices, as well as canned and boxed goods. (Don’t forget the deli for fried chicken and ready-to-eat items, too.) What you can’t eat within a day or two, freeze.
*Keep a list. The ingredients for your family’s favorite dishes should be on it. When those items go on sale, buy extra and stash it away for the future. The same goes for favorite canned soups, crackers, chips and chili, or frozen appetizers and pizza you particularly enjoy. Practice the sentence: “If it’s not on sale, I’m probably not buying it now,” and find alternatives.
A stash of easy-to-eat canned and jarred food is a good idea, too, for power outages, or when you just need a quick energy boost. Candidates include canned tuna, shrimp and chicken; pork and beans; fruit (mandarin oranges are delicious, and actually cheaper than fresh); and peanut butter.
*Cook it slow, and save. A crockpot can turn cheaper cuts of meat, like brisket, into a tender, delicious meal; it just takes time. Find a good recipe source, like this blog that offers slow cooker dishes for 365 days a year (this one does, too),and go to it.
*Leftovers – what leftovers? Watch your portions…or freeze for a future meal. Take them the next day for lunch, or use them for an unconventional, but delicious, breakfast. (See above.) I’ve heard of friends trading each other’s leftovers for a “new” meal, as well. Or use them in:
*Soup: your secret weapon for leftovers. Keep chicken/beef bouillon cubes, or onion soup mix nearby, and you’ve got the starting point for all sorts of wonderful soup. Chop leftover meat, or use that handful of hamburger you set aside from last night’s meatloaf. Add veggies, potatoes or rice, and your favorite herbs. (Leftover or instant mashed potatoes help thicken the broth.) Let simmer for 15-20 min. to a few hours, or cook on low all day in the crockpot. Sour cream or milk, stirred in at the last minute, add texture and flavor. Serve with bread or biscuits with a slice of cheese for a hot, nourishing feast.
*A good dessert makes a simple meal special. Instead of a full menu for parties, ask guests to come ‘after work,’ (i.e., later) and serve dessert and coffee, instead. (This is especially effective – and economical – for the holidays.) You could go the cookie-platter-and-cake-route, brownies, or a more elaborate dessert, if you have the time and inclination. (Or find it on the marked-down baked goods shelf!) Ice cream is an easy fix, especially when you serve it with a:
Pay attention – this is complicated. You’ll need:
- 1 1/3 cup(s) semisweet chocolate
- 3 tablespoon(s) coconut oil
That’s it! Microwave the two together for 30 seconds. Stir, then microwave 10-15 second mores, until it’s smooth. Store in refrigerator until needed; pour over ice cream and watch it ‘magically’ harden.
Combine with a sundae (like a snowball sundae) for special effects. Kids love this easy treat.
Eat hearty…and save at the same time.