I love this topic! Food is my addiction and I love all of it. Now, my body will beg to differ, but with a few tips, meal planning and cooking throughout the week will be easy peasy. These tips won’t fit every lifestyle. I know some people we that use a butcher only, some practice husbandry or keeping of animals, and others like myself live in the city. We do what we can, but still need the grocery store. I’ve tried freezer meals only to have the freezer go out and spoil everything. I’ve tried shopping once a month to avoid traveling so much. This by far has been the best method we’ve tried to reduce our food budget. When taking a look at finances, you get a glimpse for where your money is going. Our food budget was killing our overall budget. So we made changes.
Tip #1 is to have a plan
Having a plan for what you will prepare for the upcoming week or few weeks can dramatically reduce your food bill. Why? Because by going shopping with a list and being prepared, you are less likely to buy things that are not on the list and potentially blowing your budget. It is like going to a car dealership with no idea on what you are looking at and test driving everything. It takes time and ultimately can produce a negative consequence like buying a vehicle impulsively without research of safety ratings and book value. Food is no different. There are so many choices that are highly processed and overly priced. Planning meals allows you to scout sales in market ads, dig in to those cookbooks you never use, and will influence the number of times you go out for take out. You are trying new recipes or bringing back recipes you haven’t made in awhile.
Tip #2 is to check sales and combine stores
Often, grocery stores have weekly flyers that are included in your mailbox or an email subscription of weekly deals. I typically have three stores I frequent. One being Winco, a bulk store that sells bulk or bigger packaged items, combined with Aldi, and lastly Sprouts which is a much cheaper version of Whole Foods. Combining stores in your grocery haul gives the best value, the best selection, without breaking the bank. This is only doable if the stores are in close proximity to each other, otherwise you’ll spend a lot in gas. If I shopped my entire list at Sprouts, I’d exceed my budget three times. If I shopped all at Winco, we wouldn’t get organic or whole food options. Yet Aldi, carries the cheapest canned goods and doesn’t carry for example Quinoa or a variety of fresh fish.
Tip #3 is to go local
Buying local from a farmers market or small produce stand is doing more than you realize. You are helping a local farmer pay his bills versus shopping at a commercial store where if you stop shopping there, it makes no difference at all. Local is always better quality and allows you to open up dialog to know where the items are coming from, how they grow them, and you learn a lot about the food you eat. If we go to a farmers market, often I can buy twice as much for the same price I’d pay at a chain store.
Tip #4 is to use a grocery list
Whether you create a handwritten list or use a cheat sheet like I do where the categories are separated with like items to just check mark what I need, a list is crucial if you want to stay on budget. There are many printables online or on Pinterest to choose from that are free. Going in blind leads to overspending. When running out of an item, keep the grocery list close by and always in the same place. In fact, it is above my trash can so as I throw something away, I add it to my list especially if it is a staple or pantry item. The only thing I don’t add to my list is veggies, fruit, and meats because that depends on sales and the meals I plan.
Tip #5 is to break out the old cookbooks
This is so very important! Often we are so busy and pressed for time that it is hard to come up with a meal that fancies everyone on the fly. It is easy to say “ok, lets have macaroni and cheese again” leaving you bored and much more likely to go out to eat. We need variety and food shouldn’t be mundane. I keep a collection of cookbooks that gives numerous recipes to choose from. Keep it simple! If you want to try a recipe, mark it with a sticky note. If you’ve already made the recipe and it was a hit, make notes directly in the cookbook. What you added extra, did you alter something? how was it? It is good reference for next time. When you make the recipe, the sticky comes out.
Tip #6 is to finalize your list and your plan
Making a list really does nothing unless it is organized. I keep three of my grocery cheat sheets, one for each store and put items on that list I know I get at that particular store. On the back of one sheet I write 7 meals and a few lunch ideas. The 7 meals are bookmarked in the cookbooks. Refer to the list when you cook and cross off when dinner is done. Write notes next to the recipe such as a happy face if it was a hit or sad face if it was a fail, then take out the sticky note, and put the cookbook away for next time.
Our food budget without this method was topping $1100 or more each month and included eating out. It was so easy to not feel like cooking because I had no idea on how to piece together various items to make a full meal, so we’d say the heck with it and go out. Since starting this method, our new food budget is on average $600-700 a month. We have two adults, a 14 year old teen in sports, and a 20 year old who worksout everyday. So trust me when I say that we can eat! Even if you don’t try every tip, trying one will make a difference and will inspire you to do more. All you need to do is try one. With the time it takes to prepare your list and meal plan it’s equivalent to one night eating out. So what do you have to lose?