The following is a reprint of a previously published post. Enjoy!
There is one category of budgeting that can make a huge difference in your spending, and that (no surprise here) is food.
Of course, food is not simply an expenditure. Food physically fuels us and is also one of life’s greatest pleasures. From preparation to consumption to clean up, food defines our days and nourishes our souls.
But that doesn’t mean we should just eat whatever we want whenever we want. Not only would that method clog our arteries, but it would also drain our bank accounts. But does a commitment to cheap eating relegate us to nothing but bland lentils and oatmeal? (Not to malign lentils, as one of my favorite dishes is red lentil soup!)
So is there a sweet spot of spending less on money on food without sacrificing the joys of food? I say yes, and here’s how.
How to eat cheaply:
- Cook at home. I cannot emphasize this enough, as a single meal in an expensive restaurant can pay for entire week of groceries.
- If you are eating out, save it for a special occasion. Also, drink the water and forgo the appetizers and dessert. Restaurant servings are usually plenty big enough.
- Save eating out for food you don’t know how to prepare at home. So forget eating hamburgers at Applebee’s, and instead head for ethnic restaurants like Indian, Thai and Japanese.
- Eat seasonally. This means strawberries in summer, asparagus in spring and pears in the autumn. Not only will you take advantage of sales, but the produce is most likely fresher.
- Keep a few frozen meals stashed aside for those inevitable crazy evenings. This will save you from pizza delivery and MSG-laden takeout Chinese.
- Buy your spices in bulk. And if it’s something you use irregularly, just buy a small amount.
- Buy in bulk, but only if it’s food you eat regularly and can use up before it goes bad. A 50 pound bag of oatmeal is only a bargain if you eat it up before the moths do.
- Teach yourself to cook. The internet has made it possible for anyone, anywhere to research recipes without the necessity of a cookbook library. Want to make chicken enchiladas for dinner? Great, just look it up on Allrecipes.com or a similar site.
- Allow that not every meal has to be a Julia Child masterpiece. Nothing wrong with omelets for dinner, a homemade salad and store brand ice cream for dessert.
- Don’t pay other people to chop your lettuce, peel your carrots and mix your salad dressing. These convenience foods cost more, add chemicals and age your food. It only takes a few minutes to wash and chop a head of lettuce, and your product is superior in the end.
- Don’t overbuy to the point where you end up wasting food. Be realistic about how your family eats and shop accordingly . Yes, spinach is good for you, but if it always ends up as slime, switch over to what your family actually eats.
- Grow your own food. If you have soil and sun, you can grow some of your own food. Even if it’s just a tomato plant in a 5-gallon bucket, you can still play farmer.
- Store your leftovers in clear containers. This one is huge for me. If I can’t see it, I forget it’s there. Invest in a set of Pyrex lidded containers and actually see the treasures that lie within your refrigerator.
- Pack your own school and work lunches. Not only will you save money, but it’s a perfect way to use up small amounts of leftovers and your lunch hour will no longer be spent buying food. (More time for reading blogs!)
- Talk to your friends and families about their go-to frugal recipes. Everyone has their own favorite cheap meals, and is usually happy to share.
- Replace expensive ingredients with cheaper options.
- Tuck leftover bits of perishables into soups, pasta salad, fritattas and salad.
- Eat less. Easier said than done, but always a admirable goal.
- Either work with a meal plan or practice the pantry principle. Either way, you’re able to pull dinner together without drawing a blank at 5 P.M.
- Keep inexpensive snacks on hand both for both kids and adults.
I’m sure there are methods for cheap eating that didn’t make it into the list, so it’s now your turn. What do you do to keep control of the food budget? Please share your ideas (or even a recipe!) in the comments section below.