11/15/2012 8:45 PM ET|
How to cut your food budget in half
Lowering your grocery bills and becoming healthier can go hand in hand if you follow these 8 steps for food shopping and meal planning.
We all lead busy lives. And it's too easy to throw money at "quick" food solutions because we're too tired to figure out a better way to function. But the food budget is the single easiest way to reduce expenses and derive more satisfaction out of everything you eat.
I don't particularly like to cook. But I have seen the results both in my health and finances by making an effort in this budget area. Here are the eight easiest ways I have found to cut your food budget in half:
Become vegetarian. There are a lot of reasons to eat a plant-based diet, and I like Leo Babauta's post "A Guide to Eating a Plant-Based Diet" for laying out the reasons. Meat is expensive, and although I like a good pot roast every now and then, I am equally happy eating rice and beans and other vegetarian options as the main staples of my weekly routine. You need only four to five recipes to alternate.
Limit alcohol. I dated an alcoholic for a few years and after that time quit drinking almost completely. I rarely keep any alcohol in my home unless I am having friends over or planning a special occasion. No one "needs" alcohol in the home all of the time, and if you do, you might have bigger problems than budgeting.
Quit buying ready-made solutions. I have a friend who is maintaining a gluten-free household, so I know how expensive a gluten-free loaf of bread can be. But if she makes it herself, it costs only a fraction of the retail price. This is true for almost anything you can buy premade (although you won't catch me baking my own bread anytime soon). If you use a lot of something, try to figure out how you can make it yourself in volume. It's cheaper for me to buy bulk steel-cut oats and cook a pot of it for the week than to buy instant oats.
Plan menus two weeks out before grocery shopping. Carve out time in your schedule (about 30 minutes) to plan your breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks for the next 10 to 14 days. Start by checking your kitchen cabinets for what you already have on hand, and build your menu to use up cans of soup and other staples. Consider keeping a folder of recipes you want to try. Once you have a completed menu, build your grocery list. Remember to check on toothpaste and other sundries so you don't come back and suddenly notice that one thing you absolutely need.
Grocery-shop three times a month, and stick to your list. People who eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables always hate this tip. I eat lots of vegetables and fruits too, and I have found that if I bring them home, prep them immediately and keep them in airtight containers, most stuff easily lasts 10 days.
Designate a "meal prep" day. Every 10 days or so, I spend three to four hours cooking big batches of stuff -- rice and beans, morning gruel, root vegetables, a casserole to freeze, etc. I know that if it takes me longer than 45 minutes to prepare a weekday meal, I'll go rogue and order takeout. So I precook lots of stuff to throw into salads or stir-fry, or just so I have something I can pull from the freezer the day before.
Keep a list of what's in the freezer. I might have something really delicious in my freezer but totally forget I have it. So I keep a list on the fridge that I update every 10 to 14 days when I am planning my next round of meals.
Keep comfort food ready to go. There are times when I just don't want to eat as healthfully as I usually do. When I am driving home after a long day, nothing sounds better than takeout. So I keep fixings on hand for things that sound better to me than takeout, like a grilled cheese sandwich or Beecher's Mac & Cheese.
How to make this work for you
To implement lasting change, I recommend keeping the following in mind:
- Don't go 100% on anything at first. You can't just flip a switch and make all of these changes instantly; I see many people make huge strides forward, then fall off the wagon because they tried to take on too much change at once. Strive for small steps at first, then build on those initial victories.
- Focus on health, not dollars. It's actually more motivating for me to maintain these practices as a foundation for healthy eating than to think of it as cutting back. So I don't focus on the specifics of the money I am saving; I just know that I am.
- Reduce the frequency of an expense instead of dollar amount. Instead of saying that you'll cut takeout from $200 a month to $100 a month, commit to getting food to go less often. If you usually get takeout four times a week, cut back to two to three times a week. If you go out to restaurants three times a week, cut back to one to two times a week. When you’re trying to change, it's easier to focus on the behavior than the dollars.
- Shoot for compliance nine out of 12 months a year. I give myself permission to cut loose and enjoy myself more during the summer months and at the end of the year. These times tend to be more social, so if I get off track, I don't beat myself up for it. There will always be times of expansion in your budget; just set a date with yourself to get back on track.
For me, the key to maintaining these practices has been celebrating incremental improvement, being consistent and avoiding self-criticism if I get off track. With even a few of these tactics, you can see a large reduction in your monthly food bill and a significant increase in your health.
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I have cut down on our budget and have more food in our pantry than ever before. Here are my tips:
Meal Plan in Advance and post on menu board so kids don't ask to order pizza.
Watch weekly ads, price match at stores that allow it, and cut those coupons
Buy in bulk while on sale:example about a month ago, started chili season. My family loves chili so I bought 30 cans each of kidney beans,chili beans, tomatoes because they are on sale the lowest at the beginning of fall. Buy for the season and store it.
Buy only what is on your list!
Coordinate meals by leftovers. Example: made whole chicken,mashed pot and gravy and corn for dinner one night. Next day we had buscuits and gravy(from night before) for breakfast, chicken alfredo calzones and potato cakes for dinner the next night. Key is to use the leftovers you have.
Buy what you know your family will eat. I know that seems obvious but a kid who doesn't like spinach in the house could prevent it from being eaten.
And to keep from burning out-- plan a dinner out once or twice a month.
....I have a better idea....lets start picking smarter folks to run this country....right now food, gas,deficits are controlled not by us, but the gov.
Shopping three times a month? I go through a gallon of milk a day and don't have anywhere near the storage to keep up with that suggestion. How about just STICK TO YOUR LIST AND YOUR BUDGET regardless of how many times you need to replenish items?
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