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 no "alcohol" in the home either. I have no CH3 CH2 OH just sitting on a shelf. I do have beverages, such as beer and wine in my home and consume them as relatively efficient and cost effective food items given their preventative and nuitritional properties.
Really, to posit that one who has "alcohol" in the home all the time has a problem, smacks of a rather juvenile relationship with the beverages containing it. Do the research before making rather bald and facially ludicrous statements.
Beer, for instance is good for you.
Scientific evidence has accumulated over the past 10 years pointing to the cancer preventive potential of selected hop-derived beer constituents, i.e., prenylflavonoids including xanthohumol and isoxanthohumol, and hop bitter acids. (Beer constituents as potential cancer chemopreventive agents, Clarissa Gerhäuser, Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum (DKFZ), Abteilung Toxikologie und Krebsrisikofaktoren, Im Neuenheimer Feld 280, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany)
According to Women's Health Magazine's comprehensive chart, a bottle of Heineken contains 150 calories. For comparison, a cup of whole milk contains about 150 calories, and a cup of fat-free milk contains about 90 calories, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (as recited by Huffington Post)
Reduction of other risks abound: "These include duodenal ulcer, gallstones, entric infections, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, and diabetes mellitus (type II). Compared with abstainers, moderate drinkers exhibit improved mental status characterized by decreased stress and depression, lower abstenteeism from work, and decreased dementia (including Alzheimer's disease)." Power, C., et al. Goldberg, D. M., et al. Moderate alcohol consumption: the gentle face of Janus. Clinical Biochemistry, 1999, 32(7), 505-518
Alcohol improves blood lipid profile. It increases HDL ("good") cholesterol. It decreases LDL ("bad") cholesterol. It improves cholesterol (both HDL and LDL) particle size. Alcohol decreases thrombosis (blood clotting). It reduces platelet aggregation. It reduces fibrinogen (a blood clotter). It increases fibrinolysis (the process by which clots dissolve). Alcohol reduces coronary artery spasm in response to stress. It increases coronary blood flow. It reduces blood pressure. It reduces blood insulin level, and it increases estrogen levels. (Potsdam, supra).
Dear imnotalawyer, I feel your pain!! I say all meal prep on the weekends and make tons so there will be left hovers . also sometimes the kids can pitch in!! Makes it messy but really quicker plus the kids get to like it believe it or not!! say u brown the beef and onions and one of the kids chops up the goodies for tacos. another puts the shredded cheese in a bowl and puts out the salsa you all toast those taco shells and that's a quick fix. any body have any other yummy ideas??
My sis just gave me a great easy recipe for a great crock pot meal!! hamhocks-4 to 6
1 bag 15 bean mix,1 large onion diced,6 cloves garlic.! large bay leaf, I talblespoon oregano ..wash beans cover with water in crock pot just a bit over the beans ..Hmm i forget do I brown everything else then then 6 hours on high and she says it is delish!!! We need to help eachother out with quick easy recipes!! :)Folks let me know if i brown anything before putting it in the crock pot..
We eat based on the weekly specials but stick to produce, basic meats, pasta, and dairy.. If pork loin is buy one get one, we have pork roast for Sunday dinner. Half of that gets put into stir fry or stroganoff later in the week. The second one gets put in the freezer for another time. If it's carrots and mushrooms on special, we have vegetable soup and make enough to go into the freezer for another day. If Gala apples are cheaper than Granny Smiths, you can bet we are eating Gala apples.
I also try to combine a store special with a coupon, and shop at a store that offers double coupons. This past week I got a carton of ice cream for 63 cents (a rare treat in that we usually make our own)--store special + coupon. That doesn't happen too often, but in general I'm able to save a consistent 25-33% off my grocery bill.
don't eat everyday that is one way to save money
only eat Obama approved items
Join the ever increasing millions surviving off of Obama Stamps
E-mealz.com is the best thing that ever happened to me. I work 50+ hours a week w/ three children, and its really important for me to make sure that we are all eating healthy (no take out garbage). The website plans your shopping lists and meals based on diet type and family size. And it's really cheap!! (I pay about $5 per month). Totally worth it. I've been doing it for over a year, and I have lost almost 20 pounds, and save anywhere from $30 to $40 on weekly shopping trips. This really isn't an add - I just think the website is a god-send. Works way better than any tip that this article says. Who has time to make a list of what's in my freezer ?!?!?! Totally unrealistic.
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