If you’ve ever taken a look at your credit or debit card statement, you may have been surprised by how much you spend on food. The average American household spends between 10-20% of annual household earnings on food.
Fortunately, you can easily cut your food bill back by committing to these simple guidelines.
Step 1: Eat out Less
Although eating out is convenient and often more appetizing than eating at home, it’s significantly more expensive. You’re not only paying for food, but also for service. Additionally, restaurant food generally has a much higher calorie content.
Try to limit eating out to once or twice per week, and to eat at reasonably inexpensive restaurants. Also keep your eyes open for coupons through official restaurant websites, restaurant Facebook pages and local newspapers.
By limiting restaurant meals, you will significantly decrease your food expenditures and you are also likely to also decrease your calorie consumption and lose weight. This commitment may be difficult to keep at first, but it will get easier once you fall into a regular routine.
Step 2: Buy and Eat Only What you Need
We have all made the mistake of going to the grocery store hungry on one occasion or another. We ultimately walk out with a lot of snack food that is not only unnecessary, but is also fattening. This doesn’t contribute to our nutrition, but significantly increases our grocery bills and our waistlines.
Buy only food that your need for meals, and avoid frivolous snack food purchases. If you feel that this is too constraining and don’t think you’ll be able to keep such a commitment, allow yourself to buy one favorite snack food per week.
You should also establish a regular eating schedule, and refrain from eating outside of planned mealtimes. Together, these strategies will help you spend less money on food, and also prevent weight gain or help you lose weight if needed.
Step 3: Plan Your Meals and Create a List
You may find it helpful to plan out your meals and create a shopping list before you go grocery shopping. If you are not accustomed to cooking your own meals, you can find free recipes online.
If possible, find a few recipes that have several ingredients in common so that you can use your purchases for more than one meal. Pick 5-7 meals per week, and make a grocery list based upon the recipes.
On shopping day, keep to your list and refrain from buying anything not on it. If you feel you will have difficulty with this, go shopping after you’re eaten and if possible when you’re in a hurry and don’t have extra time browse. This will help you to stay on task.
Step 4: Buy Fewer Processed Foods
Processed or pre-prepared foods are more convenient, and it’s certainly OK to take advantage of these items on occasion when you’re in a hurry. However, processed foods are also more expensive to produce, and the cost is carried over to the consumer.
By committing to prepare your meals from scratch, you’ll avoid the excess cost. If you have a busy schedule, consider cooking several of your meals on weekends and refrigerate or freeze them to be eaten on busy weekdays.
Step 5: Decrease Meat and Dairy Consumption
Meat and dairy items are some of the most expensive foods we buy, as animal products are more expensive to produce. Excessive consumption of animal products has also been linked to obesity, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
If you’re willing to commit to eating fewer animal products, you will spend much less money on food and improve your health as well. If you’re new to vegetarian cooking, you can find an enormous variety of free vegetarian recipes online.
Many people are successful in this if they allow themselves to eat meat and animal products once or twice per week, but otherwise eat vegetarian or vegan.
Step 6: Pay Attention to Price Per Unit
Bulk-priced items are less expensive per ounce than standard-sized items, so you can reduce your food bill quite a bit by buying in bulk. Sam’s Club and Costco both specialize in bulk items. Both Sam’s and Costco require a small annual membership fee, although the membership will quickly pay for itself.
However, if you are unable to use things up before they expire, you’re still wasting money. When buying in bulk, be sure to purchase non-perishable staple items that you will be able use on time. You may also be able to freeze some items to maintain freshness even after the expiration date.
Step 7: Shop Around
Many of us shop at the same store week after week out of habit or for the sake of convenience. However, it’s important to make sure that you’re getting the best price. It may even be common for some stores to have better prices on certain items than on other items. For example, one store may have cheap produce but over-priced dry goods, or vice versa.
You could also potentially save money by purchasing non-perishable items online. Web retailers do not have the cost of maintaining a brick and mortar storefront, and most online purchases are tax-free. Compare in-town and online prices, being sure to factor in taxes for local items and shipping for online items.
Step 8: Take Advantage of Coupons and Promotions
If you make an effort to find coupons, sales and other promotions, you can potentially save a lot of money on food and other groceries. These savings may seem small at first, but they quickly add up.
Manufacturer’s coupons can be found on coupon websites such as Red Plum, Coupon Cadet or coupons.com. Many companies also offer coupons as an incentive for joining their email lists or liking their Facebook pages, so be sure to check this out for items that you regularly purchase.
You can also taken advantage of store-specific sales and promotions, which are usually advertised in local newspapers or on the websites of major national retailers.
If you’re willing to eat out less frequently and take the time to shop smart and prepare your own meals, you’ll be able to cut back food expenses significantly. These savings can be put towards paying off debt, building you savings account or saving up for larger and more important purchases.