Food is a major expense in American households. A family of 4 can spend anywhere from $600 to $1200 per month on food. If there’s a possibility to reduce this expense, even by a little, over time it can have a significant impact on your finances.
5 ways to spend less when buying food
1. Eat out less
There’s an ongoing debate about eating at restaurants vs. eating at home, which of the two is less expensive. Let me get right to it…eating out is more expensive,…period!
The math doesn’t lie. Eating at restaurants cost significantly more than eating at home. Even after taking into account the rise in the cost of groceries, especially the organic items, the difference is significant. The cost of eating at a restaurant after you include gratuity can be two to three times higher than cooking at home.
I know some people will make the argument that they can’t make a hamburger for $1. They argue that eating at some fast food restaurants is cheaper than cooking for yourself. First, who wants to eat from the dollar menu every day? Second, when buying the ingredient to make a hamburger or any other meal, you’re able to use those ingredients to make multiple portions and even use some ingredients in multiple meals. This makes the cost per portion much lower than eating at restaurants.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with eating out once in a while. But, there are financial consequences when you make this a daily routine. The next point will help you keep this in check.
2. Set a limit when spending on food
The cost of food can vary widely. Whether you’re having a meal at home or eating at a restaurant, your choice of foods are plentiful and so are the prices. It’s always going to be difficult to say ‘No.’ It goes against our selfish natures. However, if you never set a limit to your spending, you’re guaranteed to exceed it every month.
Start by using the Spending Guideline. It will give you a suggested percent of income you should spend on food. For example, a family of 4 making $50K Net Income should spend a maximum of 19% on food. That comes out to $9,500 per year and $791 per month, and it includes both groceries and eating out. Once you have a dollar amount, you can make food choices that are in line with your financial ability.
3. Make a shopping list
I know, I know! It sounds complicated and difficult. It isn’t! I’m not suggesting you build an excel spreadsheet with every meal planned and color coded for the entire month. I’m simply suggesting you start by making a list of the items you wish to eat for the week, then consider what and how many ingredients you’ll need, and walk into the grocery store with a list in hand. Keeping a running total as you add items to the cart is a good way to ensure you stay within your budget.
4. Buy only what you need in the short-term
Buying in bulk is advertised as a great way to save on food. Buy more at a lower price per unit and it’s a great bargain. Honestly, will your family actually use the 2 gallons of mayonnaise before it goes bad? Unless you have a large family and you actually use everything you buy in bulk, it doesn’t make financial sense, no matter how much of a bargain the item is.
The average household discards 25% of the food they buy. Whether it’s produce or leftovers, good food is being thrown out and this costs you money. It’s more cost-effective to buy only what you know you’ll need and can use in the next few days.
Produce and some fruit rarely lasts more than 3 or 4 days. So instead of buying a week’s worth, buy a 3 or 4 day supply. The extra trip to the store mid-week will still be way cheaper than throwing food away. However, don’t go to the other extreme and shop every day, which will cost more in time and money.
5. Avoid buying prepared foods
No one works for free! Any food that has been prepared or package has a premium cost associated with it. It’s less expensive and much healthier to purchase ingredients and prepare your own food. If you’re worried about the time it takes to cook, don’t be. There are literally thousands of recipes available online for meals that can be cooked in under 30 minutes, which incidentally is the average time it takes for you to get your meal at a sit-down restaurant.
We can all spend less on food. Think of how much more you could accomplish this year by implementing these cost saving ideas. The benefit of doing so will not only impact your wallet, it will improve your health, which can improve other aspects of your life.
What are your saving ideas for spending less on food? Please share them in the comments below.