Welcome back! I want to share some more of my ideas on saving money with you. Today’s topic? Saving money on feeding your family. I love to cook, to use quality ingredients, and to try new and unusual (and often expensive) things. But my budget can only handle so much gourmet experimentation. I’ve learned a few tricks to get the most out of my grocery and restaurant budget. I hope they inspire you to find ways to cut back while still eating healthy and delicious meals.
Save money, and still feed your family amazing food!
- Cook more. You’ll have full control over what goes into your food, cooking at home is almost always cheaper than eating out, and if you prepare healthy meals, the effects on your health will save on medical costs as well. Use the following suggestions to help you cut food costs even further. A good way to get started: check out my recipes! Estimated savings: over $1000 per year.
- Plan your menu ahead of time. Having a plan helps prevent last minute purchases and meals out. It also helps you make the most efficient use of your grocery purchases.
- Reduce the amount of prepared foods that you purchase. Pre-cut vegetables, pre-packaged snacks, and frozen dinners/lunches all cost more than preparing the food yourself. It can help to chop and portion your veggies for the week as soon as you get them home from the grocery store. Find a few quick and easy lunches you can throw together in the evening or morning to save yourself and your children from the evil that is Lunchables. Organize your food well when you get it home from the store. I am a big fan of small resealable containers that can be use to portion out servings and snacks as soon as you get food home. Stay tuned for some of my favorite healthy snack ideas. Estimated savings: $500 per year.
- Be judicious in your specialty foods purchases. I really enjoy ethnic foods, fresh fish, and high-quality cheeses. However, those three things can easily double or triple my grocery budget. I have found that I can save money and still get the things that I enjoy if I think through what things are really important to me, and if I spread out my specialty purchases rather than getting everything all the time. For example, I might decided that I can be happy with the mid-range brand of cheddar, but that a top-notch blue cheese really matters to me. I also might decided to buy the wild Alaskan king salmon one week, and save the imported French brie for the next week. Figure out what is really important to you, and find ways to make those ingredients stretch further.
- Don’t over-purchase. When salad greens turn to mush, apples go bad, and bread grows mold, you have to throw them away. But when you do that, you are practically throwing away money. I have to confess, I have at times been guilty of this. When you buy more than you going to need for the next week or so, you will almost always end up wasting some of your food. This is where having a meal plan can really help. If you know exactly what you’re going to need for the week, you won’t be nearly as likely to buy more than you can use before it spoils.
- Consider your organics. If you’ve made a commitment to go 100% organic, then you don’t have a lot of choosing to do, although I will say that organic fruits and veggies purchased at a farmers market or through a CSA are usually much cheaper (and higher quality) than those you would find at the grocery store. However, if you are picking and choosing your organics, consider that certain items are more important than others when it comes to buying organic. Most fruits and vegetables are much better off organic, and many meats as well. However, organic cookies and other processed foods are often not worth the high markup. Do your research and decide what matters to you, and what you can afford.
- Eat less meat. Fresh produce is not the cheapest, but it is not cost-prohibitive either. By replacing some of your meat with beans, tofu and other vegetable proteins, you will save money on your grocery bill and on your doctors bills. Estimated savings: $800 per year.
- Buy store brands. Most grocery stores, such as Safeway and Kroger (and their affiliated stores) are actively involved in the manufacture of their store brands, and the items they produce are almost always of as high a quality as the national brands. If you’re sure the name brand is really that much better, have someone in your family help you conduct a blind taste test. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. Estimated savings $600 per year.
- Time your restaurant visits. It is well known that breakfast and lunch are cheaper meals to eat in restaurants than dinner. Also, check with your favorite restaurants and find out if they have a early bird discount, a happy hour that includes food, or special days that they discount their menus.
- Search the internet for discounts and deals. Websites like TravelZoo, Groupon, Google Offers and Restaurant.com can be fabulous sources of great eats on the cheap. They can give you opportunities to try out trendy or high-end restaurants that would usually be outside of your budget, and they can save you money on the restaurants you eat at often. A word of caution, though: with all of these sites, it can be tempting to make a purchase on a special deal because a) it is such a good discount, and/or b) it is a limited offer. Be sensible, and only purchase deals that you are truly interested in. Search for reviews of the featured restaurant if you are unfamiliar with it. Many restaurants get a lot of buzz, but if you ask people that have eaten there, they’ll tell you that the establishment doesn’t live up to the hype. Be a wise shopper!
- When ordering at a restaurant, find out if you can get half or light portions at a reduced cost. Often these portions are marketed as lunch sizes, or marketed to seniors, but usually the restaurant will be happy to serve them to you any time, at any age. Estimated savings: $2-$8 per entree.
- Consider sharing an entree. Unlike many restaurants in Europe, restaurants in the US serve portions that can easily feed two (sometimes more!) people. This is an easy way to cut your restaurant bill in half.
- Drink water. Besides being the most perfect and healthy beverage ever created, water is usually free. With the price of soft drinks over $2, and alcoholic beverages easily going over $10, you can save anywhere from $4 – $40 by drinking water, depending on the size and habits of your party. If you feel the desire to have an occasional mixed drink, you’ll find that it is much cheaper to mix your own drinks at home than to buy them at a bar. An added bonus – you can turn your creativity loose and invent your own hit cocktail!
Do you have any favorite tips and tricks for saving money on delicious food? Please share them with us!
Happy Cooking (and eating!)