We all have to eat. So, it’s worthwhile to learn more about keeping food costs in check as part of an overall healthy budget. Here are four areas in which almost all consumers can improve.
Meal Prep on Sunday Evening
It’s all too easy to grab a convenient lunch when you’re busy with work, errands or school. But these types of impulse expenditures add up over time, especially if it becomes a routine. Instead, set aside some time Sunday evening to prepare one large meal. This will serve as your staple. You could make anything from stir fry to chili, depending on your tastes. You can then refrigerate or freeze these meals in lunch-sized portions and grab them on your way out the door. This approach to “fast food” cuts down on expenditures—and makes it easy to prepare healthy foods that will energize you through the second half of each day.
Plan Ahead for Holidays
People tend to spend more around the holidays—common expenses include travel, food, drink, gifts and miscellaneous supplies. For example, one estimate predicted American households would spend an average of $370 each on July 4th festivities, a large proportion of which accounts for food and beverage purchases. Total estimated expenditures around $6.8 billion, representing a 1.4 percent increase year-over-year. The same principle occurs for other holiday seasons, notably the period between Black Friday and New Year’s Day.
So, how can consumers have happy holidays without overspending? It boils down to planning. Here are a few tips for avoiding a holiday-related debt hangover, based on advice from Andrew Housser, the co-founder of Freedom Debt Relief:
- Make a list: Before the big day, make a list of the food and drink you expect to buy. This will help you start clipping coupons, shopping sales and cutting unnecessary purchases early.
- Focus on the experience: Holidays are mostly about spending time with loved ones. Get creative by focusing on this time spent together rather than gifts and dining out. For example, making dinner as a family is a wallet-friendly alternative to visiting a restaurant.
- Avoid racking up debt: Sometimes it seems the only way to get through the holidays is to take on debt, perhaps by opening another high-interest credit card. It’s important to plan ahead so you can live within your means rather than putting holiday purchases on credit.
Optimize Your Grocery Store Strategy
We’ve all been there: You leave the grocery store in a daze, carrying bags of products you barely remember putting in your cart. Your receipt is the length of your forearm. And yet, a few days later, you’ll be back to feeling like your cupboards and refrigerator are looking bare. Streamlining your grocery shopping strategy is key to reducing food-related expenditures overall.
First of all, it’s a mistake to ever wander into the grocery store while your stomach is growling. Make sure you eat at least a filling snack before setting foot inside. This will help you avoid impulse buys. Similarly, prepared foods will only rack up your grocery bills without providing much long-term value. Aim instead to buy non-perishable staples and ingredients you can prepare at home. For example, you can create several days’ worth of salads by buying your favorite vegetables and toppings. But buying a pre-packaged salad will cost nearly as much for a single serving—and they allow for less customizability. Cutting your own fruit will also help you escape the cost of this convenience.
Eat Out Efficiently
For the first time in history, Americans are spending more money at restaurants than they are on groceries: $54.86 billion compared to $52.5 billion. Of course, there will be times when you need to eat out. In these cases, always ask about the specials. Although it’s tempting to order an appetizer, dessert, or side dish, stick to the basics.
Keeping your food costs in check is an important step in achieving overall financial health.