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When it comes to budgeting, food is one of the last places we look to cut costs. Food is an obvious necessity, but we also splurge on it because of how amazing it is. Not necessarily the food per se, but everything that comes with it. The fun, the socializing, the experience, etc.
For me, it wasn’t until I started living alone and venturing into my passion for all things food that I realized how expensive food can be! Be it shopping at the grocery store or eating out, the costs begin to add up quickly! And don’t even get me started on organic products!
The good news is that a lot of these food mistakes are easy fixes. We can be smarter about money and food and make it work for us rather than throwing that money into the trash.
Here are some food mistakes you’re probably making and some solutions to get you and your wallet back on track!
Mistake #1: Grocery Shopping Once a Week/Infrequently
I was once guilty of this. Going to the store once a week to load the cart and get the week’s shopping out of the way, saving time and money in the process. Or so I thought!
Believe it or not, money is not being saved when you shop once a week. By stocking up on groceries, we buy so much food that we cannot finish it in a timely fashion. So where does it end up going? In the trash, and, at that point, it’s not just food that we’re throwing away. It’s money! An average-sized family throws up to 25% of food and drinks they buy, or nearly $2,300, in the trash every year.
SOLUTION: Take more trips to the grocery store. The little extra in gas you’re spending to go to your local grocer or market is made up by the money you save from throwing less food away. Since you are shopping for what you can realistically eat within say three or four days, you’re less likely to buy more food than you need. Plus, you’ll be eating fresh food more often.
Mistake #2: Making Too Much Food/Not Eating Leftovers
The recipe says “Yield: 10 servings”. You are cooking for 1-2 people, but decide to make the full recipe anyway. Then, life happens. You get tired of eating the same food over and over. Some of the colleagues invited you out for lunch. It’s Taco Tuesday. You catch my drift. Just like that, your leftovers went from yum to yuck and are headed to their final destination: the trash bin (womp womp).
- Make less food so that you have fewer or no leftovers. I’ve not seen a recipe that couldn’t be halved or quartered. You might have to adjust the cooking time, but you still get the same food, just less of it!
- Get creative with leftovers and make new meals (ex. turn old rice and chicken into chicken fried rice)
- If you don’t mind using the freezer, you can freeze your leftovers for a couple weeks depending on the food and eat them at a later time
Mistake #3: Buying Produce at the Grocery Store
Stores like Publix, Safeway, and other popular supermarkets sell organic and inorganic produce at what is an exorbitant price to me. I like to buy natural, local, and/or organic produce and eggs as much as possible, but that is almost impossible when trying to stick to a budget at one of these stores.
Many people believe that produce shopping at farmers’ markets is expensive, but that is untrue. I save money buying produce at the local farmers’ markets due to lower prices, and studies have concluded the same!
“The majority of the time, the farmers market was comparable or competitive [that is, within a 10% range] with retail prices—[prices were] equal to or less than at the grocery store, especially organic products.” – Elanor Starmor, Administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) after a study with the Vermont Department of Agriculture.
SOLUTION: Check if there are any produce markets, farmers markets, etc., nearby and do some of your shopping there. Local farmers are passionate about their produce and put time and effort to supply the best quality fruits, vegetables, and eggs they can. Their foods are at their peaks in terms of freshness, flavor, and nutritional value, and you get to support your local farmers, economy, and community in the process!
Mistake #4: Shopping Without a List
Shopping without a grocery list is easier said than done. We shop, meaning to buy the essentials and the essentials only. Well, the problem with going to the grocery store without a list is that you often buy a bunch of food without any kind of meal plan for the week. Either that, or you stray from the original plan and find yourself unloading non-essentials like Toaster Strudel to go with your oatmeal. Next thing you know, it’s Wednesday night and you’re staring in your fridge, wondering what you can whip up with two carrots.
SOLUTION: Plan ahead for the week and make a list before going shopping. If you plan out your meals for upcoming days and shop according to the meals, you buy food that you will actually cook and eat. Also, you’ll feel less inclined to stray for junk that you do not need.
Mistake #5: Eating Out for Lunch
Let’s face it. It’s hard to NOT be tempted to eat out for lunch. With there being several restaurants, cafés, bistros, etc., to choose from, you have the freedom to eat something new every day of the week. It’s quick, convenient, great for socializing and gets you away from work for a while. What it isn’t, however, is cheap!
Eating out can get expensive. We can use Chipotle for example. A burrito (guac is a must!) and a drink are about $12. If you have a burrito every day during the work week, that’s a weekly total of $60, or about $250 a month. Eating out frequently can also lead to a variety of health issues down the line due to excessive calories and salt.
- If you must eat out, then make wise choices. Seldom do I drink anything that isn’t water. It prevents me from drinking calories, but also saves me money as drinks can get costly. Ordering salads or dishes that can serve as a second meal later in the day are good choices too!
- Pack lunch to work. Be sure to make a variety of lunches to keep things interesting during the week. Being conscious of what you pack will lead to you packing healthier foods. Your wallet will thank you, too!
That’s all I’ve got! I hope you adopt some of these strategies and see some changes in your financial life!
What are some of your money-saving tips!