Food prices could be a significant portion of your budget, and the bad news is that they are not getting any cheaper. Depending on where you live and the selection of local stores, some food can be extraordinary expensive compared to the norm. For instance, fresh fruits and vegetables in my new neighborhood are a lot more expensive than what I was used to back in New York.
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The good news is that you can still keep food expenses manageable if you follow these easy to follow tips.
1. Plan your shopping trips. If you plan your grocery shopping carefully, you can significantly reduce your costs. For instance, Costco offers much better value than our local supermarket for fruits, vegetables, and meats. Instead of buying everything we need from the local supermarket, we plan a trip to Costco about once or twice a month and buy most of what we need in bulk, and limit local supermarket shopping to things that run out in between, or things that are easily perishable.
2. Eat more vegetarian based meals. Vegetarian meals are not always cheaper than non-vegetarian ones, but on average vegetables are cheaper than meat. It certainly is not practical for a family to suddenly switch from meat-based meals to vegetarian meals just to save money. However, making vegetables a larger part of each meal, or even planning one vegetarian meal per week is not out of reach for most families. There are many vegetarian recipes available online and off. Try out a few things until you can find ones that the whole family enjoys.
3. Start your meals with a soup. Soups are easy to make and one pot can last several meals. You can cook once in a large quantity and save the rest for other days. They are also great at curbing your appetite and cut down your overall food expenses. Now that we are going into the winter months, they are also great at keeping you warm and comfy.
4. Bring your breakfast and lunch from home. Eating out daily adds up very quickly. Even relatively cheap breakfast and lunch could easily add up to $10 per day—that's $50 a week! A loaf of sliced bread is only $2 to $3 and a jar of peanut butter could last you the entire month. In short, your monthly breakfast cost could be as little as $10 to $15. The same bread could be combined with lettuce and sliced ham to make lunch sandwiches. You could easily save $150 or more a month this way. If you don't want to make lunch everyday, just cook a little extra dinner each night and pack the leftover for lunch.
5. Minimize waste. This one is obvious. Everything we buy is almost always too big, and this includes food that you buy in restaurants. Most entrees you buy today can feed two people...at least. Unfortunately, this tends to create bad habits that get carried to the home front. If you find yourself pitching a bit of food into the garbage each night, it's a good time to start adjusting. Another area of waste, and probably a bigger one, is stockpiling too much food and not be able to use them all before they expire or go bad. If you find yourself with a stuffed refrigerator and have to empty it out every once in a while, reconsider your grocery shopping plan and adjust downward. Eating the fresh food first and less perishable stuff later can really helps cut down on spoiled or unused food, and that means saving more money.
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6. Use your pantry. Some people have the tendency to stockpile their pantry -- things go in, but rarely come out. If you are a hoarder, take a close look at your pantry and plan your meals around it. If you are bolder, plan your meals around the stuff that are about to go bad. Mix and match pantry food with fresh food to keep your meals palatable. Your pantry and your pocketbook will thank you.
7. Clip coupons. Last but not least, take advantage of discount coupons and membership cards. Stores offer coupons and discounts to loyal members all the time, you just have to keep your eyes out for these special deals and take advantage of the savings. With coupons and discounts, you will have to be a little more flexible with your meal plan, but it's well worth it.
Are you feeling the crunch at the supermarket? How do you plan to save money on your meals?
Pinyo is the owner of Moolanomy Personal Finance Blog, which covers a wide range of personal finance and investing topics, with features that include reviews, comparison guides, and Q&A sections.