How to Reduce Your Food Expenses

You may be struggling financially because of the rising costs of essential living expenses.

 

However, there are several steps you can take to cut costs. First, you need to analyze how and where you are spending your money. If you are like most U.S. residents, you will quickly notice the majority of your budget is going toward housing, transportation and food costs. In fact, United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) data collected in 2016 indicated Americans spend approximately 12.6 percent of their incomes on food. That figure includes food eaten at home and away from home.

Reducing your housing and transportation costs may be somewhat difficult because such expenses as mortgage payments and gasoline prices are not under your control. However, you can control your food purchasing habits. By adapting those habits, you will be able to save money on food while still enjoying your favorite meals. Below are several tips to help you learn how to reduce your food expenses.

Reduce Your Food Waste

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic, United States residents throw away up to 40 percent of the food they could potentially eat. That is equivalent to approximately $165 billion in wasted food.

One of the biggest reasons you may be wasting food is spoilage. The fruits and vegetables you buy can often spoil quickly, but that does not mean you have to stop buying them. Reducing your fruit and vegetable waste is as simple as finding ways to preserve them. For example, you can use airtight containers or freezing and canning processes to extend the shelf lives of your fruits and vegetables. You can also use them to make soups and other dishes when they begin to lose their freshness.

Another way to reduce food waste is to avoid impulse grocery shopping. If you shop when you are hungry, you may purchase foods you do not need. Also, you may purchase foods without realizing you already have them at home. The solution is to use meal planning and scheduled shopping trips to buy only what you need. Spend a few minutes each week looking through your refrigerator, freezer and cupboards. Take stock of what you have and develop meal plans based on ingredients in your home. You will benefit from the process in several ways, including:

  • Avoiding impulse purchases
  • Using up already purchased ingredients before they spoil
  • Avoiding purchasing foods you already have at home
  • Spending less money per shopping trip because your meal plans will include many ingredients you already have

Buy Ingredients, Not Prepared Foods

Prepared foods are any meals you buy at the grocery store that are ready to eat or nearly ready to eat. For example, whenever you go to your grocery store and buy fried chicken at the deli counter, you are purchasing prepared food. Frozen meals are also often included in the prepared food category, along with breads and other baked goods. There is no disputing the fact prepared foods are convenient. However, they are much more expensive than the ingredients used to make them. Therefore, you can reduce your food expenses by quite a bit when you purchase the ingredients and prepare the foods yourself.

A second benefit of buying ingredients, as opposed to prepared foods, is ingredients are far more versatile. Many ingredients can be used in multiple recipes, which will help you diversify your diet without spending too much money. Certain basic ingredients, such as sugar, also have long shelf lives. Also, some ingredients, including tomatoes, can be preserved for later use. If you need some help with this type of advanced planning, several apps can help you do just that. Here are some of the better ones to try:

  • Mealtime is a free app that lets you design your meals based on filters you select, such as use of certain ingredients. Most meal plans and recipes are designed to be made in 30 minutes or less.
  • CookSmarts is an app that offers additional perks such as showing ways for you to cook healthier meals as well as helping you to plan out the week’s meals. There is a small $6 fee per month to use it, but if it saves you at least that much money because your food is not being wasted, it might be worth it. It is highly customizable, too.
  • ZipList started off as a grocery list app but has since expanded to include recipe organization and meal planning. As compared to the others on this list, it helps you to specifically help you save money at the grocery store.

Learn to Interpret Grocery Store Shelving and Pricing Practices

You can save a lot of money on food by simply interpreting grocery store shelving and pricing practices. Grocery stores often display two prices prominently under each product. One is the price for the item. The other is a unit price, such as a price per pound. Comparing the unit prices of two similar products will allow you to quickly find the best deal.

You must also learn to interpret the way grocery store shelves are stocked. Typically, companies that produce popular brands purchase more prominent shelf space. That is why you will often find heavily advertised brands at eye level in your local grocery store. However, generic or lesser known brands often taste the same and have lower prices. You can find them on lower or upper shelves.

 

Cook Foods Ahead of Time

Purchasing fast food all the time is not only unhealthy but doing so can waste a large amount of your monthly food budget. Yet, it is unlikely you will always want to cook at home every night. A busy schedule may make fast food appealing but resist the urge to constantly frequent fast food restaurants or call for food delivery from local restaurants. Instead, set aside one block of time each week for cooking multiple meals or meal components.

Some excellent foods to cook ahead of time are beans and grains, such as rice. Both can stay fresh in your refrigerator all week. Also, they can be used as bases for many different types of meals. Vegetables can also be steamed on your designated meal prep day. Then you can quickly microwave them on days when you do not want to cook or have very little time to do so.

Change Your Dining Out Strategies

You do not have to stop dining out entirely to reduce your food expenses, but you should change your dining out strategies. Start by only dining out a certain number of times per month or only on birthdays or other special occasions. If you are reluctant to stop dining out because you use restaurant trips to socialize, invite your friends to your home for potluck dinners so you can spend time together while spending less on food. Either a great way to do this is to have a themed dinner event, built around a mutual movie you all love or a book you have all read.

It is also important to understand restaurant portions are often larger than recommended meal portions. You can take advantage of their sizes by eating half of your meals at the restaurant and taking your leftovers home. Alternatively, split your restaurant meals with your spouse or a friend when you dine out to reduce your bill. You can also cut back on restaurant dining costs by not ordering alcohol or dessert. Both can be enjoyed in your home for less money.

 

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