Do you wonder why you never have enough money to save some? Why there’s always so much month left at the end of the money? Maybe it’s time to consider that you’ve been handing over your savings to local restaurants, drive-thrus, diners, and coffee shops. Think about it.
What if you didn’t eat out so often? What if you were strategic in buying basic ingredients and then cooking great meals at home? What if you had more of your money tucked away in savings rather than in the coffers of local eating joints?
No matter your lifestyle, I am confident that with the right strategies, you really can reduce the amount of money you spend on food in order to have more money to save—and still eat healthy, satisfying meals.
MORE TIME THAN MONEY
If yours is a single-income household struggling to survive in a two-income world, keeping food on the table and the bills paid can be quite a challenge. The good news is that time is on your side. The one not working outside the home has the time—it takes time to carry out the best strategies—to keep the cost at rock bottom without sacrificing quality.
MULTIPLE STORES. All grocery stores and supermarkets have tremendous weekly sales—even Whole Foods and Sprouts. And they announce these details in their weekly flyers—in print and online.
EAT THE SALES. Buy only loss leaders and items that are on sale. You won’t starve and you’ll have a huge variety of food items to choose from and in every department. All food stores, even Whole Foods and Sprouts, have weekly sales. When your budget is really, really tight don’t give in to the temptation to buy more just because it’s on sale.
COUPON LIKE CRAZY. Matching coupons to sales is the best weapon you have against rising food costs. There are free websites like CouponMom.com that will hook you up with the best coupons out there—and teach you how to use them to your best advantage.
BECOME AN EXPERT. Invest five weeks and $39 in Erin Chase’s Grocery Budget Makeover! (she’s the $5 Dinner Mom). You’ll gain expert status in no time—and recoup the cost the first five minutes you put this valuable information to work. Registration for the class closes soon, so if you’re interested, do not delay.
LITTLE TIME, TIGHT BUDGET
For dual-income families with kids, time becomes an especially valuable commodity. It’s scarce. Both of you work full-time jobs. Kids are in school plus all of their extra-curricular activities.
Then there’s church and weekends filled with sports and just playing catchup to get ready for the next week. You don’t have time to visit every store; to take advantage of a variety of sales. But money is still really tight, which makes the challenge even greater.
PICK A STORE. Your best bet is to identify the grocery store or supermarket in your area that is known for having the lowest everyday prices, then stick with it. Download that store’s app. Get on its mailing and email lists. Use manufacturer and store coupons, as much and as often as possible.
KEEP TRACK. Know exactly how much you spend on food in a month at groceries, restaurants, diners, and, uh dives! One meal at a time it might not seem like much. But add it up and you’ll watch how fast you find the motivation you need to keep cutting the cost, every way that you can.
EAT THE SALES. See above. Cautiously add full-priced items but only as absolutely necessary. Learn the store’s sales cycle. Typically every area in the store will be on sale at least once every 12 weeks.
PICKY EATERS; DIETARY RESTRICTIONS
You have the time and the skills to cook at home. The problem is making meals that actually taste good given the long list of ingredients your picky eaters will not touch. Or you need to produce menus and dishes that match someone’s dietary restrictions. Often you just give up and go out because it’s just not worth the effort and hassle involved in trying to meet all of the dietary and personal taste restrictions.
PLATEJOY. There’s no shortage of meal-planning recipe websites. However, there is one site that stands out for picky eaters because it is so unique. PlateJoy is a membership site that takes your lifestyle (you complete a quiz to start; when I did this I identified 55 items that my husband and I do not care for and would not want to see in a meal), learns your family’s tastes, health goals and time constraints and then creates custom-designed meal plans that will greatly simplify your life. And make mealtime your happy place.
Once a week you get your custom recipes and grocery shopping lists. You can choose from 50 different data points (paleo, vegetarian kid-friendly, clean eating, etc.) and then create a specific list of what I call “do-not” ingredients. At the top of my list is goat cheese. Just so you know. PlateJoy cost: $8-$12 a month on either a 6- or 12-month plan.
MORE MONEY THAN TIME
Young professional DINKs (dual income no kids) often and for whatever reason—insane work schedule, enrolled in grad school and working full-time, crazy commute, you name it—do not have time much less the desire to shop for groceries beyond running in to pick up a six-pack of Red Bull and chips. And they’re the first to admit they lack the basic skills to prepare it if they had the time to shop for it.
Because they see themselves as having more money than time, DINKS routinely default to the most expensive eating style of all—restaurant, fast food, diners, and drive-thru and not because going out again for the twelfth time this week is particularly enjoyable. It’s a necessary burden to avoid starvation.
HOME CHEF. Wait. Before you skip past the idea of meal kit delivery services, you have to learn about Home Chef. It is neither expensive nor unreasonable and that is saying a lot coming from your humble columnist who’s cheap, loves to cook, has time to cook and lives within a mile of Costco.
I cannot figure out for the life of me how Home Chef does it, but they do. (Could it be they buy in bulk?!) Week after week and with a level of perfection and at a final cost that is so low, it leaves me wondering why I bother planning, shopping and cooking so much.
Home Chef is not for every lifestyle. If you feed more than two people, more than likely you can do better cost-wise by following one of the other strategies above. But for small families of two to four, this is the only meal delivery service I would consider. And consider I would (and do).
Here’s how it works: You join (cancel anytime if you want). You sign up for the number of meals you want in the week and the number of servings. Then you choose your meals from 16 different options (they change weekly). You can tailor meals to your dietary needs including low-calorie and low-carb and more. Because everything arrives portioned but not prepared, you control the spices and salt. And you can pause service anytime and for as long as you want, too.
The cost for Home Chef is still only $9.95 per serving, with a minimum of two- 2-serving meals per week, and free shipping option. Here’s what you get delivered to your doorstep even if you are not there to accept it: Everything. Seriously, all you need to do is assemble, cook and eat.
The packaging is beyond belief, it is so precise. Just follow the simple well-written instructions that even a fifth-grader could follow, which include step-by-step photos for how things should look. Meals turn out exactly as presented and pictured. The ingredients are remarkably fresh and lovely. You won’t believe the fresh fish, meat, and chicken—prime quality.
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