As food costs continue to soar, it’s a good time to revisit the basics of frugal food shopping. Grocery bills and eating out can wreck a budget. Follow these tips and you will rein in those costs. Start discovering your own ways to eat on less.
Now more than ever it’s time to slash expenses in order to preserve cash.
Stop the take out, delivery
I get it. It feels as though we are in some kind of temporary, horrific season when it’s our right to do whatever it takes to just get through one more day until we never have to think about this again. At least you can get no-contact delivery of the food you’re used to. Right?
Please, stop those thoughts. We don’t know. Life is never certain, but more uncertain now than ever. The decisions you are making right now—such as paying for all these meals, delivery fees plus overly generous gratuities with credit—are going to come back to bite you hard. You cannot continue to opt for that feeling of entitlement even if you know for certain your job is coming back and things will be back to normal soon. You can’t know any of that. Life is uncertain.
Paying $20, $35 or more to take-out or to have your favorite restaurant bring it out to you, so you can get you through one more meal is about as unwise a decision as you can make right now.
Yes, cook at home. The closer you can get to cooking with raw ingredients rather than pre-made packaged items, the less money you will spend.
Go with cash only
When you need groceries, arrive at the store with cash only. Sounds so foreign I know, now that we’ve entered the times of plastic and digital payments. However, cash remains one of the best ways to make a severe grocery budget work, as unsanitary as cash may be (the new excuse for never using cash again). Sanitize it. Do what you gotta’ do—and then just do it!
If you have the discipline of a superhero, good for you. Use your debit or credit card. If you’re like everyone else in the world, visit the ATM on your way to the store. Get the amount you can afford to spend on groceries, then take only that amount and not a penny more to the store
If you’re out of cash and you have 10 days of the month to go, it’s time to put away the speed dial and start raiding your pantry. You might have an odd menu for a few days, and so what? It won’t kill you.
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Plan it out
Find recipes that fit your budget—yes recipes, as in cooking and preparing meals from ingredients. With very little cooking background, anyone can learn to make great soups and casseroles.
Deciding on recipes and planning meals in advance will become your financial lifesaver. Find recipes online. There are plenty on this site EverydayCheapskate.com Search sites like AllRecipes.com where you can input the ingredients you have to find recipes that use them.
Skip packaged items
You pay a big premium for packaged items like salad kits, meals in a bag, fruit snacks, chips, pre-sliced produce, or vegetables that come in a steam bag. Anything that has been processed and packaged comes with an additional markup. Peeling potatoes, slicing apples, and chopping lettuce might take extra time, but you will be rewarded well for the effort. And you’ll end up with a fresher, tastier result.
Those 100-calorie snack packs are convenient, but they’ll blow a hole in your food budget. Cut up fruit and vegetables at the beginning of each week, divide into single portions, and store. If you just don’t want to sacrifice your daily Goldfish, buy a large package and divide into sandwich baggies to save over 30 percent of the cost of single-serving packages.
Grind your own coffee
Ground coffee can be marked up to 30 percent higher than whole bean versions. It really is worth your while to grind your own coffee at home. (Not to mention the superior taste.) If you do not have a grinder consider investing in a good basic blade grinder.
Lose the meat
At least three times each week, make your dinner meal meatless. Think eggs, cheese, and vegetables. Try breakfast for dinner with pancakes, waffles, potatoes, and so on. You’re going to learn that having a meal without chicken or steak is a great way to save money and keep the grocery bill at rock bottom since meat is one of the most expensive proteins you can buy.
Eat what’s in season
Eating fruits and vegetables during their natural growing season saves you money because those peaches you love don’t have to be transported halfway around the world. Not only that, they are more packed with vitamins and nutrients (also due to less required travel and storage time) and they taste better, too. Check out this handy list of fresh fruits and vegetables by the month.
Don’t go hungry
Sure, we’ve all heard this one before, but it bears repeating—shop when you’re not a voracious bear. It will engage your brain in a way that will help you make reasonable and frugal food choices. Eat something first so you don’t load up the cart with junk.
Eat the sales
Even if you don’t know what will be on sale before you get there, choose the sale version of whatever you need. Do this consistently and you’ll cut your grocery tab by at least 40 percent. That’s the difference between the regular and sale price of nearly every item in the typical supermarket.
Your new normal
I know, I am not fond of that term either, “new normal.” But we have to get real. We do not know what is ahead. One of the best gifts you will ever give yourself is to learn the fine art of frugality. Starting with food is a very good place to start.
Learning to live the life you love on less will change your life. And when your job and income return, don’t go back to life the other way, where you spend all you have, all the time. Continue to live frugally, and you’ll be looking at a whole new life—where you are a voracious saver, able to build a beautiful Contingency (emergency) Fund, can get out of debt and enjoy life where you are living below your means
Sometimes it takes a seriously painful wake-up call to get us onto a new path—words I speak from experience and a heart of gratitude.