Ever wonder why you never have enough money to save? I’m talking about consistent, regular deposits out of every paycheck that go straight into a savings account. Maybe it’s time to consider that you’re 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 all of that money tucked away in a savings account rather than 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’re spending on food.
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.
All grocery stores and supermarkets have tremendous weekly sales. And they announce these details in their weekly flyers—in print and online. These sales include “loss leaders,”—items priced so low, the store loses money, and for the sole purpose of getting you through the door with hopes that you’ll grab lots of full-priced items, too.
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. When your budget is really, really tight don’t give in to the temptation to buy more just because it is on sale.
Create specific shopping lists and specific budget and then stick to them like glue.
Coupon like crazy
Matching coupons to sale is the best weapon you have against rising food costs. There are free websites like TheKrazyCouponLady.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 a few hours 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 in the first five minutes you put this valuable information to work. Registration for the class closes on Jan. 9 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 coupons as they are available.
Eat the sales
See above. Cautiously add full-priced items but only as absolutely necessary. Learn the store’s sales cycle. Typically every area of the store will be on sale at least once every 12 weeks.
Get a makeover
If you can eke out the time, consider taking The Grocery Budget Makeover course (see above). You will not regret it because you will learn so many cost- and time-saving strategies.
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 otherwise known as “doctor’s orders.”
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.
There’s is 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 ever see in a recipe), 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, cleaning eating, etc.) and then create a specific list of what I call our “do-not!” ingredients. At the top of my list is goat cheese. Just so you know. PlateJoy cost: $8-$12 a month.
This meal-planning site offers variety and flexibility allowing you to pick the recipes that best fit your needs that week. You can start with a free 14-day trial, choosing the meal plan that fits your family best: Gluten-free, diabetic, classic, heart-healthy, slow-cooker, 30-minute meals and so many more. eMeals offers a great service. A subscription at eMeals is as low as $5 a month for a 12-month subscription. You also have the option of a 3-month subscription for $10 a month.
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.
Wait. Before you skip past the idea of meal 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 loves to cook, has time to cook and lives within one mile of Costco.
I cannot figure out for the life of me how Home Chef does it, but they do. 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 a family of two (or perhaps three), 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 13 different options (they change weekly). You can tailor meals to your dietary needs including low-calorie and low-carb and more. And you can pause service anytime and for as long as you want, too.
The cost for Home Chef is an astounding $9.95 per serving with a free shipping option. Here’s what you get delivered to your doorstep even if you are not there to accept it: Everything. Seriously, everything you need to assemble, heat 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. Meals turn out exactly as presented and pictured. The ingredients are remarkably fresh and beautiful.
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