Photo by: American Home Shield
We all struggle with making our money go that extra mile. After fixed costs like housing and insurance, the biggest expense eating up our paychecks is typically food—especially if you've committed to feeding your family healthier foods. So how do you make every dollar count when you're trying to eat well? We've got five steps for making food budgeting easy to swallow.
Make a plan. A meal plan will keep you from making those impulsive (and often expensive) food decisions after a long day at work. But before you make your meal plan, take a few minutes to clean out your fridge and pantry and take inventory of what you already have.
Next, write out a meal plan for the whole week, taking into account the items you already have and days you might be able to eat leftovers. Also, make room for some healthy grab-and-go snacks, like carrots and hummus, yogurt and granola or hard-boiled eggs.
Plan to use ingredients that can be used over multiple meals, like cartons of cherry tomatoes, a few large onions or potatoes, a few dozen eggs or some mushrooms. Fresh, wholesome ingredients like these (as opposed to pre-packaged processed meals) will not only stretch throughout the week, but they’ll also tend to be much cheaper in the long run.
Finally, use your meal plan to make a grocery list. If you don’t already have a well-stocked pantry of staples (like bread, rice, pasta and dry or canned beans), put those on your list, too. A well-stocked pantry is the key to flexible (and cheap!) weeknight meals.
Always shop with a list—and stick to it. That is, unless you see a cheaper alternative to a certain ingredient. (Say you were planning on serving chicken one night, but you see that pork chops are on sale instead—feel free to sub that out.) Sticking to your list will keep you from making expensive and unnecessary impulse purchases.
Buy in bulk. Don’t just buy something to get a good deal, though—if you finished up the last of the rice and you know you’ll use it often in the future, then replace it in bulk. Those pantry staples like rice, oatmeal, beans or canned goods—anything that is nonperishable or has a long shelf life—are especially useful to buy in bulk.
Coupons. Coupons are a great way to save a lot of money on household goods or packaged foods like trash bags, condiments or cereal. Cut them from the newspaper or grab the grocery circular when you enter the store, and keep coupons in your glove compartment so you have them ready to go each time you go shopping. Some major grocery stores even have apps dedicated to saving you time and money by storing offers right on your smartphone or tablet. Again, don’t buy items you don’t need just because they’re on sale, or else you’ll be spending more than you save.
Prep foods in advance. It's Sunday, and your grocery shopping is finally done. Before you put everything away, pull out your meal plan for the week. If you see that you’ll need an ingredient like onions for a few different meals throughout the week, go ahead and chop up the entire onion and save what you don't use tonight in a container in the fridge. You'll save yourself that prep time later in the week when things get hectic.
Prepping ingredients on the weekends is also a great way to encourage your family to make healthy choices—if you’ve got fresh fruit, veggies or other healthy snacks already washed and cut, everyone will be more likely to reach for those instead of a bag of chips.
After a few weeks of meal planning and prep, you'll see that you’re not only saving money, but your valuable time too!