If your family is anything like mine, it’s easy to lose track of how much money you spend on food. While most of us don’t spend grossly excessive amounts of money on eating out or other culinary delights, the cost of food is one of the most easily overlooked costs when creating a budget. The following are 5 tips to successfully tracking and reducing the amount you and/or your family spends on food:
1. When you creating a budget, list money spent at the grocery store and money spent eating out under the same category.
It’s tempting to make separate categories for money spent at restaurants and money spent at the grocery store. When you put together a budget, the goal is to track the total amount spent on any one type of thing. Unless your work requires you to spend a certain amount on eating at a restaurant with clients, any meal you eat is a meal that you could have brought from home. Once you have an idea of the total amount you spend on food, you can more easily devote a certain amount of money to groceries and a certain amount to eating out.
2. Break your grocery bill down by category and track how much you spend on non-essentials, i.e. snack foods, alcohol, etc.
When I first started doing this, I was surprised by the amount we were spending on drinks. Now that I’m aware of this trend, we save roughly $20 a week on our grocery bill. Though that might not seem like much, $20 adds up over the weeks. Do this a few weeks in a row, and you’ll have a better handle on whether your spending is balanced.
3. Grow your own: if you enjoy gourmet-style cooking, invest in an herb garden. If you have the room and the time, plant a vegetable garden.
If you’re a vegan or just love to cook with fresh herbs, you quickly come to realize just how expensive that proposition can become. Personally, I’m too much of a food snob to cook without flavor. Spending $30 on a windowsill herb garden has saved me over $50 in the past six months alone.
Fresh vegetables —depending on the source and the season— can be more expensive than meat. If you have the space, time and motivation; plant a vegetable garden. Make spaghetti sauce, applesauce, etc. in bulk and take up canning. Not only can this save money, but it’s also a fun project.
4. If everyone in the house works outside the home, consider cooking in bulk and freezing meals for later use.
The most common reason we go out to eat is because we simply don’t have enough energy at the end of the day to cook a full meal. Cooking ahead of time can solve that problem. Designate one weekend a month as a “cooking weekend”. Clip coupons the week before and look out for sales on different food items. Plan your recipes around what’s available on sale. Go to the store on Saturday and buy all of your ingredients. On Sunday, spend the day assembling your freezer meals.
If you don’t know how to make meals ahead, check out some of the great books available on the subject. 30 Day Gourmet is a website that provides 30 days of freeze-ahead meal ideas.
5. Realize that ‘special treats’ are sometimes necessary to avoid splurging.
One of the best ways to remain frugal is to be realistic. Your goal should be to cut down on the amount of times you go out to eat and on your total grocery bill. That doesn’t mean you should eliminate all excess expenditures from your life. Plan on going out a certain pre-determined number of times a month. Plan on how much you’ll spend at each outing and stick to it. If you don’t take this necessary step, you’re unlikely to stay with the other steps you’ve taken toward reducing your food-related expenses.
Bio: Alexis Bonari is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a blogger and in her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.