Apart from your mortgage, rent, and bills, have you ever wondered where a big chunk of your money disappears every month?
If food is what springs to mind, you are 100% absolutely right!
According to a 2020 study by ERS – USDA, an average American spent a whopping 8.6% of their disposable personal income on food! For most households with a single source of income, this translates to roughly 500-600 dollars a month! Now, this may vary depending on which part of the world you live in.
That is a lot of money to be spending. Especially when you could be putting that extra money to better use! But DONUT despair (Pun intended 😉 ). I am here to help you with just that! With a few simple tweaks and hacks, you can cut your monthly food costs drastically whether you are a professional, student, or a homemaker!
So, let’s jump right into the tips.
1. Eat out less.
There! I said it! Though unpleasant to hear, it is one of the nastiest habits that burns a hole in your pocket. Despite being the most convenient option, eating out accounts for almost 50% of your food expenditure!
Cooking your own meals or even grocery store alternatives are way cheaper than eating out at a restaurant.
Though it is okay to have a fancy meal or takeaway once in a while, do not let it become your go-to diet. ( Do not worry, you can still have your favorite pizza occasionally!) Begin with small steps by having home-cooked meals more often. This is not only good for your health but also economical. Save the restaurant trips for special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries.
You might assume that burgers, sandwiches, and other takeaways are cheap. But this is far from the truth as these small expenses add up quite rapidly. Also, eating junk food like pizzas and burgers all the time can be harmful to your health. In the long run, you will save not only on food expenses but also on medical expenses you would otherwise incur due to your unhealthy eating habits.
No! I’m not referring to BYOB (Bring Your Own Beer).
What I mean is that you should Bring Your Own Bite! Packing your lunch does not have to be herculean. Honestly, with some prep and planning, making your own lunch will be as easy as a breeze. I promise!
Personally, I like cooking every day, even if that means waking up a little early since I prefer eating freshly cooked food. But you can always prep your meals in advance to make your job easier. Over the weekend, prepare a weekly meal plan. Initially, stick to simple salads, wraps, and sandwiches. So that you do not overwhelm yourself. Once you get used to this routine, you can move on to options that need a little more effort.
If you are a student who does not have access to a full-fledged kitchen, you can still prepare your own meals. Focus on food which you can assemble rather than cook like sandwiches, salads, oatmeal, fresh fruits, etc.,
Try new recipes, invest in quality lunch boxes, and involve your kids when prepping meals. This will make it more enjoyable and teach your children about food budgeting at a young age.
3. Lower your grocery bill.
The other giant portion of our food expenditure is on groceries! With a few swaps to healthier alternatives, you can make a huge difference in your grocery bills. It is cheaper, healthier, and sustainable to make a fresh salad rather than buying a pre-packaged one at the supermarket! Try cutting out on processed food and looking for healthier alternatives that are also cheaper.
Allocate a monthly budget for your groceries and stick by it. Also, have a little snack before you go shopping to avoid the impulsive buys that your hungry stomach makes. 😉 (Everything looks tempting on an empty stomach! You can be assured to bid bye-bye to your diet if you go shopping when you’re hungry)
4. Curb your Coffe Consumption!
Let me get into the numbers here. In the United States, the average cost of a cup of coffee is around $2.7. Now, depending on the type of coffee you choose, such as black, Cappuccino, Americano, Espresso, and so on, this number may be slightly higher or lower. (Not to mention, the cost at high-end cafes and Starbucks is even higher!) Even if you only have one coffee outside five times a week, that’s roughly $55 per month just for coffee! This is on the lower end. According to a survey, an average American spends approximately $92 every month on coffee.
This much coffee will undoubtedly harm both your health and your bank account! If you are a coffee addict, I suggest you brew your coffee at home. But even then, curbing your addiction is the best solution. Replace coffee with healthy alternatives like herbal teas, which you can make at home quickly and economically. And at all other times, water is your best friend.
5. Make healthy food and snack choices.
Apart from main meals, you may find yourself spending quite a bit on snacks. Not only are they expensive, but snacks like wafers, chips, and candy bars do not provide any nutritional value. Interestingly, eating healthy is beneficial to both your body and your pocket!
So switch to healthier options like nuts, seeds, and fresh fruits. They are cost-friendly and also provide a lot of health benefits. They keep you fuller for longer and help you maintain a healthy body weight. It literally pays to be healthy! For instance, a bag of potato crisps costs around $1.5. Whereas you can get 1lb of apples for approximately $0.75!
P.S: Just because it is healthy does not mean you can eat an entire jar of nuts! Be mindful to not eat more than a handful a day, as overeating nuts can make you feel bloated! One food that I absolutely love to binge on is popcorn. Do not worry, you do not need a popcorn maker for it! You can make it using just about any pan with a lid.
6. Make meat-free days a regular thing.
Eating less meat is good for your health, the environment, and your wallet! Meat contributes a significant amount to your grocery bill. An average American spends roughly anywhere between $95 to $110 on meat and dairy products alone! Switching to vegan meals for two or three days a week will save you money because most vegetables and pulses are far less expensive than meat.
It helps you minimize your carbon footprint while also offering you a variety of new recipes to try. Vegan food does not have to be bland or boring. There are dozens and dozens of great options out there. Just give them a shot!
7. Carry a water bottle at all times!
People spend a lot of money on bottled drinking water. Packaged water is pricey, and it’s stored in plastic bottles. These bottles more often than not end up in landfills and the oceans, causing severe harm to the environment.
Make it a point to always have your own water bottle with you wherever you go. Office, college, the park, or wherever! Also, choose bottles that will last a long time. Materials like aluminum, copper, and glass are what you should look for.
8. Don’t throw away leftover food.
Never discard your leftovers. PERIOD.
Throwing away food is like throwing away money. Use leftovers the following day for breakfast or lunch. If this is not something you like, then take extra care to not cook excess food or order more than what is needed in the first place! Food wastage is not only unethical but also environmentally destructive. There are thousands of people globally dying due to starvation. We must consider ourselves lucky enough to have food on our plates.
Keep an eye on the expiry dates on everything in your kitchen so that you use them before they go bad and nothing gets wasted.
P.S: Keep leftovers in the freezer to prevent them from going bad. Be cautious not to eat food that has gone bad. Such food can go into your composter bin, not trash!
9. Skip the wine and alcohol at restaurants.
There is no denying that wine and alcohol are ridiculously overpriced at restaurants. So, it is best to avoid them at high-end diners. Why waste money when you can buy yourself a bottle outside for around half the price! Or opt for restaurants that let you carry your own bottles.
And let me add this one unpleasant truth here. Drinking very frequently is Expensive + Unhealthy. So, it is best for the sake of your health and budget if you reduce your overall alcohol consumption.
10. Carry your own food when on the road.
The costs of food at highway eateries are not to be laughed at! It is exorbitantly priced! The same goes for airplanes, trains, and other eateries meant for tourists.
The best solution is to carry your own snacks when traveling. An extra bag with food would not be that big a burden. Carry nuts, wraps, and sandwiches with you as they do not spoil very quickly.
11. Use credit cards and coupons to your advantage.
Browse online for the availability of discount coupons or food coupons. Opt for restaurants that accept coupons and gift cards. You can also pre-buy gift cards at discounted prices. This will help you save quite a lot.
A few restaurants offer free food for kids. Make sure to check out beforehand for such restaurants so that if you have kids, they can dine for free. Some restaurants and cafes offer exclusive student discounts if you are a student. Please do not hesitate to inquire about any additional discounts from the staff.
Use your credit card to avail any special discounts at partner restaurants. Do not forget to check if your card offers cashback for dining in.
12. The Mantra for Dining Out!
On occasions when you have to dine out, make the most of every trick at your disposal to save a few extra dollars.
- Do not buy bottled water. Carry your own.
- Check if there are combos available. They are usually much cheaper than ordering ala carte.
- Have a light snack before eating out to avoid hunger-driven over-ordering.
- Eat during ‘Happy Hours’ as there are usually great deals running.
- Skip desserts at a restaurant as it is usually cheaper to buy them outside.
- Lastly, if you cannot finish your meal, do not hesitate to ask the waiter/waitress to get it packed. You can have it for lunch or dinner the next day.
13. My Favorite section! Bonus Food Hacks!
Here are a few extra pointers to keep in mind!
- Make sure to use proper storage containers and methods to prevent your food from going bad very quickly. Every food has different storage needs. Be sure to check them out!
- Grow your own food! Even growing some easy herbs can cut a lot off your expenses. (The more you grow, the better)
- Reduce consumption of aerated drinks and so-called healthy packaged fruit juices! They have no nutritional value whatsoever. Empty calories + extra expenses!
- Cooking is a primary life skill that everyone needs to know. Teach your children early.
- Try vegetarian protein sources like lentils and beans. They are cheaper and not to mention tasty as well. Go Beans for Proteins!!
I hope these tips help you save at least a few hundred dollars a month! Please do let us know in the comments if you have any hacks that you can share with the rest of us.
See you around soon.