Yes, I know . . . we all have to eat. I’m not saying that food in general is a waste of money. It is, in fact, one of the all-time best investments that someone can make into their future.
Food = future. No food = no future. That’s God’s rule, and who am I to say that we should break it.
However, you don’t have to spend nearly as much as you think you do. According to an October 2010 report from the United States Department of Labor, the average couple spends $424 each month on food. My wife and I spend around $100 each month. In other words, we’re saving over $300 each and every month (nearly $4,000 a year)! That wasn’t always the case though. I’ve been on the other side too.
For the first 4 or 5 years after I had graduated from college I spent over $400 every month on food . . . by myself! In other words . . . I was eating GOOD. And that’s not even counting all of the meals that I enjoyed away from home, spending $5 at McDonald’s when I didn’t feel like cooking, or $25 at a new restaurant that I had been waiting to try.
You can probably predict the end of this story. I was broke. At that time in my life I was making a nearly identical salary to what I bring home today, and I wasn’t even supporting a family. So, it had nothing to do with needing more income. The only difference was my view of money. I had never even considered living below my means. If the money was in my account, then it was fair game.
Then, all of a sudden, something clicked. I realized that I could do better. Being broke while beginning a relationship with your future wife will do that for you. I HAD to do better.
I quickly figured out that food budgeting is the absolute best method to save money. Think about it. That same 2010 U.S. Department of Labor report referenced above demonstrates that the amount of money that we spend each year on food is 3rd only to housing and transportation. And let’s face it, once you’ve signed the papers there isn’t much you can do about your mortgage payment or your new car. They are fixed expenses. The good news is that what you eat, and how much you spend on that food, is not.
In fact, you have complete control over how much you spend on your food. You may be able to negotiate $10 or $15 off your cell phone bill, or start unplugging all of your appliances and save $10 a month on your electric bill, but if you would only put as much thought into your grocery budget as you do your other expenses, you could literally save hundreds of dollars each month! You are in control.
So, let’s take a look at a couple simple principles that make all the difference when you’re attempting to be a frugal foodie.
1. Stop giving restaurants all of your hard-earned money.
This is the quickest and most dramatic way to save a boat-load of cash. You might be thinking, “well, no kidding . . . I knew that.” However, the stats say that we need a reminder. The average American spends more than $1,000 each year eating outside of the home. That’s just one person. If you reside in a family of 4, go ahead and get your calculator out. The answer is $4,000.
The Parmesan Pasta Soup recipe below is the type of quality dish that you would expect to find at your local Olive Garden. However, I can make it for about $0.46 per serving. When was the last time you spent less than $0.50 at an Olive Garden? Don’t even get me started on the price of pasta! You can do better.
Even a less expensive alternative like pizza can drain your money in a hurry. You can make a tasty pepperoni pizza at home for just over $2. You’re going to spend 3 to 5 times that amount at the Pizza Hut down the road.
2. Always plan your meals.
I know this isn’t generally a popular step in the staircase to saving money. Some people even try to skip it altogether. Be careful. You’re likely to trip and fall flat on your face.
Your goal is efficiency. Businesses around the globe track their efficiency for one simple reason – to save money. You do something similar with your time. You plan your day and make “To Do” lists in order to save time and be more efficient. This side of Heaven, you don’t have an infinite amount of time each day with which to do everything that needs to be done. Can I get an Amen?! Therefore, you must be as efficient as possible so that the tasks can be completed within the limited parameters you’ve been given.
Money is the same way. It’s limited. Very limited. Therefore, we need to be efficient with what we’ve been given. That’s why planning is key. Without a plan, we tend to end up staring blankly into the fridge 3 days after we went grocery shopping, wondering how Mario Batali or Rachel Ray would incorporate the celery, strawberry yogurt, and pickles that remain. A lack of planning could also result in foul odors wafting in from the crisper drawer. Unplanned produce tends to become unused produce. You know what I’m talking about.
Do this. Start by simply writing down each of your main 21 meals this coming week. They don’t have to be elaborate. I won’t tell anyone if you have Peanut Butter and Jelly, but make sure you write it down and stick to it. Try to plan around common ingredients for the week to be as efficient as possible and don’t forget to plan for leftovers. For example, if you’re going to make a big pot of Parmesan Pasta Soup next week, plan the original meal on Tuesday night, save some leftovers for Thursday’s lunch, and freeze the rest for later. Waste is the enemy of a successful budget.
If you’re willing to spend an hour each week planning your meals, you’ll find that you won’t feel as frazzled when going shopping, you’ll waste much less, and you’ll save much more. It’s worth it.
3. Know which meals are inexpensive.
I know this is obvious, but I’ve met a lot of people who still believe that TV dinners are cheap. No, they’re not. I know even more folks who are certain that my wife and I must be eating nothing but Ramen noodles in order to live as frugally as we do. Wrong again. The following recipes are just a couple examples of how to combine delicious with inexpensive.
What are some ways you eat for less? Meet us in the comments?
Chris Tecmire and his wife Trisha are the authors of “Eating Well For Only $2 A Day!”, a full-color food budgeting book that is both instructive and entertaining. The book gives step-by-step instructions on how anyone can spend only $2 a day without relying on sales or coupons. Over 150 delicious recipes, like the ones listed above, have been included to get you started. You can learn more or purchase your copy at www.only2dollarsaday.com. Chris and Trisha enjoy photography, traveling, and serving in their local church. They are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their first child this fall.