As we approach a new year, many of us start to think about areas of our life that we’d like to improve. Your budget might be one of those areas. As a stay-at-home mom of four young kids, keeping my family’s budget under control is one of my big responsibilities. Many areas of your budget are pretty fixed (housing, transportation, utilities, insurance, etc.). But one area that might have a little wiggle room is the cost of food for your family.
Food expense is an area of the budget that can vary a lot between different families. Some families eat out multiple times a week, and other families stick to a strict meal plan designed to maximize savings. Most of us probably fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.
It’s important to realize how much food costs can vary though–do you know how much your weekly/monthly food expenses are? This includes breakfasts, lunches, quick stops for snacks, and dinners out or at home. If you track your expenses for a week, you might be surprised…and if you’re surprised, here are some steps you can take to help reign in the costs.
- Limit restaurant meals: OK, so that’s a no-brainer, but if the budget’s tight restaurants should be at a minimum. This includes lunches, breakfast/coffee stops, and full-blown dinners. Eat at home or pack your meals.
- Go cheap: If you’re on the run and need to do hit the drive-thru, bring your own drinks or drink water. If you’re eating in a restaurant, find one that fits your budget, and save by having water to drink.
- Use a coupon! Tons of restaurants offer coupons and special deals. Daily deal sites can also help you score some great deals. Take advantage of one of these when you want to eat out!
- Look for “Kids Eat Free” promotions: Lots of restaurants offer special days/times when your kids’ dinners are on the house–a great opportunity to treat your family, while still saving.
- Meal Planning: Weekly meal planning can help you take advantage of what’s on hand in your freezer and pantry, and also what’s on sale at the stores for the week. Take a few minutes over the weekend to plan out dinners for each night of the week based on what’s available. Planning ahead also helps avoid those last-minute panics that make it so easy to just eat out.
- Strategic Shopping and Stockpiling: Over at Sisters Shopping on a Shoestring, we try to make it as easy as possible to shop for sale items at stores, and match coupons to the lowest sale prices. It’s a great idea to pick up extras when sales and coupons match up to offer a rock-bottom price on food staples. When I say “stockpile,” I don’t mean crazy displace-your-children-with-10,000-rolls-of-toilet-paper stockpile, just enough to have a few extras on hand so you have the things you want to cook when you want to use them (and so you won’t have to pay full-price when you need them!).
- Food choices: No question about it: hamburger costs less than steak. Choosing lower-priced food will help you get more for your money. Also consider the price you pay for convenience foods; that convenience usually comes at a price. If you can take the time to do more of the preparation yourself, you can save money, and also have more control over the content and quality of the food that goes on your table.
- Plan for packing: For the most part, packing your lunch will be more frugal than going out. Same goes for your morning coffee and bagel. If you can plan to bring food from home–purchasing the necessary items and getting them ready to take with you–you’ll resist the temptation to go out and be able to put that savings toward paying off debt or reaching your financial goals.
If you’re interested in more frugal living tips, you can check out these entries from our Frugal Friday series at Sisters Shopping on a Shoestring:
- Tracking Your Spending
- Creating a Budget
- Making Frugal Choices
- Fighting Spending Envy
- Could You Cut the Cable?
- Frugal Lovin’
This is a Frugal Living guest post by Megan from Sisters Shopping on a Shoestring. Megan has been frugal most of her life, but has been really honing her frugal skills as the chief home economist for her family of six, surviving and thriving on a single (teacher’s!) income. If she can do it, you can too!