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I don’t know about you, but food (*cough* eating out *cough*) is a huge portion of our budget.
But do you know what things that take up a huge part of your budget ALSO are?
Huge opportunities to save some cash — cash that you could apply to your debt snowball.
With that in mind, here are tons of ways to save money on food & drink, broken down by area for easy reference.
Breakfast is a meal that’s often skipped, which is too bad because it leaves you hungrier later, causing you to eat (and spend) more.
You can save money by eating breakfast instead of hitting up the vending machine or stopping off for coffee & a snack.
Kids tend to like expensive cereals and pastries for breakfast, which can be avoided as well. Keeping healthier breakfasts on hand instead (either in the cupboard or at your desk at work) can help.
Examples include plain corn flakes, a loaf of bread for toasting, or the kind of oatmeal that comes in a rounded box. It doesn’t take any more work to scoop out a little oatmeal & mix it than it does to open up an individually wrapped packet of oatmeal & mix it. It’s just less expensive.
Keep in mind too that there’s no rule that you have to eat typical American breakfast foods for breakfast. You can eat leftovers, sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, or whatever you like. This is especially good if you’re trying to get more protein into your diet.
Many people eat lunches out multiple times per week. Just putting an end to that can save big bucks over time. Bring your lunch with you instead — ideally leftovers from the night before. That reduces waste (food doesn’t sit in the fridge growing) and saves money.
If you do eat out, choose lower-cost restaurants. Don’t pay for drinks (drink water instead) and look to see if there is a less expensive way of getting what you want by buying from a different menu or sharing a meal with a friend.
You’ll save money by eating dinners at home instead of out. But WHAT you choose to eat and WHEN you choose to eat it can save you still more money.
Plan your meals ahead of time (say, for a week) so that you can use the same ingredients in multiple meals.
This doesn’t mean you need to eat the same thing all the time. It just means that you may need to be more creative.
For example, if chicken is on sale, you could plan on chicken parmesan one day and salad topped with chicken strips another. Shop in your cupboards as well, asking yourself what you could make using ingredients on hand.
Bring your own, healthier snacks with you to work.
Many people get up and eat because they want a break, but you could just as easily take a walk around the building or go get a drink from the water fountain instead. I limited vending-machine spends by simply not bringing cash with me unless I intended it for that purpose.
5. Soda/flavored drinks/energy drinks
Drink tap water instead, and you’ll save a bundle. (Get a Brita or some other type of filter if your tap water tastes yucky.)
If you must drink soda pop or flavored drinks, try to limit them to special occasions or at home only. (Skip the $4 cokes when eating out, unless you almost never eat out.)
Buy drinks like that in bulk and on sale, and bring a pack to work with you instead of buying from the vending machine.
Kick the habit, or if that sounded like blasphemy, make your own & bring it with you. With luck you might even be able to convince your office to use a brand that people like, and get your fix at work.
If you do buy your coffee at a coffee shop (Starbucks, anyone?) bring your own cup for a possible discount. You may also be able to get Starbucks gift cards at a discount. Nothing says you can’t use a gift card for yourself!
7. Processed foods
Eliminate as many processed foods from your diet as possible. Both your body and your bottom line will thank you.
If you do buy processed foods, consider store brands. They are often made by national brands, but sold for a fraction of the price because of the store brand label. Most stores offer a money-back guarantee on their brands, so you really have nothing to lose if you’re dissatisfied.
Stock up on the processed foods you do eat when go on sale as well. One advantage of processed foods is that they often have enough preservatives in them to last a long time.
8. Vegetables & Fruits
Buy in season for the best prices on fruits & vegetables. If you take up canning, you can have them year round at a low cost.
Frozen fruits & vegetables are the next-cheapest, and generally taste pretty good too, especially if you’ll be using them as ingredients in another dish. (Or for smoothies!)
Going “meatless” one or more nights a week will save money. Meatless can mean pasta, beans, cheese, & rice dishes, or even things like pancakes. (There’s no rule that you can only have pancakes for breakfast.)
Buying marked-down meats in bulk and then cutting them up into smaller portions yourself is the easiest way to save. In some areas you can buy whole or halves of beef, pork, etc as well. Your freezer is your friend.
Generally, the more you have to do to prepare the meat for eating, the less expensive it will be.
10. Grocery shopping
Have only one person go to the store — the person who is best at impulse control. Eat before you go. Reduce the number of trips you make to the store. One big shop per month, plus a weekly trip in where we do not get a cart for perishables works well for us.
Shop the edges of the store and look on the lower shelves when you search for items. (Cheaper items are often on the bottom shelves.) Read Shopping at Costco the Frugal Way for more suggestions.
11. Sharing food & gleaning
You may have friends or neighbors with more fruits and vegetables than they can handle — even in the suburbs or urban areas. Around here, people set out sacks of free lemons or signs saying it’s ok to pick the citrus. Help yourself in those situations and both parties will be happy.
If you live near a rural area, you may be able to glean vegetables with the permission of farmers after the harvest is done.
12. Cooking at home & meal planning
So the bonus way to save money on food DOES include meal planning, but it’s more than that too.
Cooking your own food instead of eating out is a huge way to save money, AND you can save money during the cooking process itself.
For example, you could sometimes substitute water for milk and cornstarch or bananas for eggs. Reducing ingredients slightly saves money as well. (Put in a little less than a pound of meat instead of a whole pound, etc.)
Remember, cooking doesn’t have to mean hours slaving over a hot stove or being rushed at the last minute! You can do batch freezer cooking in advance with your own recipes or MyFreezEasy, for example.
If meal planning isn’t normally your thing, consider the $5 Meal Plan service for plenty of ideas.