Believe it or not, most of us spend more money on food every month than we have to. Many times, it is simply the result of a lack of planning, sometimes it is from buying more food than we consume, therefore throwing out unused food that spoils before we get to it, sometimes it comes from buying too many fast food meals, and other times it is simply not knowing how to make the most of our grocery dollars.
The food category of your budget can be one of the most flexible, and a great place to start experimenting with how much is really enough, and how much is too much. Here are a few strategies to stretch your food budget when times are tough, or just to see how much you can trim from this category and put toward debt, savings, or “fun” money.
1. The cupboard cleanout. You just might be amazed at what you find when you clean out your cupboards! Between your refrigerator, freezer, pantry, and cupboards, you most likely have the makings of several meals. Pasta in the pantry? Ground meat in the freezer? A jar of sauce in the cupboard? Voila! Dinner for four in a heartbeat. Plus, cleaning out your refrigerator gives you a chance to finally throw out anything stale or moldy that might be hiding in the far corners.
2. Make a meal plan. Making a weekly menu is a great way to stop the “What’s for dinner?” questions from your family. Allow everyone to have a say in choosing a meal they enjoy, and you have the added bonus of making everyone happy. This also cuts down on spending unplanned money on last minute pizza orders because you haven’t planned a dinner meal.
3. Buy less expensive vegetables (in season, preferably). Planning to cook what’s in season is not only practical, but healthy. Vegetables that are in season will be less expensive, easy to find, and abundant. You can incorporate more fresh foods when you buy what is on your supermarket produce shelves or at the local farmer’s market, and feel good about feeding your family fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables.
4. Go meatless. Since meat is where you’re likely to spend a good portion of your grocery money, consider making more meatless meals. No, we aren’t saying you have to become a vegetarian, but perhaps consider planning for one or two meatless dinners per week, and see how much you save. Use pantry staples like rice, beans, legumes, and whole grains to round out your meatless meal. Add in some of those seasonal produce items for freshness and color.
5. One pot meals. Think homemade chili, soups, and stews. You can win several ways with this type of meal. If you use a slow cooker, you can toss all your ingredients in the pot in the morning, turn it on low, and come home to a meal that is done for you, thus saving time. You can also use less expensive cuts of meat, which saves you money. Lastly, you can make a large quantity and freeze individual portions for later, when only one person is eating, you don’t have time to cook, or you need something easy to take to work for lunch.
There are many online resources for more ways to stretch your grocery budget and make the most of your meals. A little time spent researching can save you a lot of time, money, and frustration in the kitchen when you learn from those who have been successful in this area, and incorporate some of their proven strategies and budget stretching tips.