My husband just got a new job, so I've been evaluating our finances again. I work hard to keep our food budget as low as possible. I plan to get back on this budget soon. Since cutting food costs has been on my mind a lot, I thought I'd share a few tips for doing just that.
1. Use coupons - Even though sometimes you may only save cents or maybe a few dollars, remember that it all adds up and every penny counts. Money Saving Mom has some great info on couponing here.
2. Price match - I buy most of our groceries at Aldi, but I usually have to get a few items at Walmart too. I love that Walmart does price matching. So if you see something you need for sale in another ad, take it with you and ask them to match the price. It saves spending more for it at Walmart, or having to make another stop somewhere else just to get the deal.
3. Menu plan - This is HUGE. I have been making menu plans for a long time, but whenever I miss a week I end up spending more because I didn't have a specific list of the things I needed, and I end up using up my stash of easy fix meals (which often are more expensive - ie. a boxed rice mix, frozen pizza, etc.)
4. Shop sales - Plan your menus around what is on sale or what you have already in your pantry. Stock up on basic items when they go on sale, then wait to buy more of that item until it goes on sale again.
5. Use cash - I highly recommend using the envelope system. That means that you budget a certain amount of money for food, put the cash into an envelope and use that to pay at the store. When it's gone, it's gone. This also helps you to be aware of where your money is going and how fast you spend it.
6. Use less - If a recipe calls for a 1/2 cup of cheese, try cutting it down to a 1/4 cup or don't fill the measuring cup to the top. It won't really be that noticeable and it will add up over time. Also, most recipes that call for milk can be substituted to use water instead. Especially in baking you won't miss it much.
7. Cook from scratch - If you buy pre-made food items, you almost always pay a whole lot more. Learn to make your own bread, make homemade spaghetti sauce, use dried beans instead of canned beans, etc. If you've never really done this, don't be overwhelmed. Work on learning to make one new thing at a time. Then you can enjoy the bonus of eating healthier food (from scratch) more often, instead of processed food.
8. Cut back on expensive foods - Save gourmet cooking for special occasions, or if you plan to make a more expensive meal next week, balance it out with cheaper meals the rest of the week. Get creative. Learn to love rice and beans. They are cheap and very versatile, but it takes some creativity to move beyond always eating them the same way. The internet is a great tool for finding recipes, and some recipe sites let you search by ingredient.
9. Eat at home - It's amazing how much money you can save by eating at home most of the time and only eating out occasionally. Add up what you spend eating out each week (including tips) and you might be surprised. Consider budgeting a few dollars per week for eating out, and then save it until you have enough for a date night, or a family meal out.
10. Be thankful - Learn to be content with less and teach your children this also. Encourage thankfulness by remembering that you have so much more than many others do. I really try to keep this in mind as I cook also, and I have found myself spill some rice on the counter (and be tempted not to save it) or sometimes I don't scrape out a jar completely, but then I remember that somewhere in the world people could make these little bits of wasted food into an entire pot of soup.