Tips for Cutting Your Food Budget

When you are trying to save money, the first thing to do is to check out your largest expenses and see if they can be cut.  For most people, that means housing, vehicles, and food.  Since changes to your home or car may take a little time, let’s see how fast you can save money on food.

Where Does Your Food Money Go?

Try tracking your food spending for a month to figure out what you are spending currently and where that money is going.   You may be surprised to see how much you are spending on restaurants or fast food.  Or you may see a habit that you hadn’t noticed before like too many trips to a coffee shop or favorite dessert place.  Tracking your spending is definitely the first step since it will keep you from guessing as you make a plan.

Target Specific Areas

Instead of beating yourself up when you see the total, try to target specific areas of your food budget to cut.  If the majority of your spending is eating away from the home, make a goal to cut that amount by half by eating at home more.  If you think you are fine in that category but see a bit too much being spent on unneeded items from the grocery store, you can aim to cut back on that splurging.  The general point is to make a plan of attack to cut something in order to free up some cash.

Substitute Cheaper Foods

Another way to watch the food bill drop is to simply substitute in cheaper options.  If you buy 5 full meals from fast food restaurants each week, try choosing a few dollar menu items instead and skip the drink.  You can have water or make some tea and save $1-$3 per meal.

If you were already budgeting when it came to restaurants, ask yourself what you can substitute at the grocery store.  Bananas are usually a cheap sweet or snack.  Ground turkey or beef can be used to make a dozen different meals and costs less than steaks and pork chops usually.

Also, try finding specialty items on sale and stock up instead of buying them every time you run out.  For example, kettle chips can cost 35-40 cents an ounce regularly but you can stock up when they are 25-30 cents an ounce and save about $1 per bag.  If you eat a lot of chips, that adds up.  There are similar sales on most items in a grocery store on a monthly or bimonthly basis.  You can even do the same with your favorite cuts of meat and simply freeze the portions you can’t use up before the expiration date.

Overall, cutting your food budget could be an easy way of banking $50-$100 a month for a different goal.  Just track your spending and see what you are willing to cut in order to achieve whatever you are saving for.  Good luck!

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13 thoughts on “Tips for Cutting Your Food Budget

  • Great tips! We used to be all about the name brand products. A couple of years ago, while getting out of debt, we switched to generics. While my wife still complains that the cereal doesn’t taste as good, the switch has been relatively painless. I haven’t crunched the numbers but I imagine we have saved a good amount of money from generics.

  • I periodically check the US Department of Agriculture’s report on “Cost of Food at Home” to set a reasonable budget (http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/USDAFoodCost-Home.htm). The website shows average spending on food, by month, for four cost levels (Thrifty, Low-Cost, Moderate, and Liberal), based on the number and age of the people in the household. I try to keep my spending between Thrifty and Low-Cost. The most important tactics I use to save are:

    1. EAT UP LEFTOVERS. If I cook something that no one likes, I throw it away and chalk it up to experience. Otherwise, we eat up our leftovers, reheated or repurposed, for lunch or dinner the next day(s). Boring? Too bad, that’s just the way it is in our house. Nothing goes to waste if we can help it.
    2. Buy generic, like the previous commenter.
    3. Avoid recipes that use uncommon ingredients. If a recipe sounds great but it calls for an exotic or expensive ingredient, I find a lower-cost ingredient that I know I will use up (walnuts instead of pine nuts, for example) or I don’t make the dish.
    4. Go meatless for dinner at least two days a week. I cook up pinto, black, or other dried beans in the crockpot to use in enchiladas, burritos, tostadas, soups, casseroles, etc., and freeze them. Also there are a lot of flavorful things to do with pasta.
    4. Have breakfast for dinner two nights a month. Eggs are cheap. French toast is a good way to use up stale bread. Pancake mix is easy to make and keep on hand, rather than buy it in a box. A little bit of bacon or sausage can be stretched in omelets or scrambled eggs.

  • Nice tips. I will go behind your suggestions. According to my opinion, we can make a list based on your food plan and paying attention on the weekly specials. Inscribe the price of each item and total. If there are items not on special, and there probably will be, estimate the cost or will check same item of different store, here we can check on website as well.

  • Here are a few more common sense tips:
    1. Pack your breakfast/lunch and take it to work.
    2. Consider cooking those expensive items at home. A crab cake dinner is $20, you can buy them and make them at home for half price. Ditto for shrimp.
    3. Buy quality ingredients. A good olive oil, good cheese has more flavor so you use less.
    4. Look for the manager’s special on meat. It’s usually items that are about to go out of date. Freeze it.
    5. Buy the whole pork loin and have the butcher slice it to your specifications.
    6. Eat at home–and not off the high fat, dollar menu.
    7. Buy a crock pot and use it. Make large quantities and freeze it for later.
    8. Make it once, eat it many times. It takes as much time to make 1 lb of meatballs as it does to make 5 lbs. Bake them all at the same time and freeze in portion sizes for your family. Ditto for meatloaf.
    9. Try salad night where salad is the main course. Consider buying greens that are on sale that day for even more savings.
    10. This is EVERY chefs “secret”. Have a well stocked pantry so that you can always pull together a good meal with a few simple ingredients. Watch CHOPPED–they do it all the time.

  • My biggest problem with food costs is that I’m a health freak and the foods that are the best for your body have a tendency to cost twice as much. Sigh.

  • At home, we save a lot of money on food by taking leftovers and making an entirely new dish out of them. Or sometimes, we find ways to prepare the usually unappetizing (yet still edible and nutritious) parts so that they look delicious.

  • I agree! We have really been able to make a difference overall on the food budget, however there are times when it seems like I’m going to the grocery store for something I forgot or ran out of. I have room to improve in those areas!

  • Money saving tip: farmers’ markets have great buys on produce. Learn how to process & can veggies & fruits. I love it!
    Also, if you have a freezer, buy meat in bulk.

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