Along with air, water, and shelter, food is one of the four basic necessities of human life and, for most of us, one of the biggest items in the household budget. When you’re trying to find ways to trim expenses, food might not be the first place you’d look, but it’s not a bad place to start. Many of us tend to eat plentifully rather than wisely (assuming we’re able to eat regularly at all), even though eating wisely is better for our wallets and our waists. Here are a few tips on how to save money on food:
Shop with a plan. Map out a weekly or monthly menu, then prepare a shopping list before you head to the grocery store. It’s easier than you might think; in fact, there are apps to help you create a sensible plan. Sticking to a predetermined list will help you avoid impulse purchases that drive up your grocery bill (and, quite frequently, your caloric intake).
Make use of your food on hand. You can pare down your shopping list even more by scratching off those foods that are already in your pantry or fridge. One easy way to save money is by not wasting it, and discarded food is wasted money. (On average, each American family throws out $1,200 worth of food every year.) If a perishable item is approaching its expiration date, be sure to use or freeze it before it goes bad.
Learn to love leftovers. Whether you enjoy them in the form of soups, stews, or crockpot concoctions, or you find other dietary uses for last night’s dinner, leftovers can make for sumptuous meals that also lower your grocery bill. Plus, taking leftovers to work will reduce the amount you spend on lunches in the cafeteria, delis, or restaurants.
Buy (certain things) in bulk. It doesn’t make sense to buy perishables in great quantities if you’re not going to use them before they expire, but you can save money on items like spices, grains, and other staples when you buy them in bulk. Shopping clubs offer good deals on bulk purchases, as do supermarket sales.Count on coupons. Weekly flyers and inserts in (well-chosen) newspapers are great sources for coupons — and for information about upcoming grocery deals. Make sure you’re clipping deals for meals you’re going to prepare and enjoy, of course, and not just jumping at savings on items that you’ll never eat.Shop for in-season produce, and/or grow your own. Fruits and vegetables are at their most affordable prices when they’re at their most abundant, so you’ll save if you plan your meals season by season. Alternatively, if you have the space (either at home or in a community garden), you can save by planting and harvesting your own crops.
A FreeShipping.com membership can also help you save money on food, through 5% cash back and shipping savings on purchases at online retailers, including more than a few food outlets. Happy dining — and savings!