My husband and I are finally approaching the point in our lives where we’re seriously discussing having children. And the sticking point of every one of these discussions is money. For my husband at least. I firmly believe that babies make everything better, even money shortages. I mean, they don’t even eat anything for 6 months. They’re practically free.
The way we decided to deal with his freak outs was to write out a budget. We’re relatively reasonable with our spending, but he was right, we could and should do better. So we did the math and discovered that we should have more than enough money, but somehow, our bank account doesn’t always support that. So we looked closer, and found something surprising.
The vast majority of our spending is on food.
For just the two of us, we were spending upwards of $500 a month just on groceries and meals. To me, that number is out of control. So we’ve implemented some changes, and while the results haven’t been dramatic yet, if we keep it up for a while we’re going to have saved a big chunk of money. Since these never really occurred to me before, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned about eating for less from the perspective of a chronic food over-spender.
1. Stop buying bottled water! This was an easy one and we saw immediate changes in our grocery bill. I got a couple of cheap reusable water bottles at Target, a water pitcher, and viola. Water. A 24 pack of water is about 7 bucks, and to drink enough water, that’ll only last you 7 days. The water bottles and pitcher will last you an indefinitely long time and are really reasonably priced.
2. Freeze your bread! This may not be as useful for big households, but my husband and I cannot finish a loaf of bread before it molds or gets really stale. So I put our bread in freezer safe bags, and then into the freezer. If I’m packing a sandwich for the next day or later that day, I leave it frozen and let it thaw in my lunch box (and it serves as another ice pack!), or if I want a sandwich right away, I toss the bread in the microwave for 15 seconds to thaw it out.
3. Stop buying pre-sliced and pre-washed fruits and veggies. Seriously, you are paying way too much for a few minutes of work. Plus, frankly, you should wash all your fruits and veggies, even if they’re pre-washed.
4. Freeze your extra pasta sauce! I always seem to buy these big jars of pasta sauce and then can’t finish them before they get a little past their prime. So I pour the excess tomato sauce into ice cube trays and freeze them overnight. Then I pop my little sauce popsicles into a freezer bag or container and thaw them out as I need them. I just toss my ice cube trays in the dishwasher and they clean out nicely.
5. Pack your lunch! This one is key. Buying your lunch each day is way more expensive than making it at home. A loaf of bread is about 3 bucks and makes at least 10-15 sandwiches, that’s 20 cents of bread for a sandwich, and with reasonable toppings, your sandwich is going to cost you less than a dollar. That’s 5 bucks a week in sandwiches, compared to the 15-25 you’d be spending on a sandwich in a cafeteria or restaurant.
6. Pack your lunch in reusable containers! I just recently switched over to these Ziploc containers for our lunches. I put a sandwich in the big part, cut up fruit in one of the small compartments and carrots and hummus in the other. I usually sneak a little cookie or two in the sandwich compartment too. I can’t help myself. That saves me at least 5 baggies a day per lunch, which is 50 a week and 200 a month.
7. Buy seasonal fruits. Citrus is cheap in the winter and unnecessarily pricey in the summer. Plums, apricots, nectarines and peaches are cheaper in the summer. If you buy in season fruit, they are almost always cheaper and almost always way better tasting.
8. Stop drinking soda. Next to bottled water, this is the biggest price mark up, and it’s for something that you don’t even need. If you got rid of soda and only drank water at home and free water when you went out to eat, you’d be amazed at how much you save. And how much more room there is in your fridge.
9. Don’t buy pre-portioned foods. You get less food for more money. Unless the portion control part is totally required for you, buy the bigger, cheaper box and portion for yourself.
I’m sure that many of you have been doing this for longer than we have, so tell me: what is your biggest money saving tip when it comes to food?
Katie is a 28 year old Southern Californian, married to a doctor, racking up as much student debt as possible as a full-time graduate student in a health science. Her hobbies include abusing parentheses, baking complicated desserts that almost universally involve frosting and loving her two cats more than is socially acceptable. She’s currently balancing her first child and graduating from graduate school. So planning and timing are also things she excels at. You can read more from Katie on her blog, Overflowing Brain.