Greetings from the HillTop!
Since the beginning of 2022, one of the major headlines is how bad inflation is getting. Now with the conflict breaking out between Russia and Ukraine, it seems to be getting worse. However, if you are your household grocery shopper, you were already seeing and feeling it for months. Grocery store prices always seem to speak louder than a news anchor. Budgeting is getting harder; dollars do not seem to stretch as far…and it sounds like it is not ending soon. With so many areas playing a factor, what can be done?
There are a few areas when it comes to food that you can do to cut back.
This took time and practice. First, I encourage you to look for a format you like. I found a weekly meal planner from a local feed store, and it is still my favorite. Some people want to use their own layout, whatever works. Second, the real key is to do it, and use it. Any plan without execution is simply a suggestion.
Sticking to the plan takes preparation: thawing meat in advance, confirming you have the ingredients, and cooking time. One of the best suggestions I have utilized is to make sure you use what you already have within your pantry. Food does not last forever, make sure you are using your items in a timely manner.
Planning, and sticking with it, will help you to save money. Not only will less food go to waste if you use it in a timely manner, but cooking at home is cheaper than eating out. Which brings me to the next point.
Quit Eating Out
This one is hard. Hi, my name is Sara and I like eating out. (Crowd responds: Hi Sara.)
Truly, my family does not overspend. We are regular budgeters, since staying home fulltime I have become a regular meal planner, among other things to help keep costs down. But our one family splurge was eating out. We would eat out if we had a free night. We would eat out if we were on our way home from church. We would eat out if we were in a rush.
At the start of this year, I suggested to my husband that we minimize our eating out to once a month as a family and use gift cards that we have piled up to have lunch or dinner out once a month as well. We do allow grace, this month we had two planned events we could not get around. All the money we do not use, that we typically would, goes to a large purchase item we are saving for. Even halfway through the first month we began to see a difference.
Cut out or cut down your eating out, you will see the savings add up.
This suggestion just made a few of you cringe. Many people throw out leftovers. Why? If you eat out regularly during your lunch hour, substitute your leftovers (you will have them if you are meal planning). Hard truth, if you say you do not like leftovers, maybe attempt to learn how to cook better. By cooking at home more you will start to see improvement. Watch the cooking network, check out blogs on cooking tips or ask for help. Simple insight can go a long way.
Another suggestion if you refuse to eat leftovers, alter your recipes. If you adjust the recipes so it does not yield leftovers, you will still be saving money.
We have a leftover night almost once a week for dinner. Essentially for dinner, we eat only leftovers to clean out the fridge. It is wonderful on busy nights! Easy meal night, everyone eats what they want and minimal cleanup, not to mention you are not wasting money or food.
Stop Buying Convenience Items
There are some food items that we have been sold as better or more convenient. However, they cost more money. Example: Baby Carrots. Everyone uses them for veggie trays, snacking or cooking. It is more expensive to buy baby carrots then it does to buy a five-pound bag of whole carrots. It will take a few minutes to peel a carrot. Now, before you start with the “I do not have the time.” May I remind you that our goal is to cut back in food costs. That might require some meal prepping. Which means you can prep carrots for the week.
A basic rule of thumb, the more processed food is, the more expensive it will be because each process adds cost. Instead of buying these items, use scratch cooking. For a family of four or higher, scratch cooking is significantly cheaper and getting quick convenience items.
Consider Your Supplier
I am a huge pusher of farmers markets (Supporting Farmers Markets). So often, if you buy your items from the local providers, you can get more for a much cheaper price. In some cases, they give you a discount if you buy a certain quantity (example: a bushel or a peck of fruit).
It is worth taking the time to buy items from a weekly market that can allow you to shop suppliers, but save the mark up of the grocery store chains. You also can buy items that are in season, which can be a savings as well.
Caution: I am not a pusher of running to several stores to get the sales. You can waste gas money and time doing that. While considering the supplier is important, you should not run to far to do so. Farmers Markets give you the option of multiple suppliers in one area. Typically, buying directly from the supplier is cheaper.
Eat in Season
This one may have people scratching their heads. Honestly, eating food that is in season can change how much money you spend. If you are eating strawberries in December, in Western Pennsylvania, the cost is going to be much higher than early June. Why? It would be a miracle to find a strawberry naturally growing in this area in December.
When eating out of season, fruits and vegetables must be shipped further, packaged to endure the trip and that all takes more handling by various people along the way. Each time the item is touched, it accumulates more money to its cost.
Eating food that is in season locally allows it to come from a much shorter distance, plus more suppliers will be competing at that time, lowering the overall cost. Do a little research to understand your area and what food is available during each season.
Have a Garden
One of the best ways to eat in season and save cost on food is to have a garden! Even if your garden is three containers: one herb, a tomato plant, and a cucumber plant. Gardening can help cut your food cost.
Now, you do need to use common sense. Gardening is a wonderful way to grow your own food. But if you are not careful you can easily spend more money than necessary and that will defeat your purpose. Fruits, vegetables, and herbs, especially organic, can run a premium at the grocery store. Having a garden to alleviate that cost can be a huge food cost savings.
If you are new to gardening, I highly recommend that you stop and check out my previous blog post (6 Yearly Gardening Questions to Ask Yourself) to help you get started.
Have a Potluck
Getting together with friends? No, problem! Have a potluck! Everyone brings a dish, saving everyone money. Before you start to say that this is cheap, that is part of the point. To save on your overall food budget, consider doing potlucks with your friends. It makes the plans of gatherings not all fall to one person. Which is a wonderful way to introduce new recipes, which in turn can be used on your meal planning to help keep it interesting.
All these options are simple ways to cut your costs. There are many more options that are not mentioned, including clipping coupons, certain food app savings, meatless dinner nights and buying in bulk. Get creative with cutting your food costs.
Food costs do not look to be dropping. Do not fret. While taking on all of the suggestions listed may overwhelm you, taking on even a few can really help keep your overall food costs in check. As individuals, we cannot control inflation, supply issues or company prices.
We can control how we spend our time and money. Which means, if we spend a little bit more time planning, preparing, and cooking, you can enjoy many of your favorite meals and time with your friends with not breaking your food budget.