I felt like we were falling into a money hole when we first got married. Suddenly everything seemed so expensive ALL THE TIME. We couldn’t get out of the grocery store for less than $80 and for the two of us to eat out was at least $40. That $80 was at Wal-Mart and that $40 was a restaurant the quality of On the Border – nothing was super fancy. When we started to look scrupulously at our budget, it became very clear that a lot of our dollars were going to food. We had to change what we were doing. Coupons helped a lot with that and becoming more conscious of what we actually needed was the big one. We use every single thing we buy at the grocery store until it’s gone. I hate throwing away food that went bad in our fridge because we didn’t eat it quick enough or I was too lazy to take my lunch to work that week.
Here are some tips to help make your food dollars stretch.
Left overs: You just cooked a great meal! … and then you threw the rest of it out. My husband and I used to do this all the time when we first got married! We would think “this is great, but it won’t be good reheated”. As long as your meal wasn’t all french fries or broccoli, the chances are it will be just fine reheated in the microwave the next day for lunch. If the microwave isn’t your thing, heat up your leftovers for dinner the next day either in the oven or on the stove. Whenever we eat out, I ALWAYS take my leftovers home. I paid good money for that! I will NOT let good food be thrown in the trash at the restaurant. I worked at a pizza place and the amount of food we threw away when clearing tables was ridiculous and super wasteful. Pizza is the best reheated (or cold… for breakfast).
Snacks and drinks: I used to get a big fountain drink every time I went to get gas. I don’t think that there was ever an exception to this. I pumped my gas and then went inside the gas station to get a drink and sometimes a snack. I only fill up my gas tank 2-3 times a month but that $3-5 each time added up. My husband did the same thing! Except he fills up much more regularly. We are talking $40 combined added into our expenses!! It was getting out of control. I now have a reusable water bottle ready to go in the fridge so I don’t make the excuse of “I was thirsty!” to go inside and get a drink. I now avoid the vending machines at work too. If I didn’t pack a snack for the day, I don’t need one after all. While we are cleaning up after dinner, I pack my lunch for the next day and I pack snacks for myself and my husband. Lately, it has just been fruit but I also put nuts into small containers for the both of us.
Coffee: It doesn’t matter what your go-to coffee shop is, whether it’s Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, or just the gas station down the street – that cup of joe is costing you big time. We are big coffee drinkers at my house so we use our drip coffee pot every day. We got our coffee maker as a wedding present 4 years ago and it still works like a charm. I spend about $3.50 on a bag of the good coffee at Target (after coupons of course) and add extras like dairy-free creamer or hot cocoa mix to spice it up. $3.50 is about what you spend on your mocha cappuccino at the coffee shop. Can you imagine your savings over a month if you stopped your 3 times a week Starbucks trips? It’s about $45. Invest in a good coffee pot and a travel mug for each coffee drinker. It’s far less tempting to drive through the coffee shop when you smell coffee brewing in your house in the morning and have a travel mug ready to go.
Eating out: We don’t have too many options here in our suburb that are vegan. But we sure do love our Mexican food! The portions at most Mexican restaurants are ridiculous. They are HUGE! Most big chain restaurants (think Olive Garden, On the Border, Red Robin, etc.) have gigantic portion sizes. My husband and I always split veggie fajitas when we go out to a sit-down restaurant. It is more than enough for the both of us especially when they have complementary chips and salsa. We ask for more tortillas (since they expect one person to eat that whole thing in one sitting!) and they always bring them to us free of charge. We have also found a sub shop that does “$3 Veggie Sub Thursdays”. They are THE BEST. It is always great to find a local restaurant that does daily specially like that. There are a bunch of places that have great specials for kids when their parent buys an entree. It is always a good idea to go to an eatery’s website to look at their specials before you make a decision.
Make a list: You are like the Santa Claus of food to your family. You come home several times a week bearing the gift of grocery. But it really sucks when you have to immediately go back to the store because you forgot to get ingredients for tonight’s dinner. I always have a list. Always. Because I am very forgetful once I get to the store. I get overwhelmed by all the shiney sale stickers and pretty produce. Every time that I don’t have list, I spend at least $10-$20 more than I would have with one. Sometimes, I spend more money and don’t even get a single thing I went in there for. If I am at work and need to shop on my way home, I make a list and email it to myself that way I can see it on my phone and don’t have a crumpled up sticky note in the bottom of my purse. No joke, I probably have five down there.
Meal plan: I have said before how important this is. This is the main trick that keeps us on budget. If you have a meal plan, you have a list of what you need at the store. You have probably already looked in your pantry and fridge too to see what you already have. The hardest part is implementing it on a rough day. There have been days where I come home from work and don’t want to do a single thing other than close my eyes but I still cook because the thought of wasting food eats away at me. Making a meal plan will help you feel more organized too.
I hope that these tips have helped you redirect some of your food dollars back into your budget. 🙂