Tips on Cutting Food Costs
Updated: Dec 14, 2022
Between inflation, labor shortages and all sorts of other factors, it’s no secret food prices have significantly increased. Food, either from the grocery store, eating out, or take out, has always been a decent portion of people’s budget, but now it’s getting even larger. To help, here are some top tips on controlling food spending:
Learn where you spend your money
Before you can truly solve a problem, you have to really assess it. Where does all your food money go? What items are really adding up? Maybe you buy a lot of prepared foods instead of buying unprocessed foods to prepare from scratch. Maybe you find good deals at the grocery store, but then blow a lot of money eating out. Consider tracking your spending using an app, spreadsheet or good old-fashioned pen and paper. Once you zone in on 1 to 3 issues, focus on those.
Do less eating out, take-out and delivery
Buying food at the grocery store, rather than having someone else prepare food for you, is going to be less expensive. If you’re having food delivered, that is also adding an exorbitant expense. Spending less on Instacart, Uber Eats and Grub Hub is going to help you stretch your food budget much, much further!
Buy in bulk
Buying in bulk costs more up front, but generally saves you money in the long run. Simply choose the larger bags of frozen peas.
When looking at the price tag on the shelf, there’s usually a cost per unit price as well. For example, if you are buying frozen vegetables, the unit price may say something like $0.07/oz or $1.12/lb. This is a great way to compare the larger bag to the smaller one or even the store brand to the national brand, to double check this switch is saving you money.
The most expensive part of a balanced meal is most often the protein; such as meat, poultry and fish. Therefore, this is a great place to focus on when thinking about trimming down your grocery bill.
Think about utilizing more vegetarian sources of protein as they are generally much less expensive. Beans, peanut butter, nuts and seeds are typically pretty affordable. Eggs have gone up in price, but are still less expensive than red meat, for example. Try a meatless dinner once a week to offset your protein costs.
Don’t be brand loyal
If you refuse to buy store brand items, you’re definitely going to spend more. Did you know that store brand and private label products are often produced by the same manufacturer? Crazy, right? If there are some products that you just NEED the name brand, that’s fine, but the more you switch the more you save. An exception may be if the name brand is on sale and you have a coupon. Be sure to do the math, though!
Don’t pay for convenience
Many grocery stores now carry pre-prepared convenience foods like washed and sliced vegetables, pre-portioned fruits, marinated meats, etc. If you’re looking to save time rather than money, these are great options. However, these conveniences are going to cost you. If saving money is more important to you, skip all of these:
Washed and sliced fruit
Washed and sliced vegetables
Pre-made vegetable trays
Pre-made salads and salad kits
Individual size fruit cups, juice containers, applesauce pouches, oatmeal cups, etc.
Breaded fish or meat
Be smart with produce
Buy fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season and only buy as much as you’ll eat before they go bad. If you know you’re going to be busy for the next several days, buying fresh vegetables that need to be washed, cut and prepared may not be the best choice for that week.
Freeze things that are on the verge of going bad. If your bananas are turning too brown, peel and freeze them! Frozen bananas can be used for smoothies, protein drinks, banana bread and other recipes. Frozen vegetables can be thrown into omelets and stir-fries.
Consider buying more frozen fruits and vegetables or even canned foods. Frozen fruits and vegetables generally don’t have any added sugar or salt. If buying canned foods, make sure fruits are packed in juice, not syrup, and try to buy no salt added canned vegetables when that’s an option.
Throwing food in the garbage is like throwing cash in the garbage! No matter how many sales you find or coupons you use, if you end up throwing out food, you’re not saving money. Reducing food waste can make a big difference when it comes to your grocery budget, and it helps the environment as well.
Challenge yourself to work with what you already have in the house. It’s easy to look in the fridge and say “there’s nothing to eat,” when there are plenty of things that can come together to make a meal. Before heading to the grocery store, look at what you already have to avoid buying repeats of things. For example, if you already have fresh green beans and cauliflower in the fridge, don’t buy a ton of other vegetables that trip.
Waste less by not letting things expire. A great way to keep on top of this is a method called FIFO, which stands for first in first out. It’s a principal used in retail, food service and accounting but can be used in your kitchen and pantry as well. Pull out everything from your pantry and check all the expiration dates. Throw out everything that’s expired. When putting everything back, put them in chronological order so the first thing to expire is in front and the last to expire is in back. Feel free to do this with your fridge and freezer as well!
Make sure eating fresh foods is a focus as they go bad much faster than canned and frozen. Consider making some house rules if need be:
No take out when the fridge is full
Only 2 boxes of cereal (or other foods you end up throwing out somewhat regularly) are allowed to be opened at one time
Sometimes, no matter how many sales you chase, or how many coupons you clip, it seems impossible to make ends meet and still buy an adequate amount of food to feed the whole household. Luckily, help is available!
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP for short, previously known as “food stamps,” is a government assistance program designed to help individuals and families stay healthy by being able to purchase nutritious foods. For information on income eligibility requirements for New York State, go to: https://www.ny.gov/services/apply-snap.
WIC, which is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, is a program for pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women, as well as infants and children under the age of 5. They provide eWIC cards to use at the store to buy healthy foods. They also provide breastfeeding support and infant formula. To see if you meet income eligibility in New York State, click here: https://www.wicstrong.com/about/eligibility/.