6 Tips to Save Money on Food

The following is a post from staff writer Crystal at Budgeting in the Fun Stuff, where she writes about finding the balance between paying your bills, saving for your future, and budgeting for the fun stuff along the way.

A little more than a year ago, my husband and I realized we were spending $600 or more a month on food. There are only two of us, so frankly, we kind of bugged out.

Here are the ways we’ve been able to cut back to $400 or less on food most months:

1. Cut Back on Restaurants

Our biggest food expenses were restaurants and fast food. Each visit to a restaurant with wait staff ran us $15 to $30 a pop. My husband always bought the meals at fast food places, which hit us for another $6-$8 each time. Altogether we were spending more than $300 a month on eating out. In January 2010, we decided to cut back from 6-8 visits to restaurants each week for lunch and dinner to no more than two times per week total. That immediately saved us $150 or more every month.

2. Pack a Lunch

Since we weren’t grabbing lunch from restaurants anymore, we started packing our own. The key to brown bagging your lunch every day is to keep yourself interested and to avoid spending a ton to do that. My husband and I started enjoying our leftovers, making great sandwiches, and finding inexpensive and tasty frozen meals. My husband cannot get enough of Lean Cuisine Panini’s and we can stock up on them for less than $1.80 each when they go on special at Kroger or Wal-Mart.

3. Embrace Grocery Specials

When I see boneless, skinless chicken breasts on sell for less than $2 a pound, I stock up our deep freezer. I also get excited when I can find yummy steak for less than $2.75 a pound. And yes, it may be unhealthy, but I also buy at least 5 Digiornos any time I can find them for less than $5 each since their Three Meat Rising Crust pizza is our absolute favorite and makes for a fun Friday evening. I’d suggest taking a good look at all your staples and stocking up when they go on special.

4. Buy Specific Things in Bulk

We have a Sam’s Club membership but have learned which items are a good deal. Buying 10 pounds of oranges when you are only going to eat 2 pounds is probably a bad idea. But being able to buy our favorite cereals and frozen vegetables at a 30%-40% discount by simply buying more has saved us at least $50 a month.

5. Value Menus

When we do grab fast food, we now take advantage of the value menus. It cut our bills from $6-$8 per meal to less than $3-$4 every time. That really adds up. By pretty much giving up large sizes of everything and sampling items like yogurt parfaits and side salads, we’ve cut back on our calorie intake too.

6. Coupons

I am not as excellent at couponing as a ton of people I’ve met while blogging, but I do cut out the ones that pertain to our normal purchases. I may only be saving $10-$15 a month, but that is $120-$180 a year that I can spend or save elsewhere.

Readers, What has helped you save money on food?

13 Responses to 6 Tips to Save Money on Food

  1. Meal planning is a key to saving money. We plan out all of our meals for the upcoming 7 days, usually going through our freezer, pantry, and the sale ad to give us our options. This will reduce the number of items you might buy needlessly as well as reduce extra trips to the grocery store where you’ll not only waste gas, but you’ll always be tempted to pick up a few extras.

    • Daniel says:

      @Money Beagle, I’m terrible at this, I am within walking distance from Trader Joe’s, so I typically go about twice a week. Huge waste of time and I’m always left not knowing that to make for dinner. Only 2 or 3 meals a week are planned, I need to make more lists!

    • @Money Beagle, we need to meal plan more too. We sometimes make a plan for the whole week, but most of the time we operate about 2 days in advance and that’s it…

    • Kim Diamond says:

      @Money Beagle, we have started to precook all our meals on a weekly basis and I am blown away by how much money we have saved. And also time!! What’s also great is that I get the kids involved in deciding on the weekly menu so it’s fun for all and at least they know what they getting for their meals during the week! :) Thanks for the post

  2. krantcents says:

    My wife and I pack a lunch every day. I selectively buy certain bulk items at Costco (chicken/steak), household items and OTC drugs. My wife has used menu planning for years and include at least one vegetarian meals a week.

  3. I agree with Beagle about menu planning. We try to figure out what we want to cook over the next week before going to the grocery store and then adjust accordingly. That’s the plan anyway. We probably do this 75% of the time in reality. Sometime we just go to the grocery store with no menu plan.

  4. Packing a lunch is a big money saver for me, when added up over time. It’s healthier too, in most cases.

    That said, there are times when I also look at things in terms of paying a bit more for healthy food at times, as it’s worth the investment – with the returns being potentially lower long-term health care costs.

  5. David says:

    Great tips. When shopping at the grocery store, be sure to watch the container sizes. Manufacturers don’t want to raise prices, so they are shrinking container sizes, sometimes as much as 20%, while charging the same prices.

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