Eating On A Budget

Food is almost always going to be one of the bigger expenses in your budget, especially if you have a large family to feed. This guide will teach you how to manage your food budget and make your dollar go further.

Budgeting

Knowledge is power. If you don’t know how much you’re spending on food, it will be difficult to make savings. Save all of your receipts for a month to give you an idea of your total, including any spur-of-the-moment decisions to eat out instead of cooking. Add some extra to the total: your food costs can vary month to month depending on how good the available deals are, and you don’t want to be caught by surprise. This is also why you shouldn’t use the “envelope of cash” approach to budgeting with food: costs can vary, and you can’t get away with not eating.

Once you have your budget, keep track of your spending throughout the month to see if you’re on target to meet it. If not, think about why not, and discuss the situation with other members of your household.

Shopping and Planning

Plan your meals for the week. A plan will focus your grocery shopping and reduce impulse buys both at the store and during the week. Impulse buying, even of food on sale, can really ruin your food budget. Go into the store knowing exactly what you’re going to buy, and buy only what’s on your list. When you’re planning, use grocery store flyers to find out what’s on sale and aim for that. Look online for coupons as well. If your schedule allows it, try to get to the store close to closing time. Grocery stores will typically reduce the prices of perishable items towards the end of the day to clear them. Just remember that you won’t be the only person doing this, so move quickly and try to find out exactly when your local store gets out the clearance stickers.

Where possible, buy in bulk, either by loading up your cart during a good sale or by shopping at a bulk food retailer. Canned or dry foods like rice, pasta, or beans will keep for a long time, so you can buy a large amount at once and then work through it for months.

Budget-Friendly Choices

When it comes to what exactly to buy, there are a few ways to cut your food budget. First, try to eat seasonally. Ever noticed how cheap corn gets during the summer? Produce is often cheaper when it was grown locally, so check out your local farmers’ market. Find out what foods are in season in your province, and look for them on shelves.

Beyond that, there are some reductions that you can make to save money. Desserts, drinks, and meat tend to be high-priced items that you can cut back on. Desserts are more of a luxury than an essential: they can be cut out entirely without really affecting your nutrition, but any reduction will save you money. Almost any drink is the same. Water out of the tap is so much cheaper than anything you’ll find in a grocery store, so any spending on soft drinks or fruit juice should be looked at very carefully. If you want to continue drinking fruit juice, it can be diluted with water to make each bottle go further.

Meat is also a big-ticket item. Going vegetarian isn’t necessary, but you can cut your food budget significantly by reducing your meat consumption. Try to bulk out meaty meals with extra vegetables or beans.

Cooking

Picture the scene: it’s late, you’ve just got home from a long day at work, you’re tired, and there’s nothing in the refrigerator except raw ingredients. Do you cook, or do you flop down in front of the television and order a pizza? There’s a simple way to avoid this dilemma. When you cook, make some extra to refrigerate for situations like this. Impulse buying ruins your budget, so make it easy to avoid impulse buys. Once a week (the day before your big weekly grocery shopping trip is a good time), have leftovers for dinner to clear out the extra portions you cooked.

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