Money is complicated to talk about. Everyone has some sort of insecurity related to money, whether it’s having enough of it, worrying about affording school, or concerns about where your next meal is coming from. Whether you’ve decided you just want to spend less on eating out, or you’ve found yourself in a tight financial position, here are a few ways to reduce how much you spend on food each week and efficiently use what you buy.
- Meal Planning
Meal planning sounds like a lot of work, but it’s actually the easiest way to eat out less and save more money. By coordinating meals, you can prevent food waste which means you don’t end up literally throwing away your money. When looking at recipes as you plan, it’s important to consider if it uses ingredients you would be willing to put in another recipe. It’s also important to not be afraid to alter a recipe, adding ingredients you love or removing ingredients you dislike. I regularly add more vegetables (especially seasonal swaps) to recipes to increase my nutrient intake regardless of what a recipe recommends. Meal planning also means I can have more nutrient-packed snacks to grab rather than reaching for a sugar-packed granola bar.
- Buy Seasonal
Buying food that is in season is the best way to save money; there will be more sales on these foods because items are in abundance. Although most people think exclusively of produce when buying seasonal, seafood and meat have specific seasons as well. Also, by buying seasonally, it ensures the optimal nutritional value of the food you consume. It’s the biggest bang for your buck in the long run, plus you’re more likely to be supporting local farming by buying seasonally to your state. There are plenty of resources, even an app, that help you check what produce is in season in your state.
- Grocery Apps and Delivery
Most stores have switched to digital coupons which is great for the environment, but it makes searching for coupons and finding the best deal a little trickier. However, grocery store apps may offer specialized prices and discounts on your purchases. If you get groceries delivered (and even if you don’t usually), make sure you check if there are any promotions for ordering. One of the best deals I got with delivery was $20 off of 4 orders with free delivery, which was $20 of extra groceries I could get for two months. Some even offer specials if you order ahead and pick up your groceries from the store. Don’t be afraid of considering these options when shopping.
- Check the Clearance Shelves
When shopping in the store, always be sure to check the clearance shelf. Although items may be close to expiration, or a can may be dented, food on a clearance shelf is usually comprised of dry goods that are shelf stable. You can save big money by checking the clearance shelf. The BEST clearance shelf to check is at Sprouts, located at the back of the store by the produce section. Most everything is marked down to $0.99 and there’s usually multiples of everything. I’ve bought a dozen cans of quality canned salmon that were usually priced around $4.99.
- Save Your Scraps
If you’re using fresh vegetables over frozen, be sure to save any trimmings or scraps you have. You can easily use those to make a vegetable broth instead of buying it. When you peel an onion, save the dry skin. Keep the ends (and center) of celery and carrot tops and peels. Keep a gallon freezer Ziploc (or two) in your freezer to drop in your scraps as you prep and cook. Once you’ve collected enough, throw those scraps in a pot with some water and add seasoning to simmer all day while you work on homework (or you can use a slow cooker). Using a slotted spoon, you can remove all those pieces when they’re done releasing all their flavor and use some tupperware or glass jars to store your broth in the fridge.
- Get Used to Leftovers
I have family members that refuse to eat leftovers and it upsets me that they’re wasting food and throwing away their money. As someone who struggles financially , seeing perfectly good food get thrown away is really upsetting. . I always think about the times I have had to go hungry. When cooking at home, leftovers are a part of the process. Viewing leftovers as not suitable for consumption because they’ve been in the fridge for a day or two is wasting A LOT of money. Although it can be tough to wrap your head around (it took me awhile too), it is crucial to become accustomed to eating leftovers in order to save money and reduce food waste. If congealed fat on top of your leftovers is the main problem, consider switching to cooking without meat at home or using leaner cuts.
- Meal Prep
Before you roll your eyes, when I say meal prep I don’t necessarily mean pre-packing a week’s worth of meals into your fridge in neatly stacked plastic containers. I’m personally not a fan of having the same thing to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, however, I am a fan of making cooking as easy as possible. For me, meal prepping means prepping my ingredients beforehand to make throwing things together easy, especially if I plan to use my slow cooker. I do use neatly stacking plastic containers to better portion out my leftovers after cooking, and it also makes for a quick meal when I’m more concerned with studying or writing a paper. Even faster than Postmates or going out to eat.
- Make Your Own Coffee
Instead of stopping by Starbucks on your way to class, consider making your own coffee. Whether you use a Keurig, coffee pot, or analogue pour over, switching to making your own coffee saves money. A bag of coffee beans/grounds can be roughly the same price as a crafted espresso beverage from a coffee shop. And if your primary concern is not wanting to worry about making coffee in the morning, brew your coffee ahead of time to keep in a carafe in the fridge for iced coffee. Although it never is quite the same, you can enjoy each sip more knowing you’re saving money by making it yourself.
It takes time to implement changes, especially changes to financial habits. Making smaller incremental changes over time is the best way to make long-term sustainable changes. Making these changes ultimately makes it less stressful to spontaneously eat out or grab a drink with friends. It also makes it easier to make healthier food choices which can improve energy, concentration, and overall health. Plus saving some money while doing so, never hurts!