Doesn't the title of this post read straight off the cover of a magazine?
The topic of food budgets has come up often as of late in conversations. Hence, at the risk of repeating information you already know (and that I may have already written), I decided to do a top ten list of tips for eating well on a budget. And...I have a post in the works on the cost of actual recipes, and what we spend on food for a week.
1. Shop sales-I keep an eye out for items that we buy on a regular basis and pick up a few extra to keep on hand for when we need them.
2. Buy in bulk- This only saves you money if it is cheaper to buy it in bulk, or it keeps you out of the grocery store and away from impulse purchases, which leads us to number three...
3. Track prices- Yes, I'm serious. It's not as hard as you think. It can be as easy as mentally noting that asparagus was $4.99 last week and now it's $1.99, or if you're a little AR like me, it can be a spreadsheet with columns for price, quantity, price per ounce, purchase date, estimated life, actual life, cost per month, and source. Or you could fall sanely somewhere in between.
4. Buy produce in season- Don't have a clue what's in season? Look for what produce is at a good price at your supermarket (It actually is most likely in season elsewhere, and not in your actual state.). Buy from your farmer's market that only allows local farmers. (You can sometimes find farmers that use more natural methods, but aren't necessarily certified organic.) Grow it yourself. I just calculated the cost of our homegrown lettuce at between 2 and 4 cents a serving! And it tastes better.
5. Steer clear of prepackaged food- You are paying an arm and a leg for someone else to cut up those veggies or make cookie dough for you. I know sometimes you're shorter on time that cash, but this post is about saving the moolah.
6. Avoid junk food- Junk food comes by its name honestly. There is little to no nutritional value in chips and the like, which means you're still hungry afterwards. You might as well just eat the cash you'd spend on the Ruffles and call it a day.
7. Choose water- It's virtually free (from your tap) and oh-so-good-for-you. Sodas belong in the junk food category. Even juices are not as good for your body as eating the actual fruit, and they cost a pretty penny.
8. Substitute, substitute, substitute- So the recipe calls for cauliflower, but you've got broccoli. Chance are, unless it's the essential ingredient of the recipe, you can safely make the substitution. The next time you're short on an ingredient, hit up Google to see if you have a substitute on hand instead of jumping in the car and save yourself both the grocery and the gas money.
9. Choose recipes wisely In line with number four and number eight, choose recipes without crazy of-the-wall ingredients and keep in mind the season. January and February are not the ideal time to make a fresh heirloom tomato basil pasta when tomatoes are so-so and basil is in a tiny little container for $4 a pop. Not only will your pocket book thank you, your taste buds will, too.
10. Make cuts in other areas Maybe you don't want to hear this, but a lot of us could use a good refresher on needs versus wants. Healthy food for your body is a need. Designer clothes, the coolest car, and even cable TV *gasp* are wants. Am I saying you have to live like a pauper to eat healthy food? No. Do I realize that some of you, dear readers, have cut everywhere you know to cut and still are scrimping pennies? Yes, that is part of my motivation in writing this post. However, it seems that many of us, by looking at our spending habits, place a higher importance on things that look good on the outside, than what goes inside our body. I believe that eventually we pay the price for these choices.
One final note, our family buys produce through a coop from a local farmer, and our meat and dairy through local farmers who use humane and healthy practices in raising their animals. However, you don't have to be all on board with organics or the like to make healthier choices in your eating habits. The above tips are easily applied to conventional items at the grocery store.