Trimming the Fat in your Food Budget

Everyone has to eat, and the cost of that food consumes a big piece of most people’s paychecks. According to a USDA Economic Research Service report, Americans spend about 10% of their disposable personal income on food, with more and more of that money going for “Away from home” food purchases. For anyone looking to increase their savings, coming up with ways to make that food budget stretch farther just makes sense. Here are some tips on how to keep your food cost down and food waste low by planning out your weekly meals.

Build a Budget

With food costs eating away at about 10% of disposable income, having a plan for where that money is going only makes sense. And while food is a necessity, it is very easy to lose track of that and let your preferences and tastes run away with you, especially during a hectic work week. The best way to prevent this is to create and stick to a budget.

In planning your budget, it is important to not lose track of the big picture.  Even though eating Ramen at every meal is cost effective, investing a bit more into your meals to maintain a healthy lifestyle is a much more practical way to approach things. Be realistic, and be sure to designate within your food budget how much should be allocated for dining out and entertainment and how much should be used for groceries and purchasing items to be prepared at home. 


Shop Smart 

Planning one trip to the grocery store a week will save you time and money. Making a meal plan and a grocery list can prevent impulse buying at the store. Check the grocery stores in your area for sales, coupons, and specials. Going to different stores for their sales at different times of the year can save you money. Also never go to the grocery store on an empty stomach. Hunger can cause impulse buying as well.


Prep More to Save Cash

Often it’s more cost effective to buy unprepared items. For example, precut fruit is much more expensive than buying whole fruit and prepping it yourself. This is the same with veggies, meats, and side dishes such as potato salads, pasta salads, and rice dishes. Adding a few minutes to your meal prep work could save you significant cash in the long run.


Packing Perfection

Grabbing a quick lunch can be convenient but it can also be costly.  If you knocked it out of the park with dinner the night before, taking leftovers for lunch is a great way to not only save on costs but eliminate waste from the night before as well. Assembling your own sandwiches and bringing your own snacks can cut down your weekly spending dramatically. Also, bringing your own coffee to work in the morning is an easy way start to saving. In one month dropping that $5.00 daily latte puts $100 back in your pocket.


Try “Planned-Overs” instead of “Leftovers”

To prevent waste, utilize your leftovers in a creative way. Here are a few examples of how to plan two meals in one.

  • Use a big pot of spaghetti sauce for meatballs or sausage over pasta and then for chicken or eggplant parm.
  • Put chili over rice, noodles, or a baked potato. Then use the chili in a casserole the next.
  • Use taco meat for tacos and the next night use the meat over salad.
  • Enjoy roast chicken one night, use the meaty carcass to make chicken noodle soup, and use leftover meat and chicken stock to make a chicken pot pie.


Your Freezer is Your Friend

Buying meat in bulk can really cut down on your grocery bill, provided that you have the space to store it. If you want to freeze your meat before you prepare it, you can divide your meat into meal-sized portions. When you are ready to prepare your meal, you take out a bag and cook away. If a recipe does yield a large amount of food, you can portion out your leftovers in small meal-sized containers. Then when you unfreeze them, you will have a great meal on demand.


Order Smart When Dining Out

Going out can be great fun. Take advantage of eating out by ordering things you can’t make at home easily. Make it a fun social occasion so the focus is not only the meal but the experience. Also, nothing adds to your tab like alcohol. Choose a place to go during happy hour, order the drink on special, or go somewhere BYOB to cut drink costs. Try to plan how often you go out and also look at the menu ahead of time so you can account for the cost in your weekly budget.


There are several ways to save on your food bill. With small adjustments, a little planning time, meal prep time, and using leftovers, you can stick to your budget and work on achieving your long-term financial goals.