While remaining safe at home during quarantine, you may have noticed that it's easier to save in some areas of your budget, and harder in other areas, like your food budget.
I always referred to my food budget as the “silent killer” of budgeting. It's a necessity that quickly turns into unnecessary spending. From spending on splurge items like soda to eating out, things can quickly deplete your food budget.
During this time, I discovered some helpful tips that not only helped me keep food costs down but also turned into habits that I am implementing in the future.
From eating out to staying in: Saving money on food
When I first started budgeting, I was spending $800 every month on food for a family of two. During that time, what I was spending on groceries and restaurants was perfectly fine, but I knew it could be better, so I started looking for ways to cut money.
When you budget, you know how much money you spend on food at the grocery store and in restaurants. I have been decreasing my food budget in several ways:
- Eating out/ordering take-out less
- Meal planning (check out $5 Meal Plan)
- Creating recipes based on what I have on hand
- Buying more generic and brand products
- Using cash back apps like Ibotta and Checkout 51
- Learning to bake from scratch
While safe at home, we went a long stretch without being able to eat out at restaurants. These restaurants implemented plans so they could deliver and offer carry-out meals. I used the stay-at-home orders as an opportunity to eat out less and do more cooking at home. I rarely went outdoors, except to do my grocery runs. It was the perfect opportunity to embrace my kitchen, learn new recipes, and to find new motivation for cooking at home.
Doing something now to save for later.
Before I tell you how I am cutting my grocery spending, I have to confess a recent grocery run. If you saw my post about closing out my May budget or my video about my $585 grocery haul, you already know I ended up overspending on groceries. The bottom line was I did not have the money in the budget. I knew I had to do something drastic.
The reason I spent so much was that I didn't realize we were practically out of meat. I had some chicken and some burgers in the freezer, but that was it. We have a deep freezer, and we thoroughly cleaned it out. With moving into the new house and the stay-at-home orders, it slipped my mind we were running out of meat.
I decided to make a Costco run. About every three months, we do this, and I know it will be expensive every time. Usually, I prepare for this adventure in advance, but I didn't this time. I ended up using my clothing sinking fund that I had set aside. I realized I didn't need any new clothes, so I decided to repurpose that cash for something I needed: food. It was also a perfect time to re-implement my saving strategy for big grocery hauls – a sinking fund.
Preparing ahead and saving a little every month for the times you need to buy in bulk will save you in the future.
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Buy in bulk when it makes sense.
I don’t shop at Costco often because, as a family of three, it does not always save money to buy a lot of things in bulk. Too much ends up going bad before we can eat it all. But, I can find good deals on family packs of beef, chicken, and pork – and they freeze well.
On this grocery haul, I ended up spending $495 at Costco and another $90 at Walmart. Even though I blew my grocery budget, the money spent on food on this trip will carry over into the next month. So, I will eventually save money in food costs in the future by using bulks items I purchased in previous months.
I found some good deals on meat (10 pounds of chicken breasts; a 10-pound box of quarter-pound burgers; pork chops; chicken thighs; whole chickens; and chuck roasts). The grocery haul allowed us to fill our empty freezer.
You can save money on groceries if you have ample freezer space when you find good deals on meat. You can buy in bulk and break down the meat into smaller packages. This will keep you from having to thaw out and use an entire pack.
Decrease your food budget by meal planning.
Sundays are meal-planning days at my house. I create my weekly meal plans based on what I have in my pantry, my fridge, and my freezer. I have been able to cut my food budget in half (most of the time!) with meal planning.
During the process, I take an inventory of what I have. I focus on what meat I have available. Protein is usually the most expensive ingredient on the list, so if you can use what meat you have, then you can cut down on groceries.
When I figure out the meat and other staples I have in the house, I hop online to look for recipes. Pinterest is a good site, along with Once A Month Meals. I print out the recipes, review the ingredients, and see what I need at the grocery store and make a list.
When I look for recipes, I look for ones that have a total time of 30 minutes or less (this includes prep time and cooking time) because I am a single mom and business owner. Also, I want recipes that are more than four servings. This allows us to have leftovers throughout the week. Twice a week, my meal plan includes nights where we have leftovers for dinner.
Prepare from scratch.
When I shared the YouTube video about my pantry organization, it was evident I am on a baking journey. That is because I am learning how to bake a lot of goodies. I am baking bread, making biscuits, and even making donuts!
Preparing your meals and baked goods from scratch is an excellent way to save money. What you would spend $25 on at a steakhouse, you can make at home for around $6 or $7. You can make a pizza that you would typically spend $10 on, for just a few dollars.
When you cook from scratch, not only are you saving money, but you are learning new skills and cooking techniques. Preparing meals from scratch is good for the pocketbook, your health, and mindset, too. You will feel a sense of accomplishment. You can also use that time in the kitchen as an opportunity to teach your children about cooking.
How are you saving on food costs during the quarantine?
These are just some of the ways I am cutting back on food costs during the quarantine. Before any grocery trip, I make sure to meal plan. And by meal plan, I mean take a quick inventory of everything I have in my fridge, freezer, and pantry and base my meals off of that.
Be sure to check out the Free Resource Library to access the free fridge, pantry, and freezer inventory printables I use.