One of the biggest ways that we save money in our family is by minimizing our food costs. I used to have no qualms dropping a lot of money on food without thinking about it, but when I totaled up my food receipts and realized that close to $1,000 a month was going away in food, I realized something needed to change. Here are eight things I’ve done to cut down on food costs over the last year, reducing a budget of $1,000 a month primarily for my own food to about $250 a month for a family of four.
I primarily buy unprocessed foods. Compared to processed foods, unprocessed foods are expensive. The more basic the ingredient, the less expensive it is almost every time.
I committed myself to preparing my food at home from basic ingredients. For most people, the barrier here is just knowledge and practice. Start by getting a good instructional book for cooking, then stock your kitchen with appropriate staples and appropriate equipment.
I buy produce that’s in season. Usually, the produce on sale is the produce that’s in season. I stock up on this stuff because the cost per pound is usually incredible. It might mean a lot of broccoli dishes, but I also often freeze some for use later on.
I own a deep freezer. For us, the purchase of a deep freezer was one of the most cost effective things we’ve ever done. We store all kinds of things in here, from chopped up produce to meals prepared in advance to foods bought in bulk.
I utilize the grocery list. I started compiling a grocery list faithfully every week before going to the store and when I’m in the store, I adamantly oppose buying things not on the list. I usually use Remember the Milk for this.
I have a garden. A small vegetable garden is incredibly valuable in terms of reducing your food bill. We primarily focus on staples that we’ll eat, like tomatoes and onions. We eat them like crazy while they’re in season and also save and store them for later, both by freezing and canning.
I used a price book to determine which store to shop at. Using this book showed me that, for the things I buy, I’m better off choosing one particular store over the rest of them.
I buy foods in bulk. Many of my food purchases are bulk purchases because the cost per unit is much cheaper. Multi-packs of items we use frequently are wonderful – they’re much cheaper per unit and the remainder can go into storage until we need it. Our storage area is practically a small grocery store at this point – we run in there and grab what we need. We also buy meat in bulk and freeze it if we can get a good deal (and we often can if we deal directly with the local farmers).
Above all, the real key is to not buy on impulse and prepare your own food. If you can master that rule of thumb, your food bill will go way down.