This following is a guest post from Melanie Anderson, founder of Six on a Budget.
Recently, my family of six took a vacation to Italy and we paid cash for it.
It was magical.
But what does saving money on food have to do with eating well and vacationing internationally?
When we returned to the United States, we asked ourselves what it would take to repeat that level of memory-making.
When we looked over our budget, we realized our most wasteful spending was on food for our family.
That was good news and bad news.
Yes, food is an essential expense, so you can’t nix it like you can cut the cable bill.
The good news is food spending is a vastly alterable amount.
Since then, we’ve slashed our food bill and are eating better than ever. Shopping this way saves our family of six over $1,000 per month on food.
It also gives us peace of mind about our budget and allows us to plan some spectacular vacations. Here’s exactly how we changed what we were spending on food and how began eating even better than ever.
We Started Making Meals Based On What We Had
When preparing a meal we started asking ourselves what we have, not what are we in the mood for.
Unfortunately, the question “What are we in the mood for?” generally resulted in a $48 trip to a grocery store and resulted in one meal and a couple of snacks.
Now, asking “What do we have?” challenges us to get a little creative at times. We end up searching the pantry, freezer and refrigerator to make a meal, but we’re still able to eat good meals and save a ton of money in the process.
Skipping Lunches Out
Not eating out during the work week has saved us so much money. My husband now packs himself a lunch every day. In fact, he often packs from leftovers from dinner the night before.
My kids’ lunch boxes often include some version of last night’s dinner, too. Saving $8 or more on lunches each day really makes for substantial savings.
In fact, that’s $40 per week or $200 per month.
Find Out When Your Grocery Stores Put Food On Clearance
Want to save even more money? Call your grocery store. Ask them what time they put meat, produce and bakery items on clearance. Then, plan your shopping trips to match up with those times.
Typically, you’ll end up shopping two times per week, but you’ll save big on the clearance priced food. This one tip has slashed our grocery bill dramatically.
Some of the food may be getting close to its “Sell By” date, but this is not expired food or food that is questionable. In fact, much of the food put on clearance only has issues with the packaging being damaged on the outside.
This doesn’t cause any major risk to the food in most cases. It’s simply a cosmetic issue and it is no longer pretty enough to be placed on the shelves.
Damaged packaging and other clearance items give us the opportunity to try foods we wouldn’t otherwise try.
We’re loving the variety of foods we now incorporate into our meals. My whole family agrees this way of shopping never makes for dull or repetitive meals because cooking something new is now a regular occurrence.
Two tools my family uses to come up with meals from what we have at home are MyFridgeFood.com and SuperCook.com.
These sites allow you to input the ingredients you have available and generate recipes for your family to try based on those ingredients.
These Tips Save Us Both Time And Money
Our new method of grocery shopping hasn’t just saved us money. It also saves us time. Now, we can visit the grocery store twice a week. When it comes time to plan a meal, we no longer have to rush back to grab just a few more things.
Instead, we simply make do with what we have. We get creative when we need to and prepare delicious food. If you need to stretch what you have, adding simple ingredients like pasta, rice or bread can help stretch the food you have left.
We truly are eating better than ever. Home cooked meals can save so much money in the budget.
But why do some people inconvenience themselves? Why do they say no to lunch out at work each day? Why do they go home to prepare food for dinner each evening after a long day of work?
Each person has their own why. For us, our why was international travel as a family of six.
When I realized slashing our food expenses could allow us to travel internationally and make lifelong memories, we knew cutting our food bill was worth the sacrifice.
Saying no to the things I want now, like the convenience of a fast food meal out rather than packing along a lunch, is so much easier and even exciting because I know it will mean saying yes to what matters most to our family.
Want to Really Slash Your Spending? Come Up With Your Dream Spending List
If you want to be motivated to slash your food spending as we did, you should make a list with your family members of what each person most wants to save money for.
What would make cutting food spending be worth it to each of you?
Dreaming together can increase enthusiasm and discipline in pursuit of your financial goals. If you follow the guidelines I’ve laid out above, you don’t need to reduce the quality or quantity of what you eat.
What’s even better is you can use food as a way to pursue your financial goals and dream. Once you get a handle on the system, you might just find yourself having shopped and eaten your way to your best trip yet.