I was recently talking with a friend who was struggling to save for emergencies, so I took a look at her budget and found some easy fixes around her family food spending. I told her it wasn’t the one day of eating out inexpensively that was hurting her, it was the fact that she was doing it 5 times a week, at an average of $30 a meal. That’s actually not bad for a family of 4, but it adds up — to an extra $600 a month!
We also looked at her grocery spending, which was about double what I pay for a family of the same size — this seemed like a no-brainer fix for me: stop eating out and start cooking at home. I told her when I was looking for ways to cut back and pay off debt, I found my grocery spending was a Titanic-sized leak in my budget. I couldn’t see it because it was hidden behind daily trips averaging a small amount, but they added up to large amounts.
Eventually, I got sick and tired of having $5 in savings and shaved our dining out and grocery bills in half, without being an extreme couponer. Here’s what I did:
No extreme couponing needed
1. Invest in time-saving kitchen equipment. I am ashamed to admit that if I was stuck on a desert island with electricity and could only take a few things, I would have to debate between my kids and my slow cooker. My slow cooker is one of my favorite pieces of equipment. All I have to do is dump ingredients in the pot, turn it on and in the evening dinner is done.
I love that I can do all the prep days in advance too — I just put all the ingredients for the meals in large plastic bags, freeze them, then when it’s time to cook it, I take the bag of food out of the freezer the night before to let it defrost then dump it in the slow cooker in the morning. I am forgetful, so I got a programmable Crockpot with a timer that switches the setting from cook to warm when the food is done — this saved me from having mushy meals.
You can also choose a slow cooker based on how you eat — some come with a meat thermometer, and some even have an app so you don’t have to be in the kitchen to turn it on. Others have multiple functions so you can sauté and brown without having to use multiple pots. Some of my favorite websites for recipes include Stockpiling Moms, Crock-pot Ladies and The Crockin’ Girls (YouTube and Pinterest also have a ton of great recipes).
2. Meal plan for the week. I find when I don’t plan my meals, every bad food I have been fantasizing about magically appears on my plate, plus I’m much more likely to order take-out. If you struggle to meal plan there are a ton of great online meal planners and apps to help you. I used Emeals initially, which sent me weekly meal plans and recipes as well as a shopping list organized by the sections in a supermarket — it also has an app, which was great for those days I forgot my grocery list. I am no Martha Stewart, so I chose the meal plan that was budget friendly and easy.
Whatever we have for dinner becomes lunch the next day for the adults, but I found myself at times nearly pulling out my hair planning lunches for my kids. They really like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches though, so I starting making them in batches and freezing them. I also bought their favorite snacks in bulk and had them help put the snacks in individual bags — I found this was cheaper, and bonus — the more involved the kids are in the meal, the less likely they are to complain. One rule in my family is that the first person to complain about the meal is the person who cooks the next meal – it’s amazing how the fear of having prepare a meal can fix whiny kids!
3. Try a 6 month challenge. My family challenged ourselves to see how much we could save over a six month period by eating at home and strategizing our meals. This got us all excited about making a change and also made it easier to resist the temptation of dining out. We saved enough to pay for a family vacation for a week!
Other ways to save at the store
- Don’t shop with kids or anyone that likes to “try something new.” I love spending time with my husband and kids, but I find I spend a lot less when I grocery shop by myself. If possible, leave everyone at home.
- Take a list. Always. This keeps me on track.
- Sign up for store cards. If your store has online apps with a member card, sign up. Many times they can link your card to store coupons, so you don’t have to worry clipping your store’s coupons.
- Shop with cash. I find the fear of not having enough cash at the register makes me think twice about purchases.
Making a dramatic change in your eating can be overwhelming, so start small. Start with a goal of cooking 2-3 meals per week and build from there. Once you are comfortable, start eating at home every meal by incorporating some of the ideas above.
If you have other tips or a favorite kitchen appliance please let me know on Facebook. I am always looking for ideas.
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