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Plan Well, Retire Well

Saving and investing your money
July 2015 food budget

Saving the Food Budget

Have you noticed that food prices are going up, up, and away? Flooding in the Midwest. Drought in the West. Bird flu among poultry. The price of meat higher than the price of gasoline. Where will it stop?

It seems like there is not much we can do other than pay more and get less.

Most people look for one simple fix that will get them to where they want to be (going vegetarian cold turkey for example) and often that kind of change is unsustainable. Instead, try making several  small moves that work well for you and your family. Here is a list of  ideas. Mix and match them for your success.

1. Portion control. I found this to be the quickest way to lower my family’s food budget.  Since we are empty nesters now, I have to learn to cook for two instead of four. In the past, I said I would cook the full recipe and save half for another meal but that did not always work in reality as the man in the house can eat several portions all by himself.  While cooking less and cutting portions does not always reduce his appetite, there are many less expensive options for snacking.  Also, under portion control is the fact that we just buy and cook too much to begin with and what isn’t eaten is thrown away. Various studies and reports suggest that 40% of food goes uneaten an amount that can be worth between $400 and $900 per person per year.
A Study by the NRDC and Harvard Law suggests that 90% of Americans are tossing out food because the misinterpret expiration/best by / use by/sell by dates.  These dates are meant for stores to know when to pull food from the shelves or for consumers to know when the item has reached its peak of flavor not when it is spoiled or unfit to eat. Most food has very clear flavor and odor cues to let you know when it has spoiled.  If you are often throwing food out because it has spoiled- you are buying too much at a time.

2. Meal Planning/Grocery Lists. These two go hand in hand. Yes, it takes the time to research recipes for a week but doing that and creating a shopping list can save you serious money.  From not eating out to using the items you already have on hand and not buying food that does not get eaten, these two strategies can save serious cash.

The secret is to two fold. I created a list of all the foods my family liked to eat first. I could either pick a set of           meals from the list and go shopping or (and here is the real trick) I did my meal planning in reverse. I looked at what I had on hand and what was on sale at the grocery store then created my meal plan for the week.

What if you do not like spending that much time on this task? There are apps for that. Several apps and computer software that cross over many gadgets (phone, tablets, etc.) can help you with the task or take it over completely. Some have an upfront cost, and some have a monthly subscription fee. Make use of any free trial periods before you spend the money and be sure to add any of these expenses into your food budget. Make sure you are getting your money’s worth.

3. Use less meat in your meals.  I have been noticing that the price of meat (especially beef and chicken and eggs) has been rising fast. Even ground meat and the “cheap tougher” cuts of meat are getting pricey. One way to save on meal costs is to use meat as an ingredient rather than the main entrée. Using it in a casserole or a flavoring (as many cultures do) reduces the amount of meat you use in a meal thereby substantially cutting down costs. Have more meatless meals. You can get complete proteins with bean and rice combinations, and pasta meals are an excellent way to save. Salads make a good meal too. Using a little meat and a variety of vegetables is a good way to use small leftover portions you might otherwise throw away. Soups are another option.  Using beans and meat substitutes as extenders in burgers and other dishes can help too. Your family might not even notice there is less real meat!

4. Replace takeout meals with some convenience foods. My husband often hits the drive-thru for breakfast and lunch. He easily spends $10-$15 or more a day on this. I can buy microwavable breakfast foods and prepackaged salads for him to take to work and pay $4-$5 per day- that is real savings!

5. Be sure to account for all meals and snacks.  When you are trying to reduce food spending, nothing is more frustrating that not taking everything into account-it sets you up for failure. Many meal planning sites and software concentrate on dinners and not breakfast and lunch- but you still have to supply these foods. Do not forget those coffee shop runs and vending machine purchases also!

6. Buy in bulk when possible and practical. Get together with friends and family and look at the cost savings of buying in bulk and splitting between families. Depending on where you live you can buy a whole or half cow or hog and have it processed the way you will best use it at a price lower than the grocery store. When my family was larger, we did this with a neighbor. We liked the roasts and other larger cuts; they used mostly stew and ground meat. We each got what we wanted at a reduced price. You can apply this to other household items, paper towels, toilet paper, big bags of rice, etc. Make sure you will use it before it goes bad and have the proper storage for it.

There are many ways to reduce food spending without sacrificing your favorite meals. Besides using coupons, what are your favorite ways to reduce food spending but still enjoying your food? I’d love to hear your ideas.



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