13 Things to Stop Buying to Save Money in Your Food Budget
Families often end up strapped for cash at one point or another… surprise extra expenses crop up and eat into the budget (like a majorly expensive car repair, or when the furnace breaks down in the middle of winter), or income just isn’t as high as we need it to be (maybe you were laid off from work, or only able to find a lower paying job)… It doesn’t matter the reason. It happens.
When you’re working at improving your life, sometimes (often!) that means cutting expenses. Trust me, I know just how easy it is to say and exactly how hard it is to do. (To understand why it can be hard to cut expenses, check out the last three TED Talks in this list.)
Not to worry – I’ve compiled this list of things to stop buying to save money in your food budget, and I’m certain you’re going to find a few more things you can cut out to save some money, too.
With no further ado, here’s the list!
1. Cut out the impulse buys
But you might be asking, “Anna, how can I cut out the impulse buys? They’re impulsive – that’s the whole problem!!”
Well, let me tell you. Think about this – when do you impulse buy at the grocery store? When you’re hungry? Maybe when you’re on your way home to make supper and have no idea what your family will be eating that night? Perhaps when you’re in a hurry and need a quick lunch but want to avoid the local money-gobbling fast food joint? Exactly.
When you go shopping, you need a plan… Once you have a plan, you can go shopping. It takes some getting used to, but when you plan ahead, you won’t make as many impulse buys. You need to meal plan.
Keep your menu plan simple. I aim for a carb, a protein, and a fruit or vegetable with each meal. Think about what you currently eat – list all the supper entrees. Then set them into a rotation. Do the same for breakfast and lunch. Stick to your plan. Shop for your plan. Make your plan before you go shopping.
If you stick to your plan, you won’t be out shopping for a quick lunch, because you’ll have it with you because you planned ahead and brought it from home. You won’t be buying extras because you’re not quite sure what you’re having for supper – you have a plan, and a shopping list, and you know exactly what you’re having for supper.
The final part of planning is making your shopping list and sticking to it. Go into the stores with list in hand, and mark off items as they go in the cart. Not on the list? It doesn’t go in the cart. No, you don’t need that ice cream, even though it’s on sale for an awesome price (see #4 for why not).
2. Stop buying individual portions of food
Many grocery stores have the price per unit on the price tag they hang below the product – it’s pretty small type, but it’s a big time saver when comparing prices.
If your store doesn’t do this, you’ll have to calculate by hand. When you look at those tags, you’ll find that the individually packaged items cost more per unit than the larger packages.
Those individual yogurts cost more than a tub of yogurt. The individually wrapped fish cracker packs cost more than the big bag of fish crackers. The fruit cups cost more than a can of fruit. Little snack packs of carrots cost more than a bag of carrots (even the baby cut variety).
Don’t buy the individual portions.
Buy the larger packages, and divide them out at home. Yogurt and canned fruit can be served in lidded dishes like these or these. Some lunch boxes are fitted so things don’t spill – they work especially well for portioning out bulk food items. We have a Go Green Lunch Box set that is fantastic. Crackers can be sent to work or school in zip top baggies or reusable snack bags. There are always solutions to serve the bulk foods.
An important caveat to remember is to recheck the price per unit if the individually portioned item is on sale – sometimes the sale is good enough to make it cheaper than buying the larger container. Eventually, you’ll get familiar with the pricing and won’t have to check the details as often.
3. Don’t buy small containers
This tip is similar to the previous item, but now we’re not talking about individual portioned foods, but the regular packages – small can versus large can, for instance. Instead of buying the small bottle of ketchup, buy the larger bottle. Rather than the small package of pasta, buy the giant bag. Check the price tag for the unit price and compare – the bulk sized packaging is almost always cheaper. Sometimes, if there is a great sale on the smaller package, it works out cheaper… but not always. Check the unit price!
4. Good sales don’t always mean good deals
Just because it’s on sale doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. Don’t buy it just because it’s on sale.
It might be a fantastic price. Maybe that giant package of seaweed snacks is on for 80% off, but if you don’t normally buy seaweed snacks it isn’t a good deal, and will drain your budget faster than you might think. It might be a great price, but it’s not a great deal and that money can be used more wisely. Those little purchases add up.
Remember your menu planning. If it isn’t part of your plan, you don’t need it.
Similarly, just because you have a coupon doesn’t mean you should buy it. If your family doesn’t eat yogurt, even though you have a $1 off coupon, and the yogurt is on sale for $2, don’t buy it. You might be paying $1 at the till, but that’s $1 that you could have used elsewhere in your budget for something your family actually eats.
If you bought one coupon item priced like that at each weekly shopping trip, you’ll have wasted $52 at the end of the year. Use the coupons for the things you are normally going to buy anyway – those coupons make it a good deal!
5. Drop your morning drive-thru
The drive-thru coffee might not be bought at a grocery store, but it sure can help your food budget by staying away. When you make a regular coffee stop part of your daily routine, you’re sabotaging your financial plans.
You’re over-paying for hot drinks, you’re sitting in a line-up in your car wasting fuel (that comes out of your budget, too!), and you’re wasting time you could be spending doing something more important.
Imagine how much more relaxing your morning routine would be with 5-10 minutes freed up? Or 5-10 minutes extra sleep… or maybe even time to sneak in a quickie with your partner!
Instead of the drive-thru drudgery, change up your routine by making coffee at home. Get a brewing machine, some reusable pods, and a big tin of coffee grinds next time you’re shopping. (Add it to your menu-plan so it makes it onto your shopping list!!) Before you head to bed, fill the pods, make sure your travel mug is clean, fill the reservoir with water, and all you’ll need to do in the morning is turn it on and fill your cup. Depending where you work, you might even get away with bringing a coffee pot to work to re-caffeinate throughout your day. Think of what you could do with all that spare change you’ll be keeping in your pocket!
6. Remove the restaurant visits from your meal plan
If you eat out lunch at the local low-budget eatery, you might pay $7 for your meal. Going out once a week for a year, it adds up to $364. If you’re eating out twice a week, that’s $728. At a regularly priced restaurant, you’ll be spending even more.
What would you do with an extra $728 in your budget?
Make your lunch at home and bring it with you.
The same applies for day trips. You and the family are heading to some amusement activity for the day. You know eating lunch at your destination is going to be costly, because it isn’t going to be a budget eatery, so you pack your family a picnic to take along for the trip. Pack a bag with snacks for in the car if you’ll be driving over snack time. Bring your drinks (use that coffee maker and skip the drive thru!), and you’ll save a big chunk of change!
7. Ditch the brand names
Do you always buy the same brands? Try out something new – find the store brand versions of what you’re buying, and try them out. Many are just as good as the name brands you’ve been using. Some are even better.
Granted, some might not hold up to the taste buds of your particular family members (we always choose name brand Cheerios, for instance, as nobody likes the taste of the imitators), but odds are good you’ll find some new (cheaper) favourite brands.
8. Leave the bottled water at the store
Bottled water is a huge drain on your food budget! (Haha, pun completely intended!) Go out and find yourself a reusable water bottle. Make sure everyone in the family has one. Then use them.
Usually (if you live in a developed area), there is nothing wrong with tap water. That said, I do understand there are some occasions when bottled water is a necessary part of life. For instance, maybe you have a well that just isn’t drinkable due to the flavour of excess minerals (ours tastes as salty as the sea!), or is contaminated with pollutants, or you live in a place without effective and reliable water treatment facilities. In those cases, refill your water bottles using a water cooler that uses large refillable water jugs. Some stores even have a refill station that will save you some money if you need to go this route.
9. Pass on pop
Avoid the pop aisle completely, and you’ll miss out on the tempting snack foods that should also stay at the store. When you’re trying to save money, pop is a luxury item that you just can’t afford. You don’t have to give it up forever… just till you’ve got your finances under control (or until you’re visiting a friend who stocks your favourite carbonated drinks).
As a bonus, there’s actually a fair bit of information that suggests pop is bad for our health and we should be limited our consumption regardless of budgets.
10. Stop buying energy drinks
I’m going to be kind and not tell you to give up coffee (or whatever your preferred caffeine-delivery drink of choice might be – I like tea). That might just be too cruel for those of you who rely on that energy bump now and again throughout the day. I am, however, going to suggest you give up the energy drinks.
Truly, if you need that amount of energy on a regular basis, adjust your sleep schedule (I have two little ones, I know that’s not as easy to do as it is to say), and optimize your morning routine. If you’re dragging your bum on a regular basis, despite a half-decent amount of sleep, you should strongly consider visiting your doctor to ensure there isn’t an underlying problem.
11. Grow your own herbs
Rather than buying expensive dried herbs like basil, thyme, and sage, grow your own.
Many common herbs are easy to grow on a sunny window ledge or kitchen table. You can buy seeds very inexpensively, or, if you want herbs now, nurseries and some grocers sell potted herbs (for less than the cost of a little shaker jar full from the spice aisle).
Fresh herbs have more flavour, and they double as decor. If you’re skeptical, try just one herb to start with. Oregano goes especially well with pasta (coincidentally, a very budget conscious dinner choice), and I bet once you see you can keep that bit of greenery alive you’ll want to add more and more until you’ve grown a little herb garden in your window.
To help you take action, here’s an easy tutorial from Gardener’s Supply Company.
12. Buy less meat
Meat is definitely a more expensive food item, and if you want to lower your spending at the market, you can find alternative proteins at a much lower cost.
I’m not telling you to give up your carnivorous tendencies. I’m just saying eat less of it. Make “Meatless Monday” a theme at your house. There are plenty of options that are delicious, budget-friendly, and odds are good you might even find some new favourite meals.
On nights you are eating meat, you can serve smaller portions by using meat in dishes that use cut up bits rather than whole pieces to serve individually, like stews, stir fries, and casseroles instead of pork chops or chicken breasts. Ground meat can also be a good choice.
13. Adopt a DIY attitude
Next time you’re at the store, look at the weight of the package of shredded cheese versus the block of cheese. You’ll find the shredded weighs less. And it often costs more. Buy leaving the convenience foods off your shopping list, you’ll be leaving some extra dollars in your wallet.
Of course, this isn’t limited to cheese. Pre-chopped vegetables, frozen diced onions, spiralized root vegetables, and the like are all things you can DIY for a whole lot less.
You Can Do It
Sometimes it’s a challenge to remember all the things to stop buying to save money on your food budget. Even when we remember, it’s a challenge to give up some of the things we’re used to buying – but it’ll pay off. It helps to keep your end goal in mind to keep you motivated – jot down your reasons for wanting to spend less on food, and keep it in your wallet. When you’re at the store and you’re tempted to stray from your plan, pull out the list and read it.
As part of your morning routine, you can set aside a bit of time to plan your expenses for the day.
I bet you can even come up with a few ideas to add to the list. What else can you stop buying to save money in your food budget? Have you already stopped buying something? I’d love to hear what!
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