If there is one necessity in our budget that we absolutely can’t live without, it is food. While it is easy to skip out on restaurants and coffee shop visits, cutting grocery bills can be a big challenge even for the most budget-minded planners. If you are looking to cut your budget at the supermarket, here are some strategies to get you started.
If you decide to pack up and leave town, there are a few easily overlooked budget busters that can send you to the debt house if you are not careful.
I have something to admit. I hate grocery shopping. I hate it more than almost anything. However, it is something that you have to do from time to time. Last night I was hungry, so after a seven week hiatus I made the trek to the grocery store. It got me thinking…
Benefits of Groceries
Going to the grocery store can save you money. While the $175 hit last night seemed like a lot of money, it will provide me at least two weeks of lunches to take to work ($7 on average x 10 = $70), about two weeks of breakfasts ($5 on average x 14 = $70), and about 14 dinners ($10 on average x 14 = $140). So, while $175 seems like a lot, it is less than $280. That is over $100 in savings.
Also, I keep Kosher. Many products I buy cost more than ones other people buy. Also, I am lazy. Wacky Mac is delicious and pre-prepared, but I could probably make something from cheaper ingredients that would cost less and taste better if I were not lazy.
I can control every single ingredient when I cook for myself. Other than the occasional Asian influenced dish, I will use less salt and sugar than a restaurant. I only buy lean meats and never buy real butter.
I also only buy for a healthy menu. I may head to a Mexican restaurant with the best of intentions, but cheese enchiladas taste a lot better than a salad. At home, I don’t buy the cheese so I force myself to eat better.
The Lazy Factor
I woke up on Sunday after a late night of partying and really wanted a bowl of cereal. I had no cereal as I had not been grocery shopping. Then I wanted toast, but I was out of bread. Then I wanted to make a breakfast burrito, but was short on salsa and tortillas.
I ended up being hungry for an hour until the sandwich delivery shop opened. I would have rather cooked for myself (cheaper and healthier), but my lack of resources forced me to do more work to order the food, get dressed, and meet the delivery guy at the door. A bowl of cereal would have been instant and only involved a five second walk to the kitchen.
Benefits of Restaurants
I am a decent cook, but I don’t have an industrial kitchen or professional experience. A professional put together the menus at my favorite restaurants. They tested the dishes many times before the perfected the recipe. I know what I like so when I go to a restaurant it is going to be good and consistent every time.
I only buy healthy foods with a relatively long shelf life. As a single guy living alone, buying fresh vegetables or bulk foods does not make sense. So, rather than deal with the limited options of single guy cooking, I can pick anything I want if I go out.
Some days I want sushi, others I want Mexican, others I am in the mood for a sandwich, sometimes I am in an Italian mood. I never cook falafel and I don’t make humus from scratch. I do not have the ingredients for moo shoo or the patience to make a good soup from scratch. At a restaurant, I can get those options plus a whole lot more.
Doing the Dishes
The Best Combination
When you want to eat at a restaurant, go do it as long as you can afford it. If you have four kids going out to eat costs a heck of a lot more than when I go to the local Japanese bowl restaurant with a friend and split the bill. As long as you are within your means, you should enjoy your money.
On the other hand, eating out all the time is fiscally irresponsible and can lead to poor dietary habits in the long run. Make sure you have at least a few healthy, easy to make options at home at all times.
Test it out and find the right balance for your needs. I watch my grocery and restaurant budgets every month and make adjustments accordingly. It sucks to cook all the time, but it also sucks to not have food on hand when you are hungry.
So, learn from my laziness. Go to the grocery store more than every seven weeks. But don’t feel bad treating yourself to something good every once in a while too.
How do you find the right balance between cooking at home and going out to eat? What is your motivation and strategy? Please share in the comments.
Image by bradleygee.