Maximizing Your Food Budget
(or Can I Make You Laugh With Such a Dry Topic)
OK. I just Googled food budgets and I came up with 2 interesting facts. Well, I actually came up with a whole lot more (because that’s how it works, right?). Anyway, the average single person spends ~ 100/week on food. Do the math (I like easy math) and that’s $400/month on food. The other item was that you (yes, I mean you) should budget 6% of your earnings for food (Wait, what?! You don’t have a budget? Tsk, tsk…).
Budgets are another story. I’ll assume you have one or you know how much you have to spend on food. Ha! Gotcha. If you know that, then you do have a budget. Back to the point (I go off on tangents sometimes…). Let’s say that you make $2000 a month. Times that by 6% (Oh-oh, harder math..) No worries – I just do this, 2 X 6 = 12 then chuck a zero on the end and get 120. I know that this isn’t math class, so I won’t get into it. That’s another story.
$120 is not a lot to spend on food. For me, I try to keep my budget under $200. Even if I made more, I’m still stingy so I don’t think I would spend a lot more. There are some factors that influence what and when I purchase, and I’m going to share them with you. These are probably some things that you have heard before, but I hope to entertain you as well.
This is one of the biggest challenges in food budgets. Food prices keep going up. Well, fruits & vegetables do (bananas seen to stay the same), but chips and other not so healthy foods seem to get cheaper or go on sale more often. I like chips, but I’ll forgo them if my budget doesn’t allow. That goes for alcohol, but that’s another story. Here is what works for me:
Buy in season. That means you are not going to be eating peaches in January. Root vegetables store well, so there is not a lot of change seasonally. I refuse to buy a $6 head of cauliflower. Some stores discount produce that is on the cusp of being unsellable. That’s a good opportunity to snag a good deal. I bought a $1 bag of turnip that had 5 or 6 in it, then I cooked them, mashed, then froze it in one cup servings. Did I mention that having a freezer is a great way to optimize your budget? No? Well, that’s another story. Will you be eating the same thing a few days in a row sometimes? Yup. Suck it up…
The other option is frozen and canned vegetables (not canned fruit-to sweet). It is almost as nutritious as fresh. It just lacks the better texture. I pick frozen over canned because of salt content.
Just the way stores discount produce, they also discount meat. No, it’s not expired as I sometimes joke, it’s just not optimal. There was a story a few months back about a guy who only ate “expired” food for a year and did not get sick. That’s another story. The best time to buy this is in the morning. That’s when the best selection is available. You will have to figure out the pattern for each store. One of my stores have the most on Tuesdays, while another is Friday. Again, this is where the freezer comes into play. If what I buy expires tomorrow, I just freeze it and it’s good for a few months (Yes I said a few months. Don’t be a hoarder). My father-in-law used to drive to the store several times a day in anticipation of the mark-downs. I’m sure he blew his savings on the gas.
Man, do I like steak. For me it’s a treat. Pork and chicken are my go-tos.
One last word goes to: Quinoa. Not going to go into it, but a little goes a long way, and it’s so darn healthy. Add some cheap black beans and you have a great meal.
Along with buying what has been discounted and using that for your meals, I look forward to flyer day (Wednesday for me). I buy what is on sale and stock up when I can. Two examples: Peanut Butter was on sale eight months ago for $1.97 a jar (regular price - $4). I grabbed 2 and then thought about it. I like PB and I eat it often. So I bought 10. Finished my last one today (actually, I still have a little left, but I haven’t scraped the jar yet). So in the long run I saved $20. Sweet! (and crunchy…). I do the same with paper products. Back to the flyers, I try to only buy items that are 1 or 2 dollars. Makes it easy to add up as I shop (remember the easy math?).
Other than a few necessities during the week, I get all my shopping done in 1 or 2 days.
I dislike throwing out food. I’ve paid for it and darn it all, I’m going to eat it! My fridge looks pretty empty by the time Wednesday (flyer day, remember?) rolls around. I try to use up what I can by making refrigerator soup (chuck watcha got into a pot with some homemade broth (Wait, what?! You don’t make your own broth?) or casseroles.
Back to the broth. I used to take all my vegetable scraps and compost them (Wait, what?! You don’t compost? Tsk, tsk). Not everybody can, but that’s another story. Anyway, I realized that I was throwing out perfectly good nutrition. So I save all my peelings (in the freezer) and when I get enough I make veggie broth. I do the same with my leftover chicken bones.
Long story short, I rarely have to throw money into the trash.
I think that this blows most people’s budgets. You have to identify your wants and needs. I do not eat out very often. My justification is that for the price of one meal, I can buy a weeks worth of food. Would I like to? Sure, but it’s just not worth it right now. Do I like alcohol? You bet I do. It’s a treat. When I do by it, it is on sale. Smoking. I rather eat than smoke, but that’s just me…
I hope that I have made this topic entertaining and that you have gained something reading it. Even if I have been able to save you a couple of bucks then I have done my job and you have done yours.