Cut $100 or More From Your Food Bill Without Even Trying

by Carrie Kirby on 11 February 2014 6 comments

We've shared a lot of food budget tips here on Wise Bread, from coupon clipping to getting organics on a budget to finding restaurant discounts. But what if you just don't want to put that much time and effort into money saving techniques? A single person can easily shave $100 off a monthly food budget without breaking a sweat by making some of these easy changes. (See also: Use a 7-Step Food Budget to Save Money and Eat Better)

1. Stop Throwing Away Food

Imagine bringing home a bunch of eight bananas, picking two off the bunch, and pitching them right into the trash. If you're like the average American, you do the equivalent every week, throwing away up to a quarter of all the food you buy. If you can cut food waste to just 5%, that's a 20% savings without ever having to study Advanced Coupon Theory.

What's the secret to not throwing away food? Eating it before it goes bad. At our house, we achieve that by avoiding overfilling our fridge — things that get pushed to the back behind new purchases end up wasted. Another handy anti-waste device is the clear storage container. I use these Pyrex containers. Used yogurt containers are free, but if you're like me, you might ignore leftovers packaged in an opaque container and forget about them until they've transformed into a fuzzy gray mess ready for HazMat pickup.

Finally, don't forget about your freezer. If you don't think you'll have time to finish the leftovers before they spoil, just stick 'em in a freezer bag and voila — you have a quick dinner for a future night. (See also: How to Freeze Foods That Don’t Freeze Well)

2. Downgrade Unplanned Dining

If you want to go out with friends to a restaurant for a nice occasion, that's one thing. But if you find yourself heading to restaurants just because you're out of groceries or are too tired to cook, that's an opportunity for savings.

Instead of hitting a restaurant, pick up a pre-made salad, a rotisserie chicken, or other ready-to-eat entree. Grocery stores, in a nod to busy families, carry a lot of those things these days.

3. Lay in Emergency Supplies

Emergency preparedness isn't limited to clearing the shelves of the local grocery store when a hurricane or blizzard is due. A night when you don't have anything planned for dinner is emergency enough. Buy some extra boxes of pasta and jars of sauce (with meatballs in the freezer), cans of tuna, or anything else that would allow you to whip up a halfway decent meal even if your original plans fall through. If you're tempted to eat your emergency supplies right away, hide them in a cupboard you don't usually open — for me it's that one over the refrigerator.

4. Don't Overeat

The average restaurant meal contains 1,128 calories. That's great news!

Why great, when so many Americans are struggling to control their weight? Because it means that the typical restaurant meal contains enough food for tomorrow's lunch in addition to tonight's dinner. Don't gobble it all up tonight, just because it's there. Get a doggie bag.

5. Pack Your Lunch

Wait a minute — you thought this list was going to be low effort, and here we are suggesting you put in a grueling five minutes spreading peanut butter on bread. Well, would it be worth it if I told you that every minute you spend packing your lunch could save you $1?

A peanut butter and jelly sandwich costs about 29 cents to make. Add an apple for about 60 cents and a 50-cent container of yogurt, and you have a nutritious lunch for less than $2, or $10 for five lunches a week. (See also: 25 Non-Sandwich Work Lunches)

The average American worker spends more than $36 on workday lunches out per week. So 25 minutes a week of lunch packing could save you about $25, or a dollar a minute.

Multiplied by four weeks in the average month, and you just saved your $100 a month — without touching the other two meals of the day.

If you're a serial lunch forgetter, see if you can stash a few emergency lunch supplies in your desk or office refrigerator, so you don't end up going on unplanned lunch outings. My husband keeps a canister of oatmeal at work for those days — it ain't fancy, but it allows him to power through till dinner.

6. Cut Down on Junk Food

When people say that they can't afford to eat healthy, they tend to conveniently forget that unhealthy snack foods are among the priciest groceries in the store. A 16 oz. bag of potato chips costs about $4.50, compared to an average cost of 73 cents per pound of potatoes.

So if you skip those between-meal snacks, you're not only improving your health, but you're saving your appetite for much less-expensive meal time calories.

7. Drink Water

This goes for at home, but it goes double for at restaurants, where soda and other beverages can be crazy expensive compared to the food. American households spend an average of $850 per year on soft drinks. So even if you could cut that in half, you'd be looking at spending $425 less, or a savings of $35 a month.

8. Buy the Store Brand

It doesn't take too much study of the prices on grocery store shelves to figure out that the store brand is the cheapest — Consumer Reports pegged the savings at 30%. In a 2010 taste test of store brands versus name brands, the magazine found that, "Overall, national brands won seven of the 21 matchups and store brands won three. For the rest, the store brand and name brand were of similar quality."

9. Observe Meatless Monday

Vegetarian meals are usually cheaper, but I'm personally not willing to give up the savory deliciousness of hamburgers, roast chicken, or pulled pork for life. But for one day a week? That I can do. (See also: Save Money By Going Mostly Meatless)

The Meatless Monday website features lots of flesh-free recipes. They're not all budget recipes, of course, but in general I spend less on my vegetarian dishes than my carnivorous ones.

10. Join Costco or Another Wholesale Club

Many items are cheaper per ounce at Costco than at regular stores — but you only really realize a savings if you can use everything you buy there. Costco is also a good place to get healthy frozen entrees if these help you resist fast-food windows.

How do you save money on food? Please share your tips in comments.

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Ashley Marcin's picture

This is a great article. Thanks for writing it -- I'm definitely always looking for more ways to cut our food bill!

Guest's picture
Olivia

Great article. We have a few other options where we are that really save us a bundle. A bump and dent "salvage" grocer. A small garden plot. A lady with chickens who sells us eggs really cheaply. A "day old" free bread box at church. (A local grocer donates their goods to various places.)

Guest's picture

For us, living in the Bay Area, we have the option of buying a lot of our groceries at a non-typical supermarkets. For us it's Oakland's Chinatown. We've found that prices at these Chinese groceries can be as much as 50% less than your typical grocery chains... and you don't sacrifice on quality (oftentimes the quality is even better in our opinion).

Insofar as the steps above, packing your own lunch, shopping in bulk at Costco, and buying store brand helps manage our grocery costs too.

Guest's picture

I tried to do groceries once a week, more vegetables, fruits and less meat. I tried to stop drinking soft drinks and prefer to have a juice or a plain water.

Guest's picture
Jayleen

I need to work on number four but definitely have number five down! Another tip we use is allowances! If we go out to lunch it comes out of our allowance budget. That's when choices come in ... lunch or saving for something fun! Thanks for the great article!

Guest's picture

There are indeed a lot of ways to save money. I guess we spend most our money is that we love to dine outside and we usually drink anything except water. Having a healthy meal like vegetables is also a big factor for us. We are not too keen with eating vegetables actually.