Today is day 1 of 5 ways to cut your expenses. After 6 years of finding ways to trim my budget and spend less, I thought I would share the things I have found to be helpful. Please share anything you do in the comment below and I’ll add it to the list!
One of the largest expenses you will have (next to your rent or mortgage) is food. We need food to survive so it is a necessecity that can’t be completely cut out of our budget. However, you can drastically reduce how much you spend each month on food. Today I’ll be sharing things that I do to help cut my family’s food budget.
This has been the best thing I have found to save my family money. I only meal plan dinners. I tried planning for lunches and breakfasts as well, but it gets to be too much for me. Instead, I have the basics for breakfast (cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, pancakes, toast) and lunch (pb&j, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, grilled cheese, tuna) on hand at any given time. When I use something up, it goes on the shopping list so we are never completely out of something for those meals. It can be overwhelming to start meal planning so I’ll break it down into steps for you.
1. Make a list of all the dinners you eat. It is easiest to keep a running list somewhere. Every time you think of something new, write it on the list.
2. Decide how you want to meal plan. Do you want to pick things off a list each week or 2? Or do you want to have a set menu that rotates? I plan my meals for 2 weeks at a time. I have 8 different 2 week menus. Nothing repeats until I start over again at menu number 1. For each 2 weeks I have a mix of beef, chicken, pork, and misc meals. The misc meals are pastas, soups, pizza, breakfast for dinner…. Pretty much anything that doesn’t fall into the first 3 categories. I write down the name of the meal and what side I’m going to make with it. For example, “Guiness Stew and beer bread” or “Shake and bake pork, applesauce, noodle mix”. On the other side of the menu I make a list of everything (EVERYTHING! spices, flour, sugar, everything!) I need to make the dinners. If there is more than one item needed for that two week period, I write down how many I need. Take into consideration leftovers. For 2 weeks, I have 12 meals listed. I plan for 2 nights of leftovers.
3. Take the time to plan your meals and make a grocery list. If you are going to pick your meals off a master list, write them down and make a shopping list of what you need to make everything for that meal. I like the way I have it set up with the ingredients list on the back of the menu because I already have my list made up.
4. Shop your kitchen before the store. Now that you have a list of what you need for your meals, do you need to buy it or do you already have it in the pantry? There is no sense in buying 3 cans of diced tomatoes if you only need 1. Whatever you don’t need, cross off. Adjust the totals if you need to.
5. Make sure you make the meals you planned on making! There is a reason you planned, now stick to it. Planning ahead prevents last minute pizza delivery and runs through the drive thru.
Get to know who has the best prices. I generally shop at Walmart because they have the cheapest prices. But I recently went to Meijer when they had a “Buy 10 for $10 and get the 11th free” sale. I stocked up on pasta, frozen juice, English muffins, etc. We have an Aldi’s nearby as well and I know I can get things even cheaper there. My plan is to take a notebook with me one day and just walk the aisles. Anything that I know we use, I’ll write down what it is, the size, and the cost. Then I can compare the next time I am in Walmart to see which is the better deal. Since my stores are near each other, I can easily do my grocery shopping in more than one place. Knowing where the cheaper place is for different items is essential for when other stores have sales. You will know if it is a better deal or not.
I have yet to find the name brand of anything that is better than the generic. Maybe my taste buds just aren’t as distinguished as others, but I honestly can’t taste a difference. By buying generic, you are saving money because you aren’t paying for the name and advertising. Many generics are the same thing with just different packaging.
I ONLY use a coupon if it is an item I use AND using the coupon on the name brand makes it cheaper than the generic. If it’s not cheaper after the coupon, I don’t get it. There are coupon apps (look under the money saving tab at the top of the page for a list of the ones I use) that will reimburse you for purchasing certain products. Again, if it makes it cheaper than the generic, use it!
Buy in bulk
I have a Sams Club membership. I buy my meat from there in bulk, and by the case. When I get it home I split it up into smaller packages for the freezer. I will buy things when they are on sale and put them in the freezer whenever I can. If I can buy in bulk either from Sams or from a sale and put it in the pantry, I will. Just be cautious with buying in bulk. If you won’t be able to use it before it goes bad, is it really a savings when you are throwing it out? You know what your family uses and how much so buying in bulk or stocking up from sales may work for you when for others it won’t.
Don’t let it go to waste
Leftovers can be eaten for lunch, for another meal, or turned into another meal all together. Just don’t let them get pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten. Use over ripe bananas to make banana bread, bruised apples or pears to make apple/pear sauce, chop and freeze extra vegetables that won’t get used for later use in soups or other recipes.
Brown bag it
Pack your lunch for work. You can spend a small fortune if you buy lunch every day at work. Plan ahead and pack the night before so you can just grab it on the way out the door.
Cook from scratch
Convenience meals may save you time, but they end up costing you more money. Instead of buying prepackaged frozen lasagna to put in the oven, make up a tray in a foil pan and freeze it. You can also cook double and freeze the extra for another night. The same goes for breakfast foods like pancakes and breakfast burritos/sandwiches. These can be made up ahead of time and frozen. Learn how to bake and start making your own bread, rolls, pizza crust, cookies. There is a wealth of recipes out there for things you would normally buy like shake and bake mix, chocolate syrup, cappuccino mixes, and so on. Just use your search engine to find a recipe. Not only does it save you money, you also know what’s in it since you made it yourself! I just made up “Pork Shake and Bake” mix in 2.5 minutes for dinner. And the other bonus is that it is enough for 3 meals. The extra is in the pantry.
Grow a garden/learn to can
If you have room, you can have a garden to grow your own fruits and vegetables. Many things can be grown in a container on a back porch or deck as well. Fruit and vegetables are expensive! For minimal cost, you can grow your own! If you don’t have the space or time for a garden, buy seasonal fruit and vegetables when they are at their lowest price (from the store or a farmers market) and can them!
Along with the topic of canning, learn to make items that you would normally buy. You can can jelly, spaghetti sauce, applesauce, pickles, salsa, soups, pie fillings, and more! I just bought 8 whole pineapples for $0.99 each and am going to can my own pineapple chunks and tidbits. I should be able to get 2-3 pint jars out of each pineapple. That breaks down to getting 3 times more pineapple by canning it myself vs buying it already canned. Not to mention I know exactly what is in it!
Can you think of anything I may have missed? Let me know in a comment! I’m always looking for new ways to save a little money.