Personal Finance 101: How to Save Money on Food (A Quick Guide That Doesn’t Involve Ramen Noodles)

By Brittany Mollica

If you know me, you know two of my favorite things are:

  • Food: dining out, cooking, grocery shopping, and everything in between.
  • Saving money: because who doesn’t love getting a good deal?

However, when it comes to the “food” category of my budget, I’ve noticed that it’s easy for expenses to add up way faster than planned. To counteract that, I've implemented some strategies within the past year that have helped me cut down on my dining and grocery expenses while wasting less food and still getting to eat at my favorite restaurants. Here are some of my favorite tips to help you do the same:

  1. Have a plan

Before you venture to the grocery store, look through your freezer and pantry to see what is already on hand. Also find your grocery store’s weekly circular to see what is on sale that week (there’s an app called Flipp that makes this extra easy).

Then, based off what you have at home and what is on sale that week, create your grocery list by thinking of some fun meals that would use those ingredients. If you need some inspiration, there are websites that will suggest recipes based on the ingredients you type in (https://www.supercook.com/#/recipes). And this is a great way to get out of a meal-plan rut!

Having a plan will allow you to go grocery shopping more efficiently, so you (probably) won’t end up with a cart full of fun foods you weren’t planning to buy.

  1. Buy produce that is in season

Knowing what produce is actually in season (https://www.seasonalfoodguide.org/) will likely mean that your fruits and veggies are both fresher and cheaper. Don’t go overboard though - only buy what you can reasonably plan to consume within a week.

  1. Use a couponing app

If you have some free time, there are a number of apps that you can use to find coupons. My personal favorite is Ibotta, which lets you browse deals at different stores and submit your receipt to get cash back for items you purchased.

Note: couponing is only a good deal if you’re using the coupons to buy groceries that you would have bought regardless, not if you’re buying things simply because you have a coupon for it.

  1. Meal prep

While it’s not necessary to have a fridge full of cooked meals portioned out into small Tupperware containers, it’s definitely helpful to have a handful of items already cooked and ready to be eaten. This makes it more likely that you’ll grab food at home when you’re in the middle of a busy day. For me, prepping 3 lunches on Sunday afternoon is the right balance.

  1. Stock up on some tasty frozen meals

Keeping a couple enticing meals in your freezer (hello, Trader Joe’s freezer section) can help you save money by being an appealing and easy alternative for those times when you’re tempted to order takeout.

  1. Sign up for restaurant rewards programs

It seems like most restaurants and fast food chains have a rewards program nowadays. Signing up for these free programs can really pay off, especially when they give out freebies around holidays or your birthday. I got 15 different deals in August because it was my birthday, and a lot of those were entire free meals. Happy birthday to me!

  1. Take half your meal home

Many restaurants serve jumbo portions for all their entrees, so planning to take half your meal home can be a great decision for both your health and your wallet. I personally love leftovers, and you can always add your own spin on the meal the next day. For example, I like to get salads from Chopt but I often finish only half my salad. The next day, I’ll add extra veggies or protein to the leftovers to mix it up.

As you implement some of these good habits, you’ll likely start to notice extra cash building up in your bank account each month. This is the perfect opportunity to contribute to a retirement account or to build up your emergency fund. Physical health and fiscal health all in one!

 

Disclaimers:

This material is provided as a courtesy and for educational purposes only.  Please consult your investment professional, legal or tax advisor for specific information pertaining to your situation. 

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