Like many shoppers, I’ve noticed my grocery bill rising every week: Food prices in February were 7.9% higher than a year ago, according to the US Department’s Economic Research Service of Agriculture. To offset my family’s busy spring schedule, I also turned to shortcuts like pre-packaged snacks and meal kits, which added to our total bill.
To counter these pressures, I applied all my savings tricks: joining my grocery store loyalty program for extra discounts, using a credit card that gave me a cash back bonus on purchases of groceries and plan our weekly menus based on the sales. Still, shopping for my family of five continued to shock me.
For additional advice, I turned to budgeting and cooking experts with experience managing food expenses, as the USDA predicts that food prices will continue to rise, rising by 4, 5% to 5.5% in 2022. Here are their top tips for saving money on food:
CONTROL WHAT YOU CAN
While so much about the economy may seem completely out of our control, including rising interest rates, inflation, and supply chain challenges, our food spending is actually one area where we have a big influence, says Erin Lowell, a Bowdoin, Maine-based lead educator at You Need a Budget, a budgeting app. By spending more time cooking or substituting cheaper ingredients, you can feel an immediate impact on savings, she says, unlike other costs, such as bills or rent, which can be harder to come by. to modify.
Lowell suggests evaluating the effort you’re currently making to minimize your food expenses and taking that effort to the next level. For example, if you’re currently ordering a pizza for delivery, consider buying a good frozen pizza for a quarter of the price. If you already buy frozen pizza, consider making it yourself for just a few ingredient dollars.
PLAN YOUR MEALS
“When people spend too much on food, it’s almost always because they eat out too often,” says Jake Cousineau, personal finance professor in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and author of “How to Adult: Personal Finance for the Real World”. .” He says planning ahead is essential to combat the temptation to order takeout at the last minute.
“If you cook meals on Sunday and have six to seven meals, you don’t face that decision of ‘Should I order or cook food? every night,” says Cousineau. He usually cooks meat for Sunday which he can use in tacos, pasta and salad later in the week, for example. “You can do the heavy lifting on Sunday and then mix and match throughout the week.”
Planning ahead also helps you avoid food waste, which is another budget killer, warns Rob Bertman, certified financial planner and family budget expert in St. Louis. “Buy in bulk for things you know you’re going to go through, but if the food sits in the freezer or pantry and gets tossed in the trash, it’s expensive.” He and his wife keep a list of potential side and main dishes they have on hand in the freezer, fridge and pantry so they don’t forget to use those ingredients.
BE A RESOURCE IN THE KITCHEN
Maggie Hoffman, Brooklyn, New York-based digital director of the Epicurious cooking website, suggests replacing the recipe ingredients with ones you already have at home. “Be confident in your cooking: if you have farro, use it instead of brown rice. Use hot sauce or vinegar instead of lemon.
Hoffman also recommends the “next,” which turns last night’s dish into something new. Roasted chicken one night can become an enchilada topping the next, for example.
Beans, which are usually inexpensive, are also a flexible staple, she adds. You can serve them alone or add them to salads or soups. “Beans are still the best thing ever. Just give them a little marinade, add some garlic and make sure they are seasoned.
KEEP YOUR PANTRY FILLED
Investing in basics can end up saving you money, because then you can quickly prepare last-minute meals instead of ordering. “I try to keep five to 10 easy and budget-friendly meals at home at all times,” says Lowell. For her, this list includes ingredients for a homemade pizza, frozen fish with fries and a pasta dish. “It’s never expensive and I’m always happy to eat it.”
RELY ON YOUR COMMUNITY
While some local food banks have eligibility criteria, many are open to anyone in the community who needs support, says Willa Williams, Orlando, Florida-area financial coach at Trinity Financial Coaching and co-host of “The Abundant Living Podcast”. “Some neighborhood gardens also provide the community with vegetables and other produce at harvest time. “The food is there, so come get it,” she said. “It saves you from spending your food budget.”
My grocery bill is always higher than I would like – even the savviest shopper can’t outsmart this level of inflation – but it’s more manageable with these tips. And my kids learned their own frugal habits, like the simple pleasure of cooking lentil soup for dinner and the savings of packing their own snacks.