We pay for convenience. Whether it’s reheating a frozen dinner, grabbing a burger in the drive through, or sitting down for a meal created by a professional chef, eating food prepared by someone else will almost always cost you more than making it yourself. Whether the convenience is worth the price to you is of course your call. But if your primary goal is to eat for less, you need a strategy that will keep you eating from home.
Avoid eating out.
It’s not hard to see how eating out will rapidly erode your food budget. If I spend $3 for breakfast at a fast food joint, I’ve already spent as much money on breakfast as I normally would spend on an entire day’s worth of meals and snacks for one person. Not cool. If our family went out for dinner just once a week, our food spending would increase by 40-45%. Takeout falls into the same category. A medium pizza for about $12 would feed our family dinner. Or, I could make a fresh pizza at home for less than $4.
Of course I’m not saying that eating out is bad. I love eating out with my family. But since keeping our food budget tight is a priority, we reserve eating out for special occasions, and budget it as special occasion spending.
Packing lunches also falls into this category. If my husband and I bought $5 sandwiches every day when we were in school instead of packing leftovers or sandwiches, we would have spent $200 per month just on weekday lunches–that’s well more than we used to spend on all of our food for a month.
Would it be worth it to you to cut back on habitual dining-out if you could divert that money toward other goals?
Avoid packaged and processed foods.
Cooking from scratch with whole food ingredients is almost always less expensive than buying something that was prepared and packaged for someone else. You’re paying for another person’s labor. A $3 smallish frozen dinner or pizza for each person would, once again, decimate an entire day’s food budget for us. A quart of (house brand) yogurt from the store would cost me $2.50, whereas it sets me back only $0.50 to make a quart of yogurt at home.
Another item that really makes you bleed cash for convenience is pre-cut fruits and vegetables. I’ve seen small cups of pre-cut fruit cost more than a 10 lb watermelon. (I did in fact buy one of these exorbitantly priced fruit cups once. I was at school, and pregnant, and I wanted fresh fruit so bad…it was totally worth it). Yes, buying those pre-cut stir-fry veggie packs will save you 10 minutes of your time, but is it worth it to you to pay three (or more) times the price?
Of course, there are more benefits to cooking from scratch than just price. Number one in my book: it tastes WAY better. I wouldn’t buy most pre-made foods even if I could afford them, for that reason alone. This is also why when I do eat out, I want to choose a dish that I couldn’t easily make at home. Number two, you have control over your health needs. Unless you pay a pretty penny for high-end specialty products, most pre-packaged foods will contain higher amounts of sugar, fat, and non-nutritious additives, fillers, and preservatives than your made-at-home version.
Make your own snacks.
Groceries almost always cost more when they are packaged and “individually wrapped” into small portions. Instead of buying cheese sticks, buy the block of cheese that’s likely around the same price but twice the quantity. Then grab a large knife and slice it into sticks yourself, and throw your fresh cheese sticks into a container in the fridge or freezer. If you want them wrapped on the go, wrap them in plastic wrap or baggies, both of which are inexpensive. Making your own “snack packs” can be done with just about anything—dried fruit, crackers, cut veggies. You can even make your own granola bars for a fraction of the cost. Don’t believe me? Spend a few minutes on Pinterest. If you have kids like mine, packing little baggies of their favorite on-the-go foods will likely be an exciting activity, so get them involved too. I’m not always this prepared, and I know from experience how much money I shell out for snack foods when I haven’t planned ahead and packed my own snacks!
Have a quick-meal backup plan.
No matter how dedicated you are to cooking every meal from scratch, there will be days that don’t go according to plan. If you always have a pantry or freezer meal stocked that you know will come together very quickly, you’ll be far less tempted to order take out or run to the nearest drive through. A couple of my favorite “back-up” meals are spaghetti (the boring kind from a can that I can whip out of my pantry) or tuna salad. I also try to make extras of meals now and then to put in the freezer for thaw-and-eat dinners on busy days. Some folks are really hard-core about stocking their freezers with ready-made meals, and you can find lots of ideas if you search the web! A few meals from Raspberries in the Rough that freeze well are Beef & Bacon Smoky Beans, Winter Squash and Ham Bisque, Chipotle-Lime Chicken, Blackened Chicken Alfredo (minus the noodles), and Slow Cooker Refried Beans.
Don’t shop hungry.
This can be hard advice to keep. I know I’m usually thinking of everything except my stomach when I’m planning a shopping trip—how to keep the kids entertained, making lists, my husband’s schedule, the best route to get to the store while avoiding traffic and not getting lost…BUT if you remember to at least grab a snack (you know, one of those snacks you prepped in advance :)) it will be much easier to pass up all those goodies and hot foods at the grocery store. I notice all sorts of enticing foods at the store when I’m hungry that normally wouldn’t catch my eye at all.
The bottom line is that preparing food at home will help trim your budget, keep you healthier, and best of all, it will taste superior!
What are your favorite ways to make sure you eat from home?
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