Note: Saving money is about being organized and having a plan.
Are you serious? Lists, journals, labeling systems?! You have to be kidding me. Cooking is an experience, an art, a love! Mastering the skill of improvisation is as quintessential to cooking food as it is to life. You can’t ask me to plan it all out; that would be like budgeting a weekly kiss exchange with my boyfriend or having a set time limit on every phone call I made to my best friends. Okay, maybe that is a bit overdramatic, and I don’t exactly pay for those things like I do food. But although budgeting money for your meals isn’t easy, it’s well worth the effort.
Thinking about food is one thing; thinking about what all goes into eating is another. So if you are looking for a fatter wallet without having to starve, I would suggest the B.U.D.G.E.T.S. Plan:
Buy it in Bulk
Utilize savings club cards, sales and coupons
Don’t impulse buy. Do use a list.
Eat out less
Take time to plan out your weekly meals
Stop shopping for food when you’re hungry
Now that you know the code, you can start unlocking new savings!
But we all strive for this model, at least mentally, isn’t that enough? No, you have to take it to the next level, and I will explain to you why.
Buy it in Bulk:
This is more for canned and non-perishable goods. The benefit to buying in bulk is not only the price, but also the convenience and security of having a well stocked pantry. If you use large quantities of certain items, consider going bulk. Also, when trying to decide whether to go for the normal or JUMBO can of something, always look at the unit price [often written in tiny print in the corner] to decide whether it’s cheaper to buy the larger size. The only drawback of buying in bulk is space. If you are still sharing a dorm room this can get tricky, but look into storage closet space or available public space in local fridges.
Utilize Savings Club Cards, Sales and Coupons:
Most grocery stores now incentivize shoppers with savings cards. Fill out an application – or if you forget yours, ask a cashier clerk to swipe theirs. Any kind of savings is worth five minutes and your name and email address. Plus, sometimes there are also secondary savings like discounted gas.
Don’t impulse buy. Do Make a List:
Always keep all your grocery needs on one list. Once you run out of something, write it down immediately, for once you get to the wonderland that is a supermarket, you won’t remember that you just ran out of mustard on Tuesday. Also, remember that a grocery list is much more than just a laundry list of items. An effective grocery list is a pre-printed template designed specifically for your grocer that outlines aisles and what certain items can be found in each. This prompts you to remember what you usually buy or don’t want to forget. It also helps you break down meals into ingredients and use the same pound of hamburger or can of fruit for two meals instead of wasting it all on one. My mom started this kind of grocery list system for our household and it’s one of those things that I will bring on to my own family. If you want to stick to the budget, you have to stick to the list. Sales and desires aside, get what you need, not everything you want.
The stigma of buying off-brands aside, for the most part the only difference between the generic and name brands is price. Even at only a few cents cheaper, you would be surprised at how quickly it all adds up. Usually the producer is the same for both the generic and name brand, their courses change only for packaging and shipping. Ultimately, it comes down to personal taste. For some, generic brands can be cheap, comparable alternatives; for others, a Kid-O or Chocolate Sandwich Cookie will never be an Oreo.
Eat out less:
Eating out is as much a social excursion as it is a feeding opportunity, so I recommend that your budget does allow room for the occasional dinner out or delivery pizza. No one can anticipate when you might get the late night munchies, so be prepared with a little cash cushion. Also, eat out and fill up for lunch when prices are lower, then spend less on your homemade dinner.
Take time to plan out your weekly meals:
Sit down at the beginning of each week and assess your week in food terms. If you wake up thinking about dinner as you eat your breakfast like me, this shouldn’t be too hard. If you don’t, it won’t take longer than 20 minutes a week. Look at the state of your reserves, pull out some recipes or make mental combinations in your head – bottom line: What do I have? What do I need? This decreases waste and limits overbuying. Hate coming up with ideas for meals ahead of time? These are just mere guidelines meant to help, not cramp your style. If you are craving something, go for it! Because at the end of the meal you want to be full and satisfied.
Stop shopping for food when you’re hungry:
Worst. Idea. Ever. You think you have experienced cravings? When you are hungry in a grocery store, everything looks good. Maybe you just want to see where your stomach leads you during your grocery experiences, but let me be the first to tell you, all you end up with a lot that you don’t need and only a little in your bank account.
Daunting as this all sounds, I am in the same boat as you. I’ve got a whole semester to budget and break down weekly. Somehow I have to get organized, because my money supply has a ceiling, even if my demand keeps soaring. So if you have questions or even suggestions, let me know. I am a curious cook, and am always open to modification and additions.