Budgeting: Save Money on Food

Time To Read 4 MIN READ

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average American family of four spends $8,513 per year on groceries—that's $709 per month! And many of us blow our budgets further on restaurant meals.

Learn to cook

Eating out is a huge budget-buster. Even seemingly inexpensive fast food can add up quickly. Cooking your own meals could save you a small fortune on restaurants and groceries (you'll buy fewer pricey frozen and prepared meals). Plus, you could make dating cheaper—who wouldn't be impressed by a cozy dinner?

Scour the Web for simple recipes to get your feet wet, or check out beginner cookbooks at your local bookstore.

Take fewer trips to the grocery store

Making bigger shopping trips less often will cut down on your impulse buys. In fact, almost half of all shoppers go to the store three or four times per week. Shoppers making a "quick trip" to the store usually purchase 54 percent more than they planned, according to a study published by the Marketing Science Institute.

If you go to the store three times a week and spend $10 on impulse buys each trip, that adds up to $120 extra per month. But if you go only once a week, you'll spend $40 per month on impulse buys. That saves you $80 per month, or $960 per year.

Break your restaurant routine

This may seem obvious, but we are creatures of habit and convenience. Make an effort to cut back a little, such as dining out once a week instead of three nights a week. With $20 meals, this simple act will trim your expenses by $160 a month.

Or try something different—and cheaper. Pick up a restaurant guide or a tour book of your city for budget-friendly suggestions. If you eat out three times a week, cutting just $5 from each meal ticket will save you $60 a month.

Bring your lunch to work

Spending just $2 a day on a homemade lunch versus $6 a day on the sandwich shop next to the office will save you about $80 a month—that's $960 each year.

Grocery shop with focus

Another way to cut down on impulse buys is to shop with a list. Sketch out the week's meals and jot down the ingredients you'll need. Remember to factor in treats, snacks and lunches. Then stick to the list.

You may find it helpful to leave the kids at home so you're not tempted to give in to pressure from crying children for an extra treat or toy that isn't on your list.

Buy generic

You can almost always save money by choosing a no-name brand instead of a brand name. And you usually won't sacrifice much in quality on many items, from cereal to canned goods and frozen vegetables. Also, the savings on generic baby formula and prescription drugs can be huge.

You could save a few cents to a couple of dollars per item. And that adds up quickly each month.

Make your own latte

That daily $4 cup of coffee is costing you $120 per month—or more than $1,400 per year. Invest in a good-quality machine and make your own brew for much less. Or kick the caffeine habit altogether and enjoy the health benefits along with the financial.

Use coupons

You know about coupons for groceries. But don't overlook bargains for dining out. Hit the Web, where you can find printable coupons and codes for dozens of eateries.

Time your meal

No, eating quickly won't make the bill smaller. Rather, consider eating out for lunch instead of dinner. That way you can get lunch-menu prices for dinner-quality entrees.

Mind the unit price

Many grocery store price tags will tell you how much an item costs per ounce, per pound or per some other unit of measure. Comparison-shop by unit price and you'll save.

For example, a pack of 40 diapers at our local drugstore costs $13, or 33 cents per diaper. A box of 144 diapers costs $35, or 24 cents per diaper. A difference of 9 cents may not seem like much, but when you change a diaper six to eight times each day, that amounts to a savings of $16 to $22 per month.

One caveat: Don't buy in bulk if you can't use it all—otherwise you wasted your money, no matter how good a deal it was.