Budgeting / Credit Cards and Debt / Personal Finance

Fix Your Finances in 30 Days

Day 20: Evaluating Your Expenses – Food

For many of us, food eats a much bigger portion of our monthly budget than we even realize. We grab some fast food a few times a week, grab take out a few more times a week, and dine out at expensive restaurants here and there. The thing is, though, that it is very easy to cut down on this expense. Here are a few simple strategies to employ.

Eat out less; prepare more food at home. This is the single biggest key to reducing your spending on food over any period of time. I tend to find that it’s more worthwhile to find simple replacements for fast food and to make stuff at home rather than getting take out than giving up a weekend dinner out with my wife.

If you don’t know how to cook, teach yourself, starting with simpler recipes. There are a lot of books out there that can teach you how to cook (trust me, I’ve read a lot of them). The three that stand out (for me) are How to Cook Everything (probably the best overall for learning), The New Best Recipe (probably the best recipes), and The Joy of Cooking (probably the best reference and easiest to find used). Get one of these three and make a commitment to cook. In fact, if you stick around until February, I’m going to somewhat give into my desire to have a cooking blog and do a four week crash course on learning to cook at home with an eye towards the pocketbook.

Give leftovers a try. I used to think leftovers were the epitome of nasty, but then I figured out a few key secrets about making leftovers better: keep the foods rotating and make sure to spice the leftovers themselves. If you prepare a bit extra at mealtime, leftovers make for extremely cheap dining.

Buy a deep freezer. This allows you to buy some foods in bulk at a very cheap rate. Once you have the freezer, check with a local butcher to see what kind of deal you can get on bulk meat; you’ll be amazed how much of a discount you can get on bulk orders. You can also move to a system of preparing many meals at once and freezing them for later use; it’s a lot easier after a busy day to come home and pop a meal in the oven than it is to stop at the take-out place, especially when you realize how much cheaper the first option is, too.

Organize a series of potluck dinners. If you have a group that regularly dines out together regularly, suggest that you have a rotation of potlucks or backyard barbecues instead. If everyone is on board with this, it can be vastly cheaper and often more fun. Some of my best memories of dining with friends are not from restaurants, but from sitting on back porches watching the moon rise and enjoying a bottle of wine in the gentle warmth of a summer evening.

Ready? Let’s continue on to the next day.