Stretching Your Food Budget During Hard Times

Creative Commons License photo credit: yomi955

This is a guest post by Melissa at Master Your Card where she blogs about how to use credit cards wisely. Check out her great credit card blog and subscribe here!

Tough times are all around us. It seems that the price of everything is always going up and, unfortunately, our incomes have a tough time keeping up with the soaring cost of living. How do we control our budget at a time when we can barely control the price of basic necessities such as food, utilities and gas?

One area that we do have a little more control over is the food budget. Yes, the price of produce has gone up significantly, as well as the price of other goods. But, there are still many ways we can save on the way we buy food.

Create a plan

Design a menu plan for the week. If you know what you’ll be eating, you will be less tempted to get expensive take-out because you don’t have a plan for dinner. Here you can plan your men and ingredients for the week or for the month as illustrated below:

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you plan your meal menu:

What? No Lucky Charms?!

If you’re used to eating cold cereal for breakfast every day, you may not like what I have to say: Cold cereal can be a serious drain on the food budget! Most cold cereals also contain lots of sugar, additives, and artificial flavorings. The cost of cold cereal can cost almost four-dollars a box, and it’s not very filling.
There are other options for a less expensive, and healthier breakfast

  • Oatmeal: I’m not talking about the little packets of flavored oatmeal; I mean the good old-fashioned oatmeal. It’s significantly cheaper, more filling, and better for you. Oatmeal’s boring you say? Try flavoring it with some honey and sprinkle a few chopped walnuts on top. Or, you can add some brown sugar, cinnamon, and raisins.
  • Toast: Have a piece of whole-wheat toast with peanut butter and sliced bananas on top for a nutritious inexpensive breakfast. Here’s a tip: Make your own bread! Trent @ The Simple Dollar has an awesome post on how to make your own bread
  • Smoothies: For a cheap, quick, healthy breakfast, make fruit smoothies. I buy fruit, such as bananas, peaches, and strawberries when it’s on sale. You can usually get a good deal if you buy the fruit when it’s a little over-ripe, which is great for smoothies. Chop the fruit into bite-sized pieces. Place the fruit into freezer bags and keep in the freezer until your ready to use it. There are a variety of ways to make smoothies. I like to take some apple juice, frozen bananas, and strawberries, and blend it into a delicious treat.

Minimize Meat Consumption

Instead of sitting down to a big plate of expensive lamb, file mignon or seafood for dinner, fill your plate with something tasty, but less expensive.

  • Potatoes: Potatoes are filling – and cheap! Try having a baked potato bar for dinner.
  • Rice: Rice is inexpensive and versatile. Cook up some rice and top it with a variety of stir-fried vegetables. You might also want to stock up given the recent rice shortage and rationing going on at Sam’s club. This is sure to cause others to buy excess bulk f or their own storage.
  • Pasta: With the many varieties of pasta, there are endless possibilities for tasty, inexpensive meals.
  • Meat: Okay, you can have some meat – just think of it as the sideshow, instead of the main attraction. Use meat to flavor soups, casseroles, and pastas. For example, instead of having meat loaf, make hamburger soup for a less expensive option.

Once you’ve got a menu planned, here are some helpful shopping tips:

How to grocery shop without busting your budget
Grocery stores are designed in a way to get the shopper to spend more money – that’s how they stay in business. Keep that concept in mind when you do your grocery shopping. Here are some tips to help you keep more money in your wallet as you shop.

  • Make a list: Don’t wander around the store aimlessly looking for something for dinner. Have a plan when you go. You’ll shop quicker, smarter, and save money by sticking to a list.
  • Don’t shop when you’re hungry: Go shopping right after you eat. You’ll be less likely to spend money on expensive munchies if you’re full.
  • Watch out for convenience foods: Buying too many “meals in a box” can sap your food budget. Try making more meals from scratch. When you make a meal, make double the amount you normally would, and freeze the extra for a quick and easy meal later.
  • Beware of the store’s layout: Have you ever noticed how you have to walk to the back of the store to get to staple items, such as milk and bread? This is a trick the stores use to get you to buy more stuff! Don’t fall for it. Only buy what you need.
  • Don’t buy at eye level: Stores like to place more expensive items at eye level. Look on the top or bottom shelves to find better bargains.

You have the food; now what?

How many times do you go through the trouble to get good deals on your groceries, only to find many items thinly disguised in a greenish-sort of fuzz in the back of the fridge a month later?

  • Know how to store your food, especially produce. It’s worth it to take the time to find out the best way to store your food.
  • Don’t let your leftovers become science projects. For a while, my husband and I had the great honor of participating in the monthly fridge clean out. To keep it interesting, we’d pull out containers of unidentifiable fuzz and play the “What is it?” game. Soon, we realized that we were wasting money with each container of moldy goo we dumped into the garbage. Now we make a greater effort to eat our leftovers before they look like science projects.

Be flexible

Of course there will be times when you’ll want to sit down to a juicy sirloin or start the morning with a big bowl of Cocoa Puffs. Just don’t make it every day. Every little bit helps when you’re trying to whittle down the food budget.

  • Wholesale Suppliers

    Thanks a lot Melissa, for such a useful info. All the tips are very practical and useful too..Can you also give us some tips on how to handle current credit crunch??

  • Yogurt Maker

    Some really great advice here.Thank you for this post :)

  • Urban Frugal

    Shopping the sales generally makes a difference. Certain items are “loss leaders” for stores. The store hopes that you will be lured in to buy sale items but will also buy other things as well. If you know this when you go shopping you can save a lot more.

    Certain things are always staples in my house and one or twice a week I try to make dinner that will cost less than $1 per serving. It could even be a dish with meat, if I buy something on sale and cook only 1 chicken breast out of the package. [Actually cooking the item, not buying pre-cooked.]

    I agree with Velvet Jones about portion control. When you see what a portion should be, you will realize how long your groceries should last.

    Urban Frugal’s last blog post..DIY Flavored Water

  • Auntie M

    Hey Melissa, Thanks for your tips!

    What we call something makes a difference in our thinking so all those sugar filled cereals have always been “junk food cereal” to my children. They only have it once a week and the rest of the days they can have oats (raw), or granola. We throw in toast every now and then too!

    When making a menu, a friend of mine uses the sales paper and what coupons she has to help her decide what meals she’ll prepare. She swears by this method of saving $$$.

    Auntie M.
    Highly Effective, Wonderfully Simple Home Management

  • Raycal

    I just went grocery shopping last night and although I was starving when I went shopping, I didn’t go overboard. I bought mostly neccessities and 2 packages of meat. Everything else was veggies, fruit, salad and of course cereal and oatmeal.

    I didn’t even buy any sodas or anything and my grocery bill was $200.00. I looked at my cart like what did I get?

    We made spaghetti for dinner. I bought whole wheat pasta and it was very good. I usually spend $200.00 when I got to BJ’s Wholesale but this was Safeway. Not only can I not afford to eat out, pretty soon I’m not gonna be able to afford to buy groceries…GOODNESS!

  • velvet jones

    A couple things I do:

    1. Lots of dried black beans. Yeah, it takes a while to cook them, but you control the sodium and they taste better. Plus black beans have a ridiculous amount of nutrition…and cheap!

    2. Portion control. If you pay attention the nutritional information of the side of the box, can, etc., it will reveal that you were probably eating the whole thing when it was truly 4 servings! I started measuring out my portions. When I cook in batches, I actually measure out the proper portion of food in individual containers and freeze them. I have a bag of granola at my desk at work. I keep a 1/2 cup measuring cup in the bag to remind me to only eat one serving with my yogurt in the morning. This step has helped my groceries last longer.

    velvet jones’s last blog post..Updates!

  • Trent Hamm

    I like making my own oatmeal packets. A bit of oatmeal, a bit of sugar, a pinch of salt, a bit of powdered milk, and whatever flavorings I want. I make about 100 baggies at a time and save them in the big Quaker Oats container.

    Trent Hamm’s last blog post..A Portfolio of Credit Cards for Specific Purchases?

  • Austin Chu

    The best oatmeal is Coach’s oatmeal, and they sell that at Costco. It’s so cheap. Steal cut oats the best. I like to add Bolthouse Farms protein vanilla chai soymilk. It’s amazing, add some bananas, mmm, so tasty.

    Austin Chu’s last blog post..We need more than just lunch money!

  • Future Millionaire

    Thanks for the grocery shopping tips. Saturday I went to the grocery store and spend about $75 and I can’t even figure out what I spent it all on.

    I want to second your advice about oatmeal for breakfast – not only is dry oatmeal cheaper than dry cereal you also save money on not needing to use milk on the cereal.

    Future Millionaire’s last blog post..Monthly Net Worth Update — May 2008

  • Pingback: grocery » Blog Archive » Stretching Your Food Budget During Hard Times()