I’m spending next week with friends and family, unplugged and relaxing. In the spirit of taking a break, this post is going to be more about food, and less about personal finance. However, between grocery shopping and eating out, food is a big part of everyone’s finances. Cutting back in these areas is always an easy place to start if you are looking to spend less money on a regular basis.
When I look at our budget separated into wants and needs, by far the biggest item in our want budget is eating out. Whenever money is feeling a bit tight, or we are saving for a big purchase, we make a extra effort to eat all our meals at home. It is much cheaper, and healthier, to cook at home rather than getting take-out or eating out. Even my favorite special occasion meal is a relative bargain when cooked at home, compared to what it would cost in a restaurant. The two biggest obstacles I face to eating at home are time and ideas.
A few years ago we were really watching every penny and decided to do a 30 day eat at home challenge. For one month we only ate at home including lunches during the work week. During this time I made an interesting discovery, if we had all our meals planned out ahead of time and the right ingredients on hand, we could whip up a meals at home in less time than it took to eat out or get take out. As a result, we now plan out our meals for the week every weekend and only grocery shop once a week. Before, we would often get home from work with no plan and no ingredients. The idea of looking through recipes and going to the store always sounds so daunting at the end of a long day and going out was winning out more often than not. Shopping ahead of time insures that we have all the ingredients on hand to start cooking as soon as we get home from work.
To sum up, here are the three things we do to save money on our monthly food budget:
1) Cook meals at home
2) Plan out all meals for the the week over the weekend and grocery shop once. This not only insures that you have all necessary ingredients at home, it also insures that everything you buy gets used and eliminates the need to buy items without having a plan in mind.
3) Bring your lunch to work. I love to bring leftovers for lunch, but I also try to keep a few staples around so I can bring a peanut butter sandwich and yogurt, on days when there are no leftovers.
For recipe ideas we rely on a library of cookbooks and several great websites. By far my favorite food blog is Smitten Kitchen. Deb has a gorgeous blog with amazing photos and recipes. I love the ‘surprise me’ function in the left hand column. This blog has a full range of offerings: great cakes, meals to impress guests, and meals for a quick weekday meal.
Another old standby in our kitchen is Epicurious. I use this site not only when I have something particular in mind, but also when I have a specific ingredient I want to use up (particularly handy if you have a farm share) or if I only have a few ingredients on hand and need ideas. Just this week I found a great recipe by searching for linguine and olives.
If you have a favorite site for recipes, please share.
As Where’s My Trust Fund? enters into its third month I want to thank you all for reading, commenting, and emailing me. It has been so much fun writing and getting to know my readers. I will no be posting next week but I will be back the following week.