In my opinion, the kitchen is the one place in the home where we have the most control over spending. Usually, our mortgage and electricity are not negotiable, but we do have complete control over what we put into our shopping cart.
It is a fact is that eating out costs significantly more than eating in. While eating out offers a break from the kitchen, time to sit and visit with family, and sometimes food that we don’t usually get to eat at home, it is a comparatively costly choice. Giving up eating out has been one of the most difficult aspects for me, as I really love the break from not only cooking, but all of the required clean up. Since I choose to work in the home, rather than outside, I have learned to look at providing all of our meals at home as my job. Now, on the rare occasions that I do get to enjoy a restaurant meal, it is truly a treat!
I would suggest tracking how much you spend on eating meals outside of the home. I use “Quicken” software to track my spending in various categories so it is easy for me to see what we spend in each category at a glance. One look at what we were spending eating out in a year was enough to encourage me to cook at home! If, however, you feel that what you spend eating out is reasonable for your family, then by all means, continue to enjoy. However, if you need to trim this expense, then hopefully I can provide the tools and encouragement that you need.
The thing that has helped me the most in this area is to have goals and dreams. My husband and I have two major goals for our family: to stay out of debt and to pay off our home mortgage early (both to lessen the financial burden each month and to save on the total interest paid). These issues are important enough to us that we will sacrifice pleasures like eating out as well as choosing less expensive options for our grocery cart. We could choose to eat out and purchase our every desire at the grocery store, but the costs aren’t worth it to us. When I am tempted to go out for pizza, all I need to do is consider which choice is more important to me. I will choose the dream over a meal out
almost every time. Find what motivates you. It may be a dream vacation, a new car, sending the kids to college, or getting out of debt. The idea is that you are making informed choices that keep you in control of your finances.
The next step I would consider is setting up a budget. This is the easiest for salaried income as you generally know how much you will bring in each month and how much of it you can allocate towards groceries. I would recommend keeping your grocery budget separate from your “eating out” budget because if you spend too much eating out, you will find yourself in trouble at the grocery store. For some of us who have adjusting incomes, a budget is more of a challenge, but I find that the effort is well worth it. It can be fun to see what you can do within a limited amount, particularly in a tight month. There are many, free, online resources to teach you how to set up a budget. www.stacymakescents.com is a great site for free budgeting information, as well as Dave Ramsey’s website – www.daveramsey.com
One thing to consider when setting up your budget is food for storage and/or bulk purchases. I try to stay under budget whenever possible. When I have extra on the months I managed to stay under, I set that money aside for times when I see items on sale that I can purchase simply to stock up on. Other times, I set it aside for larger purchases, such as a cut of beef from a butcher, my garden, chickens, etc.
We have had a few very tight months where I have been able to feed us for the entire month almost exclusively on what I had on hand in the pantry and in the freezer. This is because I was able to stock up on previous months when I saw items on sale for a good price. Allowing a little room in the budget for this kind of shopping can be invaluable in a month when you really need it. An internet search of “pantry challenge” will give you lots of ideas and encouragement as this is very popular among bloggers. For more inspiration, do an internet search for “No Spend Challenge”.
Making bulk purchases requires more money up front, but is usually much cheaper than buying the items one at a time. A perfect example of this is purchasing a side of beef from a local butcher. If, however, this isn’t feasible for you, I would suggest purchasing less expensive cuts of meat and preferably when they are on sale. A quick internet search will help you figure out how to use any type or cut of meat that you may be unfamiliar with. Also, consider making meat an accompaniment to the meal, rather than the star. Meat prices continue to increase and often serving an entire piece of meat for each person just isn’t practical. I plan on posting several recipes that will help you make your meat go as far as possible.
That brings me to my next pieces of advice; shop the ads so that you can buy what is on sale as much as possible and consider the benefits of weekly or monthly meal planning. For someone like me, trying to cook all meals, snacks, and desserts from scratch at home, meal planning is imperative to my success. Before I make a meal plan, I search my refrigerator, freezer, and pantry to see what I have on hand already. Then I look at the grocery store ad(s) to see what is on sale. Between these two, I make a meal plan for at least a week. At the bottom of my plan, I make a list of the items I need to make to go with our meals or the prep work I need to do ahead of time. For example, if I am making hamburgers, I need to take meat out of the freezer to defrost, make hamburger buns if I don’t already have some in the freezer, make condiments, etc. I do this for each meal of every day.
When I find an extra few minutes in the kitchen, I will try to accomplish a job or two for the next day so that I always feel like I am ahead of the game. Some people do well with monthly meal plans, but I find that a weekly plan is simpler for me. However, I do have a list of meals that I make and rotate on a regular basis. This is very helpful for me to glance at when I am feeling uninspired.
Stay tuned for future posts where I get more specific about practical ways to trim your grocery budget!
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