How to Save Money on Food in 2014

With all of the good things that the New Year brings (celebration, a clean slate) there’s also some bad. It’s a time of reflection, when we look back at our bank statements and say “Where did it all go?!” We make a budget and promise we’ll finally follow it. 2014 will be the year of saving. New Year, new resolutions… new budget.

As we all know, that’s easier said than done. Budgeting can be pretty depressing (as I found out when I factored in grad school tuition for this year… ouch). There are some things we have control of – like buying another pair of black patent leather flats – and other things, like rent, that we (to some extent) can’t control. We all have to eat, making food a necessary expense, but we can choose to eat more affordability – giving us control over our budget!

I’m always in pursuit of a good deal, and over the years have whittled my food budget down to the bare minimum. In that spirit, here are some tips for saving money on food in 2014.

  1. Cook for yourself. This should go without saying (this is a cooking blog after all), but it needs to be said. Cooking is extremely less expensive than eating out. Create a budget for your weekly food allowance and try to stay within it with groceries and meals out.
  2. If you do eat out… make the most of leftovers. It’s not always the most cost efficient to order the cheapest thing on the menu. Look for menu items that keep well and could be repurposed as leftovers, like rice or pasta. Stay away from salads or sandwiches that don’t keep well. Take advantage of big portion sizes and pack the leftovers for the next day.
  3. Plan your meals in advance. Before heading to the grocery store, make a plan for what you’ll eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day of the week. Make a grocery list that includes only enough food to get you through the week. Pencil in planned outings – like a coworkers birthday lunch or dinner with the girls – so you don’t buy extra food. This is the best way to figure out how much you need to buy to avoid wasted food and money.
  4. Read the circular. While planning meals for the week, check the circular of your local grocery store for the weekly sales. Circulars for most major grocery stores are available on their websites. Decide what to eat based on what’s on sale.
  5. Buy in bulk during sales. Reviewing the circular can tip you off in advance when your favorite items are cheap. Take advantage and grab staples (like chicken breasts) in bulk when they’re on sale. Proteins are typically the most expensive part of your grocery bill, so keep an eye on these and freeze extras for a later date.
  6. Get a savings card. If you don’t have one already, make sure to pick up a customer savings card at the customer service counter at your grocery store. Most of those savings from the circular don’t apply if you don’t have the card, and you can often get better coupons.
  7. Eat vegetarian. You can get just as much protein at half the price by cooking vegetarian meals. Try working affordable proteins like tofu, quinoa, or edamame into one meal per week. You’ll be surprised as how inexpensive (and delicious) it can be. If you save with a veggie meal one night, maybe you’ll be able to splurge on a steak the next day!

How do you save money on food? Any creative solutions?

Confession: A Week of Eating Out

eating out picstitch

I have a confession to make.

Last week, I ate out for lunch and dinner. Every day.

This is unprecedented. Every now and then I like to treat myself and go out to eat, but I like cooking for myself and, to be honest, eating out frequently makes me nervous. When I eat out, I feel like I’m spending so much money for so much less than I can make at home. It also feels harder to eat healthy food since I can’t control what goes into the recipe if it’s made by someone else.

Last weekend just happened to be really busy and I never made it to the grocery store. I had high hopes at the beginning of the week, but never made it, and continued eating out. Here’s how the week looked:

On Monday I tried really hard to make it through the day without purchasing a meal. At this point, I hadn’t succumbed to eating out all week and was hopeful that I’d make it to the grocery store at some point. Unfortunately, it didn’t end well. I went on a run after work and felt terribly afterwards, probably because I hadn’t eaten enough calories throughout the day.

For breakfast I had toast with peanut butter and homemade peach jam (thanks, Nana!). Lunch was leftovers from the night before – a stir-fry of all of leftover veggies (cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, and edamame) on brown rice. After recovering from my run, I stopped at Subway for a 6-inch turkey sandwich loaded with veggies ($4). I also had two granola bars as snacks during the day.

Tuesday was much better because I incorporated more fruit and veggies after the running incident from the night before. I had the same toast with peanut butter and jam for breakfast but picked up a fresh fruit cup ($4) from the sandwich shop on the first floor of my office building. For lunch I had a steak salad from Chipotle ($7). My intention was to save half of it for lunch the next day, but it was too delicious and I ate the whole thing in one sitting. Before heading to hip hop yoga that night, I picked up a small strawberry passion smoothie from Au Bon Pain ($4), which was the perfect light snack before working out. For dinner I had a 6-inch breakfast sandwich on flatbread from Subway ($4).

By Wednesday I was in the groove and had the same toast and fruit cup for breakfast ($4). Lunch was my go-to cheap and easy lunch in Harvard Square: the falafel appetizer from Falafel Corner ($4). It comes with 2 falafel balls, a salad of chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, pita, and a side of tzatziki for just 4 dollars! For dinner I had (you guessed it) a 6-inch turkey sandwich from Subway ($4). If you couldn’t tell, there aren’t too many healthy options near my apartment.

Breakfast on Thursday was a treat – a hot tea and banana from Dunkin Donuts ($3) and a bagel and cream cheese from the sandwich shop in my office building ($3). For lunch, I used a 5 dollar credit to the Just Crust in Harvard Square. I ordered the garden salad and a slice of pesto veggie pizza. With the credit, the meal cost me just $5 (originally $10) and was enough food for two meals (see Friday, below). That evening, I was treated to dinner at a restaurant in Cambridge.

Finally, Friday rolled around. For breakfast I had toast, jam, peanut butter and a fruit cup ($4). Lunch was a steak burrito bowl from Qdoba ($4 – 50% off after using a coupon!). For dinner, I had the leftover salad and pizza from the Just Crust.

My total expenses for the week were $58 – surprisingly, that’s just about the same amount I budget for myself in groceries each week. I feel like I stayed relatively healthy in my food choices by opting for veggies and fruits whenever I could. I lucked out with some help (from Level Up and coupons) but I consider that being resourceful. All in all, it wasn’t too bad. But first thing Saturday morning I went to the grocery store!

Images: homemade jam from my Nana (upper left), naked steak burrito bowl from Qdoba (upper right), pizza (lower left) and salad (lower right) from Just Crust.