Today when I opened the refrigerator to find something for lunch, I was a bit underwhelmed at my options…..the beef stew had been in there too long, and needed to be thrown away. My wife and I had eaten the pizza last night for dinner. The grapes? Kind of squishy, but not inedible.
The old Mike would have thrown away the grapes, they were just not something I wanted to EAT. The new Mike? The one that keeps reading articles and talking to people about reducing spending while out of work? The new Mike decided to make them into a smoothie!
As I write this, I’ve been out of work around 50 weeks. Hard to believe really. In the last year, I’ve done the following to save money:
Waste Less Food.
Every day, the US wastes nearly a pound of food PER PERSON. That’s a staggering amount of food. Ever since I read that article, and now that I’m out of regular work, I’ve been working on wasting less food. I:
- Store fruits and vegetables correctly. My wife was a personal chef, so we have a pretty good idea what to do, but this helps when I am not sure what to do.
- Check my refrigerator every day for lunch, to make sure I eat any leftovers (oops, didn’t do so well on the beef stew).
- Take way more to go boxes at restaurants than I used to. Even a handful of potatoes can be combined with eggs the next morning for breakfast.
- Work on not buying so many unusual ingredients. This is another huge source of waste in the US….those of us that like to cook new things often buy ingredients we don’t know what to do with after that first recipe. I do two things here:
- I buy smaller amounts. Sure, the per unit price is higher, but the total cost is lower and I don’t throw away as much/any.
- I try to find recipes for these ingredients….this is less successful for me than the previous bullet, frankly.
- Freeze the odds and ends from vegetables and use them to make stock, or add them to soups and stews. Again, this is more a practice than a perfection for me, but it definitely has reduced my waste.
- Use older fruits in smoothies.
Use Less (or Different) Food
I do like to cook. One of the secrets to healthy living, and to spending less money, is to eat just a bit less food. Now, I’m not suggesting dieting, nor am I offering this advice to anyone with an eating disorder. But, most people in the US eat more than they need to. Here are some things I’ve done in the last 50 weeks….
- I’ve cut back on meat. I’m not suggesting anyone stop eating meat. But, when a soup or stew recipe calls for a pound, I add 3/4 of a pound instead. Then I supplement that with more vegetables. This has the added benefit, to me, of reducing my carbon footprint. Might not be an issue for you, but I like that a lot.
- Beans and other sources of protein can be great substitutes for meat. Plus, they are cheaper. I especially like a well made veggie burger.
- When I first got laid off, I went on a creativity binge. One of the things I did was make this Magic Mineral Broth. The recipes in the Cancer Fighting Kitchen taste great, and are good for you. Cheaper and better than store bought.
- More water, less alcohol. My wife and I like go to wineries and breweries, its a real benefit of living in the Pacific Northwest. But, those can be pricey activities. So, we share a tasting when we go out. And at home, I work hard (probably not hard enough) to drink water and a glass of wine or a beer with dinner, rather than 2 glasses of wine. This saves money, and is probably better for our health….
Join Loyalty and Other Programs
I also started joining loyalty programs.
- I’m a member at a grocery store that gives discounts to members.
- We get money back when I bring my own bags to a different grocery store (though I donate that to charity).
- I also get coupons from several different companies by joining their programs. This includes berries and protein bars.
- I use my PRIME charge card at Whole Foods and get extra money back on the card (and also for being a PRIME member).
- We were Costco members, but didn’t use it enough after our kids moved out. But, that is a great option for a lot of people.
Sure, you’ll get spam, and maybe they are tracking what I buy….or don’t….but I do save money this way. Some of these don’t pay for themselves, like PRIME, but we use PRIME for other purposes beyond this. This is just gravy, as it were….
More Things I’ve Done to Reduce Food Expenses
- I own my own espresso machine, and I use it. Sometimes you have to invest money to save money. This thing has paid for itself over and over again. That said, I do meet people for coffee or other beverages – it’s important to have relationships.
- Buy stuff that is on sale. When I go to the grocery store, I look for sale items. I DON’T buy things I wouldn’t otherwise buy. One of the few snacks we eat is blue corn chips. Whenever they are buy one get one, I buy more of them. Recently fresh pizza was also buy one get one free, and we bought two of those.
- Shop at multiple stores. For canned goods and other things, I go to the less expensive grocery store.
- I keep a shopping list. Never did this until this year, but I use Google Keep to keep a list. It’s easy to uncheck an item to add it to the list again. This reduces my number of trips to the store, saving me gas (or walking time) and also means I plan more things out ahead of time, which usually results in cheaper meals being planned.
- I walk to stores. We are about to buy a house, and it will be a bit further to the grocery store than I want…..but for now, I walk to stores to get items a few times a week. This means I usually get fresher food, which means I waste less, and also means I eat what I want more days, rather than what is around.
The oddest thing? I drink kombucha sometimes…..but it isn’t as cheap as soda pop, so I buy a super flavorful version, and then mix it with less expensive mineral water and tap water. I think I have the ratio about right now, and it drops the per serving cost to less than half what it would otherwise be.
You can’t live without food, but you can change your habits to spend less money on the food you do buy. This isn’t a comprehensive list of all the ways to save money by any means, but just a few things I do.
How have you saved money on food? Let us know in the comments, or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.