Credit Sesame’s advice on how to eat like a king on a budget.
Shopping for food other than the basics without blowing your budget can feel like a tall order. Prices at the grocery store seem to creep – or even leap – higher. If you’re hungry for a better way to get eats you love while sticking to money management best practices, we’ve got you covered.
It turns out food doesn’t have to consume a big chunk of your budget. In fact, it’s entirely possible to find high-quality fruits, meats, vegetables and other ingredients that are affordable if you follow the right tips. You can do this whether you eat just about anything or if you stick to a specific diet. It applies on average days and during the busy holiday feast season.
The bounty of available food options means it’s a buyer’s market. You can use that to your advantage the next time you visit the market. Read on to discover how it’s done.
1. Define your monthly food budget
Review or create your monthly household budget. Determine how much money you want to spend on food. If you need examples to spur your thinking, try using a free calculator to see about how much you should spend on food and other necessities. By setting a cap, you are putting a healthy boundary in place. It ensures you have plenty of money for good things to eat while setting aside enough to pay other expenses.
How much should you earmark for food? It’s totally up to you. If you want to estimate what the average family might spend, you can refer to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest Cost of Food Reports. Updated monthly, they illustrate about how much the average family spends on food per child and per adult.
Once you have your food budget written down, begin using it along with these strategies:
- Live on less than you make
- Budget for foods that are healthy and nutritious, not just cheap
- Use cash in an envelope to stick to your budget – or commit to paying off your balance in full each month if you use a credit card for groceries
- Ask a spouse, a friend or another person you trust to keep you accountable for sticking to your grocery budget
If you use a credit card for groceries and make regular on-time payments, you get the added benefit of boosting your credit report. To keep tabs on your credit report and credit score, get the free Credit Sesame app.
2. Survey your local grocery landscape
Once you’ve set aside funds for food, it’s time to see your community’s available food options in a new light. Take the time to visit businesses that sell food in your local area. Keep an open mind, too. Some communities have multiple high-end groceries, while others – sometimes called food deserts – have few if any options beyond a gas-station convenience store.
In addition to groceries that primarily sell food, check out big box stores, dollar stores, farmers markets, and roadside food stands.
Even more options might be available to you online. Do a quick internet search about fresh fruits, vegetables, or meats in your local area. More and more farms sell products directly to people online. Some even offer delivery service straight your door or a location nearby.
As you evaluate options, make mental notes or jot down comments in your phone that answer these questions:
- Which stores have the cheapest food options? Which have the most expensive?
- Which stores have the widest selection of foods my family eats? Which have the least selection?
- Which store is most convenient to reach from my house or apartment? Which requires some extra planning and logistics to visit – which could mean higher gas costs?
- Which stores offer perks such as coupons, curbside pickup or home delivery?
- Which stores do my friends and family frequent, and why? Which of these makes the most sense for my family?
You might care about other factors, too. That’s great. Evaluate all of these criteria as you decide where to shop because it can add up to financial savings.
For example, if you can get a majority of food items in a single location, you save on gas money. That’s because you don’t make multiple trips across town. On the other hand, one location might have less selection but offer discounted food prices steeply. That could make shopping there an easy “yes.”
3. Get what you need, then what you want
Eating like a king requires shopping with a king’s mindset. If you’re going to be your royal best, it’s important to start with foods that are healthy and nutritious. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and high-quality meat and dairy products are among the kinds of ingredients to prioritize. These tend to be more expensive than canned or other processed food. On the other hand, they’re often better for you. Paying a little more for these items could positively contribute to your health and well-being.
By starting with the items you need to dish-up balanced meals, you put your dollars where they do you the most good. Use the remaining funds in your budget for the fun stuff. This includes snacks, sweets, and unexpected finds you’re dying to taste-test.
4. Shop seasonally for the best deals
Decades ago, shoppers had fewer food options. Groceries stocked shelves with seasonal produce. These days, most groceries carry an abundance of food year-round. What changed? Groceries now have access to a much broader supply chain. When summer ends and blueberry season wraps up in the U.S., stores can source blueberries from South America or Canada throughout the fall, winter, and spring.
You can return to this retro practice of buying what’s in season to save money. Start by researching your favorite foods online – or talking with local farmers – to understand which products are in season at which time of year in your area.
Time your purchases to coincide with when favorite foods that are in season. When seasonal foods become available, there is plenty of supply, which can send your food prices lower. Meanwhile, hold off on purchasing certain foods when they’re out of season. Out-of-season ingredients tend to cost more money. That’s because local supplies are limited or products are being imported from another country, which costs the grocer – and you – extra cash.
Another perk of this approach? Chances are better that in-season purchases benefits local and regional farmers and ranchers working hard to put that food on your table. Farmers’ markets are a great place to discover what’s available at any time of year in your neighborhood.
5. Consider coupon savings
Many groceries provide coupons for food savings via a mobile app or via printed ads available as you arrive in the store. You can also find food coupons in newspapers, online, or in your physical mailbox.
Don’t stop with traditional coupons, though. Once you get to the store, look out for a variety of boxes, cans, and fresh produce with savings you haven’t previously heard about. These in-store discounts keep people coming back to shop again and again. Look for bright-colored signage and specially marked labels to find these hidden gems and claim them.
6. Scout out discounted must-go inventory
Stores go through an enormous amount of product each day. As a result, many keep a selection of heavily discounted foods and merchandise year-round. Some stores have a discount aisle. Others have a set of shelves – often at the back of the store or on the edges – with individually packaged, low-cost items for sale.
These tend to be fresh bread, pastries, and other items with a short shelf life. You might also find discounts on other products including socks, electronics, and books, depending on where you shop.
Go to the store with food top of mind. Be open to the possibility of changing your meal plans and saving money on other things you need.
7. Buy in bulk
Every so often, stores offer specials where you can buy multiple units of the same product to get a discount. This might include canned goods or cereal boxes. There’s a bit of marketing at play here, so be a wise shopper. Not all bulk discounts are created equal. Check out the per-unit price – typically listed on the barcode beneath each food item – to see the regular cost for that item. Then evaluate the bulk-buying opportunity to see if it saves you money.
If you have storage space at home, bulk buying can reduce your visits to the store, saving you fuel money and also reducing the risk of impulse buying. If you eat this item often and it will remain in good quality for a long time, it often saves money to buy in bulk.
Avoid bulk buying of fresh produce, dairy products, or other items that might spoil quickly. This can leave you out of food and out of your hard-earned money. Research which food items keep well when frozen. If you can buy in bulk and freeze any leftovers, you’ll end up getting more bang for your buck.
Eat like a king on a budget, and enjoy the food – and the financial wins – that come from applying these savings tips.
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Disclaimer: The article and information provided here is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.