Everyone knows that eating well and staying on budget is important. The problem is, any busy family who has tried to make it a priority knows it can be an uphill battle. The dizzying number of activities in a family's schedule can wreak havoc on meal planning and your wallet. When one kid has practice here and another one over there, coordinating carpools and other extracurricular activities can be a nightmare. It leaves one feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. When we feel this way, it's easy to pull right up to the nearest fast food drive-through and create wallet-draining habits. It's a costly short-term fix that you'll most likely regret.
Instead, arm yourself with tips and strategies to solve this problem.
1. Schedule a reality check.
For the next thirty days, get real about what you are spending. Keep track of every food purchase made to know how much you spend in a month's time.
2. Knowing is half the battle.
Once you have tracked your spending, you can identify problem areas and make a food budget improvement plan. Seek out inexpensive meals and look for items that can be used in many recipes. Lentils are versatile. They can be used in soups, sides and main entrees. Learn to discern what is a good value in order to be a wiser food shopper.
3. Continue to save after shopping.
After putting away groceries from a shopping trip, put your grocery receipt on the fridge. No more playing hide and seek for produce after it has spoiled. The receipt serves as an informal inventory for what is inside. Everyone in the house knows at a glance what's inside and when it was purchased. Check off items once you finish them. The idea is to eat everything before it expires so you don't throw away your food.
4. Chop after you shop.
Cut and store fresh veggies, like celery, carrots and other produce, as soon as you get home in an effort to eat them while they are fresh. It can be a nuisance to wash and cut produce each time you need it. It can even deter you from eating it all together. Before you know it, that food is spoiled and in the trash. Chopping in advance will give hungry eaters easy access to healthy snacks for lunch. The pre-cut produce can also be added to salads.
5. Follow the 'Fresh Food Rule.'
Only buy as many fresh items as you and your household will eat for the next two or three days. Buying certain fruits in bulk can seem like a deal. If your whole family can't eat two oranges a day to make the savings worthwhile, those vitamin C packed spheres will likely end up in the garbage can, too, throwing away food and money.
6. A frozen chosen few.
Save the later part of the week for frozen items. This way they won't go bad and if, for some reason, your schedule changes, you will still have it available in your freezer to eat at another time.
7. Think like a restaurant owner.
If you had your own restaurant, you'd quickly have to become good at using what you have on hand before it goes bad or you would be throwing food and profit out of the window -- or, in this case, into the trash. Get creative with what you have on hand. Apply this same mindset from now on when managing your kitchen and household.
8. Get a personal chef at a discount.
I often see businessmen at my local produce store picking up ready-made lunches from the deli area. There's an array of homemade soups, fancy chicken dishes and pasta salads. Although it would be cheaper to buy the items separately and make it yourself at home, the customers are still spending less than what they would to eat out at a restaurant.
9. Start a fun food fund.
Get a piggy bank, old coffee can or jar to serve as a place to stash cash to go off the beaten grocery list path. Don't let your list be a foodie straight jacket. Have family members dump spare change, coins found in the couch or refunds on recyclables into the container. Set the money aside exclusively for food whims, impulse buys, and for items you just want to try without having to worry if you are messing up your grocery budget.
The bottom line is tracking what you spend is essential to cutting back on food purchases and being wasteful. Use the ideas above to save yourself time, money and your sanity. Stash the cash you save to boost your finances. Besides, no one needs to know. It can be our little secret.