'How I Cut My Food Budget $600 in 6 Months'

I opened up my budget tracking tool last November and my jaw dropped -- I had spent $1,200 on food that month. That's when I knew I had to make a change.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

By Kali Geldis, Credit.com

I opened up my budget tracking tool last November and my jaw dropped -- I had spent $1,200 on food that month. That's when I knew I had to make a change.

Now, a few notes about that $1,200 total: That includes groceries, restaurants, bars and fast food. Also, November was a month I prepared Thanksgiving dinner, which meant I spent about $125 just to make a couple of pies and cook a turkey for six people -- an out-of-the-norm expense for me. Also, I often buy groceries for both my fiance and myself. However, that $1,200 number stuck with me -- I needed to make a change and cut the amount of money I was spending on food every month.

It's no surprise that food was a big budget-breaker for me -- it's one of the most common expenses on which financial planners see clients spending too much money. I definitely felt like I was throwing money away. After all, if I could cut even just $300 (25 percent) off of that monthly balance, that would mean $3,600 a year. There are so many other ways I could use that money -- paying for a vacation, investing more money in an individual retirement account, saving for a down payment on a home, paying for a wedding...

It was when my now-fiance proposed over Christmas that the reality struck me -- I knew I needed to buckle down and cut my food spending by a lot. Weddings are expensive, and the money that was going toward nights out and nice dinners with friends was wrecking my budget. While I wasn't going into debt, I realized it was just a matter of time. And debt is something I strenuously avoid. (I never carry a balance on my credit cards and am constantly monitoring my credit scores for free on Credit.com to make sure my credit utilization level is low.)

How I Cut My Food Spending in Half

If I was going to start cutting my food spending, I needed new rules for myself.

Rule #1: Pack lunch for work. A simple step, yes, but I realized that I don't need to pack a lunch every day for work, just pack supplies for a lunch once a week. I realized I could get a big supply of baby spinach, some dried cranberries and some salad dressing and have enough to last me for lunches the entire week. It made packing a lunch less of a hassle, and helped me avoid ordering lunch to the office on Seamless on a daily basis. (I do let myself order every once in a while, though.)

Rule #2: Make grocery shopping a priority. I'm a New Yorker, so stocking up on groceries for the week is a bit more difficult than hopping in my car, filling up my cart and heading home. I have to carry all my groceries from the store to my apartment, and a week's worth of food is shockingly heavy. I opted instead to use Fresh Direct to order groceries every week. Even though I know I'm not getting the best deal on every item I buy, I know that by regularly filling my fridge, I'm not ordering a $25 meal from an online food delivery service. The savings add up.

Rule #3: Just say no. Part of my food spending problem was that I would go out with friends and feel pressured to order another round of drinks, splurge on dessert or get a bunch of appetizers for the table. I deserved it, right? I had to learn some self-control and think about the bigger expenses I really wanted -- owning a home in a few years, saving money for my upcoming wedding (and the awesome honeymoon we want), and planning for a fully-funded retirement (yes -- I'm a millennial who is thinking about retirement, we do exist!).

I looked at my food spending in May -- it's down to about $600, a huge accomplishment for me. It took me about six months to really get into a groove with these new habits, but the payoff is big. My fiance and I are on track to save more than $1,000 a month for our wedding, and we're hoping to have a little left over to save for the other big costs down the road.

This post originally appeared on Credit.com. Kali Geldis is Credit.com's Editorial Director. She writes about a wide range of personal finance and credit topics. She previously ran MainStreet, the personal finance website powered by TheStreet. She has also worked for The Wall Street Journal as a Dow Jones Newspaper Fund intern and at The Huntington Herald-Dispatch as a reporter.

15 Ways To Save On Eating Out