Last weekend I was driving through a trendy neighborhood in downtown Minneapolis and I said to my wife: I can’t imagine how much money is spent on food and drinks here every single day.
I’ve been to this part of Minneapolis a number of times before, and I have to say the food and drink bill is always pretty high. The tab adds up quick.
I don’t think you have to become a hermit to save money on food, though. “Strategically splurging” is what I would describe my wife and my approach to groceries and restaurant spend.
For many, food is an area they would like to save money, but they haven’t found or taken the practical steps that will lower the amount they spend on groceries and restaurants.
Today I want to provide you 9 things you can do to save money on food. These are all practical steps you can take that will make a positive impact on how much you spend on food.
1) Meal Plan
Meal planning is one of the easiest ways to save on food. Planning what meals you are going to have throughout the week will make you less likely to waste food that you buy at the grocery store, as well as make you less likely to go out to eat due to indecision.
Like most things, once you get into the habit of meal planning it becomes easier. Listing out what you are going to have for lunch and dinner for the next week can be a quick weekly exercise that will pay off long-term. It helps avoid the mental drain of trying to decide what to eat each day, and it will help you make more affordable decisions when it comes to your meals.
My wife and I use this meal planning note pad. Pro tip: once you finish a week, save it. You can reference past weeks for ideas of meals in future weeks.
2) Try Recipes
Trying new recipes might not sound like a typical way to save money, but it goes hand-in-hand with meal planning. It can help add variety to what meals you eat at home, and the more you enjoy what you cook the less likely you are to go to restaurants.
There are an overwhelming number of recipes online for. In addition to traditional recipe websites like AllRecipes.com, food blogging has become huge in recent years. So don’t be afraid of trying new recipes – after all, it’s saving you money!
3) Have “Go To” Meals
Sometimes meal planning is easier said than done. There’s been weeks where my wife and I have just a few more meals to add to our menu, and you can guess what I end up suggesting in those situations: “Chipotle sounds good!”
While there is nothing wrong with going out to eat once in a while, it’s not good if the reason for doing it is because you can’t think of anything to make at home.
Instead try to think of what I call “go to” meals. Whether it’s pasta, adult mac and cheese, breakfast food, or something else, these are meals that you don’t mind having again and again. When in doubt, plug these meals into your meal plan.
4) Make a Grocery List
Once you have a meal plan the next step to saving money on food is to make a grocery list. I’m sure this isn’t the first time someone has suggested that you make a grocery list to save money. But it just makes sense if you’re trying to save money on food.
Going to the store and sticking to your grocery list also helps you save time. You aren’t slowly browsing the aisles, like so many people do. I personally hate grocery shopping so the quicker I can get in and out the better!
My wife and I use these “all out of” note pads to keep track of what we run out of during the week. Combine this list with your meal planning list, and tack on anything else you need and you can put together your shopping list effortlessly.
I’ll be the first to admit that couponing does take time. But if you are able to save $100-$500 a month through coupons it would be silly for me not to suggest it as a way to save money.
We took couponing to a new level and created a coupon database (you can download your own copy of the coupon database here). This helps keep coupons organized and avoids running into situations where you forget that you had a certain coupon for a certain brand or product.
I’ve started to think the main thing keeping newspapers in business are the Sunday coupons. One coupon alone can sometimes justify the cost of the paper, and there tends to be hundreds of coupons in the Sunday paper.
6) Look for Deals
Coupons aren’t the only way to save money on groceries – look for deals as well. We go to two different grocery stores each week, which can be annoying, but when certain products are sometimes discounted $2+ at one store and not the other it makes sense to visit both stores.
Looking through the weekly ad – yes, it can feel old school – is a great way to tell which store is offering the best deals on products you plan on buying. When you match deals with coupons you can get really good deals on things you were already planning on buying.
Consider checking out the blog Pocket Your Dollars which makes weekly shopping lists that match coupons with deals. Additionally, try to save in unexpected ways like using the Target REDcard debit card which offers you 5% off your transaction, scanning products on Target’s Cartwheel app, and using other apps like Ibotta to get cash back on purchases.
7) Skip the Drinks, Apps, and Desserts at Restaurants
When Olive Garden came under new management they had two areas of focus to increase profits: sell more drinks and sell more desserts.
It doesn’t take a restaurant consultant to know that bills can increase quickly if everyone is having drinks and desserts. So what’s the best thing a consumer can do? Skip the drinks and desserts. I would add appetizers to this as well. The more you can stick to just your entree, the better.
As with most things, you don’t always have to deprive yourself of drinks, apps, or desserts. Splurging once in a while can be a good thing.
8) Take Advantage of Restaurant Gift Deals and Promotions
You may not have liked my suggestion of skipping drinks and apps. In fact, that may be your favorite part of going out. The obvious solution? Happy hour!
Happy hour isn’t the only way to save money on restaurants. Looking for deals and lower-cost options can save you a lot of money over time.
The best way to get deals on restaurants is through email lists. As annoying as they may be, email marketing is huge right now. If you can put up with the emails you could end up saving a lot of money over time.
9) Bring Your Lunch
I get it – some people hate leftovers. And some people simply don’t have the option of bringing their lunch to work. But if you don’t mind leftovers and are able to bring a lunch to work, bringing leftovers can be a great way to save money.
Aside from breakfast, lunch is the best opportunity to save money on meals. At my work there is a cafeteria and I could easily spend $5 to $12 a day on lunch. It’s convenient and easy. But saving a couple hundred dollars a month is too big of a $ opportunity to pass up, so I bring my lunch each day.
When you make your meal plan for the week consider what you are making for dinner. My wife and I often will only make things that can be used for lunch the next day, and when that doesn’t work out we will bring salad.
10) Track your Spending
All of these tips are great, but how do you know if you are successful in cutting the amount you spend on groceries and restaurants? You have to track your spending.
While I’ve been tracking my spending manually for years, there is finally an automated solution in Tiller. Tiller grabs your transactions and puts them into a standardized format. I cannot say enough about how much time this will save people.
I’ve utilized Tiller’s technology in my own automated budget spreadsheet. This budget spreadsheet integrates with Tiller to create attractive automated budget reports. You can download my automated budget spreadsheet for free.
Regardless of how you go about tracking your spending, it’s a key part of knowing whether you are saving money on groceries and restaurants. My wife and I consistently have saved $200+ since implementing meal planning, couponing, and some of the other ideas on this list.
You can save on food, you just have to be motivated enough to follow through!
Have you tried to save money on food, whether it be groceries or eating out? What steps did you take? What steps do you still plan on taking?