Food spending has always been my go-to for budgetary belt-tightening. Not everyone is laying out for luxuries that can be cut, but everyone eats, and almost everyone could spend a little less doing it.
The good folks at The Kitchn went through their 2017 series of Food Budget Diaries and culled five big takeaways:
Figure out the easy go-to meals that you can afford: When I was a very broke single person, I relied on a variation on these “bodega beans” – onions, carrots, and beans over rice. It’s not a dish I’d proudly serve dinner guests, but it was healthy and filling and about sixty cents a serving. Everyone’s budget and needs are different, but once you figure yours out, knowing a few easy dishes that fit will save you from the anxious indecision that usually leads to take-out.
Keep cheap staples on hand: Eggs and beans were a common theme in The Kitchn’s series – inexpensive and adaptable proteins. Whether it’s pantry goods like rice and dried beans, a freezer full of frozen vegetables, or a weekly list of fresh ingredients that help you cook flexibly and for cheap, keeping your kitchen full of basics will help you stay on-budget.
Find your ideal budget categories: I track groceries and overall food spending, but your budget might make more sense in narrower or different categories. Do you need a separate budget for the farmer’s market or for workday lunches? Or do you want to budget for your big weekly grocery shop and then for incidentals? Make your budgets match your habits, instead of trying to force an uncomfortable fit.
Remember that booze is pricey: A round or two of drinks can double the bill for a dinner out. You can budget for alcohol, but it’s going to make a big dent. Scaling back drinking – or doing it at home instead of at restaurants at bars – can save a lot of money.
Use your phone: Contrary to what your elementary school teacher predicted, you probably do have a calculator with you all the time. So: use it! Compare unit prices at the supermarket, look up sales and circulars, and keep track of your spending as you fill your cart – you’ll never be caught off guard at the register again.