How to Eat Better and Save Money doing it!
If you liked my debt freedom article, you're going to really enjoy this one...
One thing we ALL have to spend money on is food and it is arguably the biggest question mark for most people in both their health journey and financial plan. How much do you spend? How much should you spend? How do you cut back without cutting out the enjoyment of food and social eating? How do you create a budget AND waist friendly meal plan?
We're going to tackle all of those questions today as I share my personal best practices that I've followed since the beginning of my debt freedom journey.
1. How much to budget: The same amount every week.
When I budget for food, I think about it on a weekly basis. I have a set amount of CASH that I take out. I have no problem telling people how much that is, but for the purposes of a broad audience, it doesn't really do anyone any good. It would just distract you from the point - which is to be consistent and find a dollar amount that works for you. It took me a little bit of time to settle into the amount that works. Take a look at your bank account and figure out how much you spend on a weekly and monthly basis for ALL food - groceries, meals out, convenience store snacks, etc. It will give you a good starting place that I know you can improve. If you know you have a special dinner or event that week and it will blow your budget out of the water, enter it in as a separate line item on your budget. You knew it was coming in advance so just plan for it! Don't force it into your food budget and then convince yourself that you'll make up for it later. You just won't.
2. When I get my cash: Friday
Why Friday? For one, I have a certain amount in my weekly food budget set aside for "entertainment". This includes meals out with friends, bars, etc. It is important to me to do those things so I always make sure I have my full budget available on Friday night. Sometimes I spend the entire entertainment budget on Friday and Saturday and then have no "fun money" left for the week. I'm okay with that because I can always cook meals at home and bring my lunch to work, like I was planning anyway. If you head into Sunday afternoon grocery shopping knowing that you already spent your eating out money, then you know to be extra diligent about having something to eat every night of the week. It forces you to get creative and eat what you have on hand.
3. Plan before you shop: NEVER ever go into the grocery store without a list.
I've taken a number of clients through a meal planning session and never once have we started IN the store. You have to know what you are going to EAT before you know what you are going to BUY. Start with the end in mind! This will help you avoid impulse buys (which are always expensive - almond butter and tea are my achilles heel). It will also make you feel more comfortable about walking up to the register with a cart full of groceries and a certain amount of cash in your hand. You can estimate while still in the comfort of your home. This was always my biggest fear when I started using cash. I was so nervous I'd get up there and not have enough money. Some people leave their debit card in the car so they are forced to put things back. I hardly ever run over any more and every once in a while, I'll have the cashier take something off if it was that one darn impulse buy that put me over. Also, I bring my restaurant budget money with me so that if I do go over, I pull from that!
4. How to meal plan: the grid system
Now, the big question: how do you create a list? I take a blank sheet of paper and make a big grid/calendar on it that looks like this:
Across the top are the days of the week. Down the left side is the meal time and extra credit for a slot to fill in your workout! I like including the workout because generally I need a pre or post-workout small meal AND then you've killed two birds with one stone... workout on the calendar!
First, pencil in things that you know you have going on that week. For example, Monday night you are getting dinner with a friend, Thursday night you're at a work event, and on Friday your office provides lunch. Now you know those are meals you don't have to plan for. The rest of the boxes get filled in with what you are going to eat.
Start with breakfast: what will you eat each day? Are you home to cook? Have to bring something on the go? These are all considerations you need to keep in mind as you're planning.
For lunch and dinner I will happily eat leftovers up to 4 times until I can't eat it any more. So, generally I pick a meal and plan to make 4 servings. Then take another meal and do the same thing.
Make sure each box has something in it and then make the list of things you need to buy to make everything!
WHAT to eat is a much larger question that needs it's own article or a personal conversation. It is a very individual answer based on your goals and dietary restrictions. Send me a note if you want to talk about it!
5. When to buy in bulk: more is not always better!
If you're my Mom with 6 kids and have to buy 8 gallons of milk and 4 loaves of bread each week, then you can ignore this section and head straight to Costco. For the rest of you, it's probably worth a read:
Grocery stores are always having a deal on something... buy 5 get 1 free, etc. When situations like this arise, it's usually the thing that throws a wrench in your carefully planned grocery list. Most of us have this fear of missing out and it may be preventing you from reaching your goals. MOST of the time, the most you are going to save is a few dollars. IF that thing on sale is something you routinely eat or needed to buy anyway, it's probably worth stocking up. If it wasn't something you were going to purchase anyway... STEP AWAY FROM THE SHELF. You are actually spending more money to get something that you didn't need to begin with. It will then sit in your pantry and you'll forget to use it!
If you're someone who loves shopping by looking at the circulars or cutting coupons, do that during meal planning time. Build your meals around the deals. If this sounds like too much work, don't sweat it. (I personally don't do that very often.) You'll save plenty of money by just having a list and a plan!
At first you might find yourself under-budgeting and then having to use your debit card later in the week and "blowing your budget". Don't get discouraged. Getting a handle on this takes time! In another article, I'll share some of my tips for saving money once you have a list.
That being said, saving money on food takes discipline and time. There will be some weeks where you just don't have time to shop and prep food. STILL take out that same amount of cash. You can make it work by doing things like buying canned tuna, rotisserie chicken, fruits and vegetables, and other semi-prepared foods to hack together a lunch or dinner. I've "meal planned" plenty of weeks by hacking it together this way. It is SO MUCH BETTER than waiting until you are hungry and trying to make a good decision. You will end up spending more money and eating something that's not great for you.
You have to be willing to make sacrifices to reach your goals. I'm here to tell you that your health DOES NOT have to be one of them. If you think you can't afford to eat healthfully, look at the rest of your budget and find the money. It's in there... (make sure you look under your daily Starbucks coffee, $50 Target run, or bi-weekly pedicure).
This is a BIG topic so I'm sure I missed one of your burning questions. If so, leave a comment or send me an email! I'm happy to answer anything and everything. Even if you just want to know how much I spend on food!
ENJOY the rest of your holiday weekend and make sure to take a moment to be grateful for everything your freedom has afforded you! Even the opportunity to spend $10 on fancy almond butter.