I’ll admit it – I hate trying to figure out dinners and love to eat out. Needless to say, this is probably our biggest downfall when it comes to our food budget. A coffee here, a snack there, a quick lunch on the way to an activity…it all adds up, and so fast.
We’ve been struggling with our food budget for the past…well, since we started budgeting, basically. So I sat down to make a game plan that I know you can probably use as well. Staying on track with your food budget starts with finding not only cheaper options, but easier ones as well that you’ll be able to use on even the busiest of days.
Here are eight simple ways to avoid getting caught with an empty pantry, a growling stomach and no time to cook:
Go with foods that are super easy to prepare. Don’t plan intricate and difficult meals, especially with kids, activities, work and school. Even if it’s premade frozen family meal – it’s still cheaper and healthier than fried fast food, right? Throw a frozen veg in the microwave as a side and you’re done!
Wait to go all paleo gluten-free soy based vegan until after you’ve mastered the art of just getting food on the table that’s not from a fast food wrapper. One thing at a time, right?
It’s easy to get wrapped up in doing it all 100% right, 100% of the time, right off the bat. I’m classic for that – and also classic for throwing my hands up and walking away when it doesn’t automatically work the first time I try it.
Give yourself some grace and a pass to take it slow so you can build up skills that get you where you want to be. Then go all crazy with the gluten-free soy planted based stuff.
Make a weekly food plan.
Have each family member contribute a meal idea (or two). Write them on a whiteboard on the fridge, so you can see your options. Cross each out as you cook them throughout the week so you know which options are left.
Have 3 to 4 “go to” easy meals you can whip together at any time.
They MUST take zero effort, and MUST use things you generally have in stock. Sandwiches, soup, cereal, scrambled eggs, frozen pizza, whatever takes zero effort for you. These work perfectly as fall back meals for when plans change or you’re just too exhausted to face having to cook something.
Pick a day of the week and shop that day EVERY week.
Consistency is key. By keeping the pantry consistently stocked, you’ll be less likely to eat out. Always having snacks, your favorite bagels and creamer on hand means no excuses to run out for a quick coffee, snack or meal. You’ve already got it all at home.
Create a grocery list of staple items you need to buy every week.
For us it’s milk, fruit, string cheese, and bagels, among other things. Once you’ve written down your “must buy” items on a sheet of paper, photocopy it. A lot. Then use it as a jumping off point for your grocery list. See? Your list for the week is already half done! When your list is already started, it makes the task seems so much less painful.
Figure out your weak points.
Do you generally grab a coffee in the morning because you’re running late? Or get snacks at the drive-thru when you’re carting the kids from school to practice? Figure out when your defenses are most likely to be down and work on those points. If it’s coffee because you’re running late, try getting up earlier, or getting an automatic coffeemaker that has a timer.
Maybe your weakness is that you love lattes and can’t give them up. Can’t quit coffeeshops? Splurge (just a little!) and get the good beans to grind up at home. Get the fancy creamers you like. While it might be a tad more than the cheap stuff, if it tastes good, you’ll be more likely to stick with it. And it’s still cheaper than Starbucks. Now go treat yo self (without getting too crazy)!
Look for recipes that you can “set and forget”.
After a long day at work, last thing you wanna do is cook, right? We got our crockpot as a wedding gift almost eight years ago, and I love that thing like it’s one of my kids. Seriously. It’s super easy to throw stuff in and let it go. Plus, it’s so easy to clean up as well. I also hear crazy good things about instapots, but haven’t tried one yet.
Make eating out a special family treat that is planned and happens one a week or month.
No one said you could never eat out again, just plan it for days when no one is swamped and running around. You’ll all actually have the chance to appreciate it more! And heck – you might even actually enjoy that time with your family.
As boring as routines are, you’re just more likely to succeed by having one. By shopping weekly, having your staple items figured out, and having an overall game plan, you’ll be much less likely to eat out and blow through your food budget. By focusing on these food budgeting basics and making them routine, we can then move on to the next set of changes, such as the types of food we’re eating and finding time to cook more.
What are some shortcuts that you use to make sure you’re saving money in your food budget? Comment below and share you ideas!
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