It’s never too late to improve your monthly food budget. In 2015, for the first time in history, Americans spent more on eating away from home than they did on groceries. The average amount spent was just over $3,ooo for eating out and take-out food. In order to save money on food and overhaul our food budgets, we need a plan.
Overspending on food isn’t necessarily related to a passion for eating out so much as being exhausted, not having a dinner plan, or easy meal ideas, and not being stocked up on a few essentials for the freezer and pantry.
I’ll give you simple solutions to each of these issues, and the result will be saving money on food bills… A LOT of money!
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Being Overwhelmed Severely Affects Our Monthly Food Budget
A weary parent drives home from a 10-hour workday, and the last thing they want to do is cook something for dinner…or even think about what to make. The “what” is often the worst part — at least it is for me. It takes nearly as much energy to figure out what to make as coming up with the energy to make it.
That scenario right there is a recipe for spending a few thousand dollars a year on take-out….it’s easy, and fills an immediate need. I’m totally guilty of falling into this trap. I’ve stopped countless times for pizza or Noodles take-out or drive-through food when I just couldn’t find the energy to figure out dinner.
A Very Simple Meal Plan Will Allow You to Save Money on Food…Big Time
Don’t freak out! This will be super easy — not some giant planning session or a five-hour cooking marathon to freeze food for a month. That’s not what I’m getting at here. Let’s find a simple solution for now, so you don’t get exhausted thinking about the solution…deal?
In order to break the frequent habit of eating out or stopping for take-out too often, we’ll start with small changes. First, get a piece of paper…any sheet will do.
Make a List of Easy Meals that Your Family Likes
Start by listing 5-8 quick meals that are easy for you to fix (think 20 minutes or less), don’t take a ton of ingredients, and use mostly shelved items, and a few frozen things as needed.
Don’t worry, you won’t have to eat these things for the rest of your life — it’s just to give you some quick and easy meals at hand for busy and tiring days when you’re tempted to buy take-out.
On weekends, you can cook something more adventurous, grill something awesome, or even make a conscious choice to go out for something nice… maybe sushi instead of that Wendy’s hamburger?
Six Quick Dinner Ideas You Might Like…
- Bagged or frozen tortellini with a jar of marinara sauce + frozen veggies on the side (or bagged salad if you have it)
- Red beans & rice (prepackaged in rice aisle OR canned beans, rice, and seasonings) + crumbled heated cooked sausage + frozen broccoli or veggie of choice
- Spaghetti and meatballs (I use frozen turkey meatballs from Costco) with marinara + garlic bread or salad
- Pumpkin pancakes with scrambled eggs (mix some canned pumpkin into your favorite pancake mix) — this is quick, nutritious, and you can get the kids involved with flipping the pancakes (less work for you!)
- Pot of chili served over rice or tortilla chips — (brown some extra ground beef or turkey once in a while & freeze a good portion in a gallon size bag), throw cooked meat in a large pot (even if it’s still frozen), add 2 large cans of tomato sauce, a can of northern or kidney beans, a package of chili seasoning, and some salsa or canned seasoned tomatoes if you like. This literally cooks in 20 minutes…just heat until it’s hot
- Fettuccine with mushrooms, frozen or fresh spinach, and a can or jar of artichoke hearts (add precooked frozen chicken if you’d like) — throw veggies in with the pasta for a few minutes to heat, if you don’t want to saute in a separate pan — carefully drain in a strainer so spinach won’t “escape”– add olive oil and parmesan at the end
Bonus tips to save on your food bill
Now here are two bonus tips to save some additional money.
Second, here’s a nice little hack that will save you money on both food and other shopping purchases. And, it’s so easy. Have you heard of Rakuten? Probably not because it’s one of those great little shopping secrets and they just changed their name. They used to be called Ebates.
Rakuten/Ebates earns you cash back on all the purchases you make in most of the stores you’re already buying from…stores like Amazon, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Brandless. When you use this Cash Back program, you generally get 3-10% back on your purchases. How cool is that?
On top of that, if you refer your friends and they buy too, you’ll earn an extra $25…and they will give your friend $10 off their first purchase too. And, if you follow this link, you’ll get $10 off your first purchase, too!
Here’s a picture of one of my rebate checks for $150.
Buy Your Ingredients, Plus Some Extras
Make a plan to stop at the store sometime this week or during the weekend, and buy the few ingredients you’ll need for the 5-6 easy meals you wrote down. Most, or all, of the ingredients will keep well, so you can buy a few extras of each to have on hand when you’re too tired to think straight.
Save money on food bills by repeating this process weekly — or every other week. Cutting food costs doesn’t have to be difficult…I promise! When you run out of easy ingredients, spend half an hour at the kitchen table with your kids/spouse brainstorming easy ideas, or ask what their favorite easy meals are so far. Shop for your supplies, and you’ve got another plan in place.
By keeping this up, and scaling back on just 3-4 days a week of restaurants and take-out, a family of four can easily reduce the monthly food budget by more than $500. That’s incredible!
** Three great tips:
- Put your “quick meals” list in your kitchen where you can see it — a great reminder that you have dinner options all ready to go on the days where you’re tired and overwhelmed
- Take frozen meat out of the freezer the night before — or morning of — if you already know which quick meal you want to make
- If you own a crock pot, and have a few extra minutes in the morning, you can make easy (and cheap) meals that way also
*Here are my four all-time favorites that are a snap to throw together, and it’s done when you’re ready to eat!
Conclusion: A Quick Meal Plan Can Drastically Cut Your Monthly Food Budget
I told you I’d make this as easy as possible. You really can save a lot of money on food with simple changes. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t reduce the eating out by 3-4 nights a week. Start tiny if you need to.
Once you see how much can be saved on your food budget, I think you’ll be hooked and ready to add more quick-fix meals to your schedule.
Take baby steps, and involve your kids or spouse. You just might grow to enjoy those 15-minute brainstorming sessions for easy meal planning each week.
I’d LOVE to know your results! Please share new ideas for quick, easy meals so we can all have something new to fix. (;
Related budgeting articles:
- How to earn money with Rakuten (formerly known as Ebates)
- Easy crock pot recipes that are budget friendly
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