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How I Cut My Food Budget $600 in 6 Months

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I opened up my budget tracking tool last November and my jaw dropped — I had spent $1,200 on food that month. That’s when I knew I had to make a change.

Now, a few notes about that $1,200 total: That includes groceries, restaurants, bars and fast food. Also, November was a month I prepared Thanksgiving dinner, which meant I spent about $125 just to make a couple of pies and cook a turkey for six people — an out-of-the-norm expense for me. However, that $1,200 number stuck with me — I needed to make a change and cut the amount of money I was spending on food every month.

It’s no surprise that food was a big budget-breaker for me — it’s one of the most common expenses on which financial planners see clients spending too much money. I definitely felt like I was throwing money away. After all, if I could cut even just $300 (25%) off of that monthly balance, that would mean $3,600 a year. There are so many other ways I could use that money — paying for a vacation, investing more money in an individual retirement account, saving for a down payment on a home, paying for a wedding . . . .

It was when my now-fiance proposed over Christmas that the reality struck me — I knew needed to buckle down and cut my food spending by a lot. Weddings are expensive, and the money that was going toward nights out and nice dinners with friends was wrecking my budget. While I wasn’t going into debt, I realized it was just a matter of time. And debt is something I strenuously avoid. (I never carry a balance on my credit cards and am constantly monitoring my credit scores for free on Credit.com to make sure my credit utilization level is low.)

How I Cut My Food Spending in Half

If I was going to start cutting my food spending, I needed new rules for myself.

Rule #1: Pack lunch for work. A simple step, yes, but I realized that I don’t need to pack a lunch every day for work, just pack supplies for a lunch once a week. I realized I could get a big supply of baby spinach, some dried cranberries and some salad dressing and have enough to last me for lunches the entire week. It made packing a lunch less of a hassle, and helped me avoid ordering lunch to the office on Seamless on a daily basis. (I do let myself order every once in a while, though.)

Rule #2: Make grocery shopping a priority. I’m a New Yorker, so stocking up on groceries for the week is a bit more difficult than hopping in my car, filling up my cart and heading home. I have to carry all my groceries from the store to my apartment, and a week’s worth of food is shockingly heavy. I opted instead to use Fresh Direct to order groceries every week. Even though I know I’m not getting the best deal on every item I buy, I know that by regularly filling my fridge, I’m not ordering a $25 meal from an online food delivery service. The savings adds up.

Rule #3: Just say no. Part of my food spending problem was that I would go out with friends and feel pressured to order another round of drinks, splurge on dessert or get a bunch of appetizers for the table. I deserved it, right? I had to learn some self-control and think about the bigger expenses I really wanted — owning a home in a few years, saving money for my upcoming wedding (and the awesome honeymoon we want), and planning for a fully-funded retirement (yes — I’m a millennial who is thinking about retirement, we do exist!).

I looked at my food spending in May — it’s down to about $600, a huge accomplishment for me. It took me about six months to really get into a groove with these new habits, but the payoff is big. My fiance and I are on track to save more than $1,000 a month for our wedding, and we’re hoping to have a little left over to save for the other big costs down the road.

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  • http://blog.credit.com/ Michael Schreiber
  • Smartyfan

    Two ways – you do not eat out and you do not live in NYC. Both contribute to a much higher food budget.

  • Kathy

    DianeKM – I know what you mean, but the simple truth is…grocery spending habits vary greatly by individual and by food prices in geographic areas. I live in suburban Florida, and when I went to Boston for vacation, I was ASTONISHED at what food costs in the grocery stores. I could never afford to eat there on a regular basis and on the salary I make in FL.

    • Vincent

      I live in east central Florida and just going over to Clearwater the fast food places were 3 bucks more for value meals.

  • http://blog.credit.com/ Kali Geldis

    Hi Diane!

    First off, do you have any tips for our readers? Would love to hear how you keep your food budget so low!

    I was admittedly a big spender on going out, and grocery costs are higher in NYC for some products (as well as bar tabs — going out is expensive here!). I know my journey may not be helpful for everyone, but if it inspires a few people to read their budgets and find places to cut costs, that’s accomplishment enough for me! Thanks for your comment and please share some of your tips too, I’m sure our readers would love to hear them!

    • Brett Young

      Buy supplies on sale that you will def. use, clip coupns where you can and by all means ask for a raise.

    • sandar

      One well known way is to cook a big meal that is made with freezable foods. Divide it into single serve freezer bags. Put them together for lunches or quick “heat n eats” on busy nights. Works with pancakes, sausage, chili, beef stew, rice, most vegetables, fruit, even eggs and milk. Check it out on google if you’re not sure.

  • harry

    if u think food prices are horrible in boston u should try north Carolina, I come from nh and got sticker shocked the 1st time I entered an grocery store,she should be congratulated for cutting 50%, keep up the good work

    • http://blog.credit.com/ Kali Geldis

      Thanks for the encouragement, harry!

  • http://blog.credit.com/ Kali Geldis

    Thanks for the congratulations, FourBoysOfMine! I’m hoping to cut my costs by even more, would love to get it down to 75% of what I was spending so I can use the money for bigger goals down the road.

    • KimJB

      I managed to save a ton by spending an hour each Sunday planning all of my meals for the upcoming week – every breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Then I would buy only what I needed to make those meals. It’s amazing how much you end up wasting (food and money) when you wait until you get to the store to figure out what to buy for the week! Good work and good luck!

      • http://blog.credit.com/ Kali Geldis

        Thanks Kim! Appreciate the tips and support. Totally agree with you about planning ahead — it takes the guesswork out of budgeting (and helps you eat healthier).

  • Readforcomprehension

    I agree, the story here is the percentage reduction, not the starting and ending numbers.

  • http://blog.credit.com/ Kali Geldis

    Great tips, thanks for sharing!

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