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Married couples with children spent, on average, 13 percent of their annual expenditures on food in 2015 — an amount that equals a significant portion of their paychecks, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Although it’s one budget category that won’t go away, it is flexible. Whether you’re a foodie who enjoys good meals or someone who eats just to fuel your body, keeping your pantry full and food on the table doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
These tips and tricks show you how to save money on food.
Have a plan
Going through the drive-thru or picking up a meal at the deli is a quick and easy way to blow a food budget. One way to avoid this is by developing and sticking to a plan.
Start by creating a menu for a couple of weeks. Then, make a list of all the necessary ingredients for each item on the menu. Scan the pantry and freezer to take inventory of the food items you already have, check the sales ads and coupon lists to match your list with the deals, and get ready to head to the grocery store.
Let the list guide you through the aisles and only buy items you need. It takes some practice to avoid picking up impulse items, but the savings on the grocery bill make it worth the sacrifice.
Don’t pay full price
Whenever possible, avoid paying full price for the items in your grocery cart. Grocery stores follow ad cycles, rotating the items they discount. With a little investigative work, it’s possible to identify when the items you buy go on sale.
For example, the grocery store may offer deep discounts on a particular pasta brand every four weeks. Stocking up on the pasta during the sales week packs your pantry and keeps the food bill in check.
Smartphone apps also are useful tools to save money on food. Some apps ask users to take a photo of the grocery receipt and then give cash back for certain items. Other apps track local sales so shoppers know where to find the best prices.
Savvy shoppers also pay attention to prices and ask store managers to price-match items. Additionally, you can take advantage of manager specials on expiring food as well as store brands.
Do your own prep work
Grabbing cut pineapple, sliced apples or bagged salad is convenient, but that convenience comes with a premium cost.
Instead of paying someone else to prepare your meals, take the time to do it yourself and bag the savings.
When you get home from the store, wash fruits and vegetables before chopping them and putting them into ready-to-use containers. Divide large packages of meat into smaller portions ready for each recipe and freeze them so you only have to grab and thaw them.
Use this time to prepare quick meals to eat during the week when you only have to reheat food instead of cooking a complete meal from scratch. Not only does this save time and money, it also is healthier because it helps you practice portion control.
Shop seasonally and locally
Wondering how shipping plays a role when it comes to how to save money on food?
Transportation costs greatly affect food prices because companies pass the cost of fuel onto the consumer. Food that travels a long distance to arrive on local shelves costs more than food sourced from a local facility.
Keep this in mind when you want to eat corn in the middle of winter or oranges during the fall. It costs more to eat food out of season because that food has to come from a location where the conditions are right for harvesting.
This doesn’t just apply to produce, though. People who live in the vicinity of cattle ranches or chicken farms can pay less for meat than those who import it from other regions.
Consider shopping at a farmer’s market or joining a food cooperative group that helps support local businesses.