Food is expensive, and high quality or healthy food can cost even more. Many people don't realize how much money they're spending on their food budget each month, but this can easily be a major area where wasteful spending is occurring. Big savings can potentially be achieved if you account for how much it costs you to eat and make some appropriate changes.
In some cases, monthly spending on food can actually be one of your biggest expenses. Families can easily spend more to eat each month than their house costs. It doesn't have to be this way though - you just need to be aware of where your money is going so you can be aware of where you can make some changes without really altering your eating habits.
Track Your Food Spending
The most important thing to do to begin a food budget is to actually figure out what you've been spending in the past. If all of your income goes into a bank account and is spent with a debit card, you can very easily go back through your records to find out exactly what you've spent on food each month. For anyone that doesn't have online records that can be used to track this spending, I strongly urge you to start tracking every penny that you spend on food for the next month following your usual habits.
Once you know exactly what you've spent on food, take a closer look at your data. How much did you spend at the grocery store, dining out, random snacks on the go and even fast food? It's important to break down your spending into sub-categories like these to really get a better view on where your money is going and where you can make changes.
Sometimes simply tracking the numbers and seeing them on a piece of paper in front of you is all it takes for you to realize where you need to make changes to tighten up your spending. Huge monthly spending totals and/or large amounts being spend on food away from home can be instant indications to point you in the right direction to get started.
Dining Out at Restaurants
In general, eating food away from your house will be more expensive compared with eating something you've prepared at home. It's nice going to a restaurant for dinner. The food usually tastes great, and you don't have to actually cook the food or clean up after yourself. However, doing this on a regular basis can drastically inflate your monthly spending on food.
Dining out can be sitting down for dinner at Outback with the family or it can simply be grabbing a burger at McDonald's on your lunch break from work. You need to be aware each time you make the choice to eat away from home and justify it with a good reason if your dining out spending is out of control.
Ultimately, you do deserve to enjoy yourself, and if you like to eat at a restaurant then you should. You just need to do it within reason. Figure out what you can afford and are willing to spend to dine out each month. Give yourself a budget within your food budget to limit your monthly spending on food away from your house. This allows you to still enjoy yourself without going overboard.
Food Waste & Snacks
When you buy food from the grocery store, and then prepare meals at home, you're being as frugal as possible with your budget. Even if you never dine out though, you may still be wasting money with your spending at the grocery store and could spend even less each month.
One of the biggest things you should worry about is food waste. Throwing away spoiled vegetables, meat and even bread can be a quick way to waste money. If you find yourself throwing away food before you're able to eat it, you're buying too much at the grocery store and/or taking too long between trips to the store. Try going to the grocery every 3-4 days and be careful to only purchase the items that you'll eat for the next 3-4 days. Track what you're throwing away and use that information to make adjustments to your buying habits.
Another area where it's easy to waste money is with snacks. This could be desserts, popcorn, chips or anything else that will be eaten outside of a meal. Most people that snack too much between meals or even replace meals with snacks will be overweight. Beyond the health risks, it's also expensive to buy a lot of snacks. Try to limit the amount of snacks you buy and stick to buying food just for meals to reduce your spending as much as possible.
Healthy vs Cheap
A final thing that is worth discussion with food budgeting is the choice between cheap and healthy. Unfortunately, many of the cheapest food options aren't very healthy. If you have no choice and can't afford better food, sometimes you do what you have to do, but that doesn't make it right. You should always put your health before saving money and food is one of the key areas to do that.
If you can't afford better food, take a look at my articles on side hustles. Try to figure out something that you can do to make a little extra spending money each month and use that to buy healthier food. There are actually a lot of different things that anyone can do to make an extra $20-$100 a week, and this amount of money will usually be enough to switch from cheap food to healthier choices.
When you're able to buy healthier food, spend a bit extra each month and eat what is best for your long-term health instead of using this area to pinch pennies to save a few bucks. After all, there's no point in try to save money for the future if you won't be able to benefit from it, so always focus on your long-term health needs first.