Grocery and restaurant bills can really become a large chunk of your monthly budget, especially if you have a large family or dine out often. Here are some tips on how to save money on your food costs, both dining out and at home.
Dining Out. It is usually more expensive to dine out than it is to eat at home. The less you dine out, the more you’ll save. Here are some tips to save money while dining out.
- Select restaurants that minimize costs. Instead of going to the nicest restaurant in town, try some local restaurants that have better pricing. This may mean finding old restaurants that haven’t raised their prices in a while, or finding new restaurants that are trying to gain a following. For example, you can go to Ruth’s Chris steakhouse and pay $40 for a steak and sides, or you can go to Outback Steakhouse and get the same meal (maybe not quite as good) for about half the price. For a meal for four, including tax and tip, you could save over $100.
- Use coupons. Coupons are available online, in fliers, newspapers, and local coupon mailings. Browse through them, clip the coupons, and keep them in an envelope in your car, purse or briefcase. That way when you are out and about and want to dine out, you can make a choice based on your coupons. Also, many regions offer an Entertainment book of some sort, sold through schools, neighbors or online. They charge $20-50, but if you use the coupons you can save a lot more than that.
- Use websites and apps. Similar to coupons, restaurants offer many discounts and specials through phone apps and websites. After all, it’s cheaper for them to give you a discount if you find them, rather than to have them pay advertising costs to find you. There are thousands of apps that offer these discounts, including twitter and foursquare.
- Use loyalty programs. Some restaurants offer loyalty programs where you earn free meals based on your previous spending. For example, Papa Murphys offers a free pizza when you buy 10. And Qdoba offers a free burrito after you buy 10. In addition, signing up for these programs will get you on their mailing list in which they send or email you coupons on a regualar basis.
- Don’t order appetizers and dessert. Everyone likes to have appetizers and dessert, but do you really need them? Maybe you could split a dessert or stop somewhere less expensive on your way home. Not only are desserts priced very high, but you’ll also have to pay the tip on it.
- Drink water or bring your own drink. Drinking water can save a family of four as much as $15, compared to ordering specialty lemonades, sparkling water or sodas. If you are going to a nice restaurant, consider bringing your own bottle of wine. You can bring a $20 bottle of wine, pay a corking fee of $10 (sometimes free) and save as much as $50 (compared to the price of that same bottle at their restaurant price). If you are going to a fast food or casual place, bring in your own drink. Fill the kids sippie cups with juice or milk and stop at a gas station for a cheap fountain soda on the way.
- Pack your own lunch. If you go out for lunch everyday you can save a lot of money by packing your own lunch. Don’t make it too boring or you’ll be tempted to go out anyway.
- Buy a personal coffee maker. Do you spend a lot of money on coffee at work? I’ve known people that spend $10 a day at Starbucks. If your office doesn’t supply coffee, consider buying a Keurig or small coffee maker that you can operate at work.
Eating at Home. Eating at home is usually much cheaper than dining out. Here are some tips to help reduce your grocery bills.
- Buy bulk. Shop at Sams, BJs or Costco and get the value of buying wholesale. Make sure you only buy things that you will use and don’t be tempted by all of the non-essentials.
- Use coupons. Browse online and through local papers and mailings for coupons. Shop on double coupon days if available. The key here is to be organized. Create an envelope with coupons and keep it with you when you shop. Check apps for coupons. For example, the Target app has coupons that you can use at the checkout and don’t need to clip.
- Shop store specials. My grandma used the word “specials” all the time, and my parents somehow find everything “on special”. With that said, grocery stores that may not have the best prices on everything, often have great deals each week. When you find a good deal, buy the limit and freeze some for later.
- Shop Aldis. If there’s an Aldis in your neighborhood and you are serious about saving, then this is your spot. The stores are plain and filled with knock off looking items, and the clientele are not always cheery, but you can feed a family of four for a week for as little as $50 by shopping there. Not willing to make that sacrifice, don’t worry, there are lots of good deals at Aldi’s that can supplement your other grocery shopping. Go there first with your list and then hit another store to finish your list.
- Pass on the organic. In some cases, organic foods are worth the price, but in most cases they are just more expensive. Do your research, find out which foods matter, and then buy only those items organic. And when you do, visit Trader Joes rather than Whole Foods, you’ll save 40% on nearly identical items.
- Eat vegetarian. Make a few entrees a week without meat or fish. Beans and other high protein vegetables are super cheap and very healthy.
- Get a deep freeze. If you have room and have a family, buy a deep freeze. Use it to store the specials you’ve stocked up on, the bulk items from wholesale stores, and the harvest from your garden.
- Buy the store brand. Store brands are often identical to the name brands but for a fraction of the price. Experiment with which products taste the same and add them to your cart.
- Cook in bulk. Cooking in bulk saves money because you use up all the ingredients at the same time you prepare several meals. Make double meals and then freeze one for later. For example, if you’re making a lasagna, its very easy to just make two and freeze one.
- Stock your pantry. A well stocked pantry will ensure that you always have a meal available, as well as keep you from heading out for dinner. Keep canned and dry items that can be whipped into quick meals. Things like pasta, beans, tomato sauce, cereals and even mac and cheese.
- Plant a garden. Nothing is more organic, tasty or convenient than picking fresh vegetables from your garden. Even if you live in an apartment its easy to plant a tomato plant and some herbs. One $0.99 plant can yield $20 or more of fresh tomatoes throughout the growing season. Can or freeze the rest for winter use.
- Add some edible vegetation. We replaced our overgrown landscaping with slow growing edible shrubs, including blueberries, cherry bushes, jostaberries, honeyberries, ligonberries and gooseberries. We also replaced some old trees with pear and apple trees. An apple tree can yield several hundred pounds of apples, and at $1-2 a pound, thats a lot of savings each year. The left over fruit can be made into applesauce, pie filling, jam or dried.