In these hard economic times it becomes even more important to know where your food dollar is being spent. Whether you buy your food at a grocery store or grow and/or preserve your own food, eat mainly home cooked or eat out there are associated costs that should be factored into the true cost of your food dollars spent. Consider many families do their grocery shopping on Friday night. They have budgeted perhaps $150 for groceries but some of that isn't edible. At the same time before they stopped at the grocery store they ate at a fast food restaurant for about $20. Their actual food dollars spent then on that particular day would be $170 plus acquisition costs (eg. gasoline or public transit), plus the lunch they ate out earlier in the day, their morning bagel and coffee bought on the way to work and perhaps a stop or two during the week for an impulse food purchase. If you want to save money on your food dollars you have to get very honest with yourself. Face it that $1.25 cup of coffee every morning on work days ends up costing you $325 total annually and that is part of your food dollars! If you take those little food expenditures that you never really think about like the vending machine snack, the quick run through the drive-thru, the coffee shop morning coffee and doughnut, and those impromtu grocery store stops. This week's Frugal Kitchens 101 focuses on those extra costs that most people don't factor into their food budget and how to get them in check.
- get honest - If you don't know exactly where your food dollar is going there it will be very difficult to control or reduce. Get a small notebook to record each and food purchase made for a month. Include: purchased lunches, coffee and specialty drinks, vending machine snacks, take-out or delivery, and etc. At the end of one month you should have a fairly good realization that you are spending a lot more food dollars than you think. You will end up with a very good idea of where you should start trimming your food dollars.
- be realistic - When making changes that will help save on your total food costs, start small and be realistic. Quite often socializing plays a large part in spending food dollars. For example one of our friends who has an amazingly gorgeous kitchen got into the habit of eating breakfast out during the work week but now he has retired he continues to do this at a cost of about $7 per day or $1,820 per year. Eliminating even one breakfast out would save $364 so he could easily save just by cutting back by one breakfast per week.
- consider all costs - All food requires some acquisition costs that's a given but if you are driving 5 miles out of your way to save 20¢ on a particular food item it's time to rethink that plan. Any time you cook anything it costs you in terms of cooking fuel so choose the most cost effective method for cooking that particular meal. Home canning saves a lot of money and I can't stress that enough but you do have to buy at the bare minimum canning supplies (eg. pectin, lids, canner) and if you want to can low acid foods you need a pressure canner (free to $250+). If you home garden, unless you use seeds collected by yourself and others combined with using compost and a rainwater collection system then the garden comes with a price. Some seeds can be expensive per packet too as can plant plugs. That all adds to the cost of food your garden produces. It is a very low cost but it is still a cost. Consider our neighbours who put one of the most amazing raised bed systems in last year at a cost of well over $500 but realized almost nothing as far as a crop. It's going to take them a long time to recoup their costs. Driving through the countryside for a foodie trip is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon but that price of gas really ads up! It is also wonderful that many foods are available online but shipping and handling can really add to the cost of the food purchased.
- recognize the facts - In general and there are very few examples where this does not hold true, home cooked or homemade is less expensive using store bought whole foods than commercially prepared foods, eating take-out, ordering in or eating out. If you like eating out reduce that to once or twice a month at a sit down restaurant where you will get a better quality of food.
- stock-up - Each and every time you shop for groceries set aside $5 to $10 of your grocery budget to stock your pantry and freezer. Focus on whole foods like dried beans, dried pasta, rices, as well as foods in the perimeter of the store as these can be preserved at home. If you use coupons, take the savings to help you buy extra for your pantry supplies.
- stay out of the grocery stores - It goes without saying if you want to save on your food dollars stay out of the grocery stores. Shop only when absolutely necessary which will reduce your cost of acquisition and lessen impulse buying.