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How to Save Money on Your Food Expenses

The findings of a recent Gallup poll (which were released in August of 2012) indicate that Americans spend approximately $151 per week on food. If you are already living on a budget, this amount of money probably doesn't surprise to you. After a mortgage or rent payment, food is generally the highest expenditure in the average budget.

Economists expect food prices to climb around 3 ½ % in 2012 and another 3% to 4% in 2013. Due to this fact, most people will be forced to make serious cuts in their budgets to adjust for these higher food prices. So finding ways to reduce your overall food bill is a smart goal to have.

The good news is that your food budget usually offers many ways to save. If you can cut just 10% from your food bill, it's possible to save almost $720 a year (on average). That's money that can go towards paying off debt or adding to your savings- both of which are key elements in becoming financially secure and debt-free.

Ways to Save

  • Buy Generic. Most major store brands deliver the same high quality as national brands but at much less cost. So get over the idea that you have to buy name brands for everything on your shopping list. Yes, some name brand products might taste better to you and in that case go ahead and buy them. But for staple items such as flour, salt, sugar, and most cleaning products, the generic brand is always a smart choice.
  • Use Coupons. You can find coupons everywhere- in your mail, in the newspaper, and on the Web. Also check manufacturers' websites. It may take some extra time and a bit of organization, but the savings can really add up. Coupons can be used at groceries, drug stores, and other places that sell food items.
  • Prepare Your Own Meals. Buying fresh ingredients and cooking your own meals is almost always less expensive than buying pre-made or prepackaged meals. Plus, you can control the portion sizes and the quality of the foods you prepare at home.
  • Stop Buying Bottled Water. The bottled water business is huge - Americans spent over $16 billion last year on various brands of bottled water. On top of the environmental impact of all those plastic bottles (not to mention the chemicals in the plastic), most tap water in the U.S. is perfectly safe to drink. If you want more reassurance, buy a water filter for your faucet or one of the many water-filter pitchers now available. They are all relatively inexpensive and can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars over the course of a year.
  • Buy Fruits and Vegetables In Season. They are always cheaper when they're in season. Learn to appreciate the different fruits and veggies when they are at their peak. Also, buy whole fruits and vegetables. Why pay more to have someone chop or grate for you? It's a waste.
  • Plan Your Meals. Nothing can wreck a food budget quicker than shopping without a detailed list. Haphazardly throwing items into the shopping cart can result in a whopping receipt at check-out! Take the time to plan your meals and only buy what you actually need. Never shop when you're hungry.
  • Shop From the Bottom Shelf. Grocery stores usually put the most expensive items at eye-level on the shelves. Cheaper items are normally placed on the bottom shelves so be sure to look there for good bargains.
  • Mail In Rebate Forms. Manufacturers know that the majority of consumers don't take the time to fill out those rebate forms and mail them in. Prove them wrong! It only takes a few moments to write down the needed information and send off your receipt and the form. Even small refunds can result in significant savings over time. It all adds up.
  • Sign Up For Free Memberships. It's not just the big warehouse retailers that offer memberships. Most grocery stores have a "customer loyalty" plan which gives additional savings to members. Drug stores offer these discounts also.
  • Always Check Expiration Dates. Don't waste money on food items have expired dates. This applies especially to dairy and other refrigerated products. If you're buying in bulk, make sure you can use all of the items before the "use by" date.
  • Cook Extra Portions to Freeze. When you're making pasta sauce or meatloaf or some other dish, prepare extra portions to freeze for future meals. This is less expensive than buying ready-made meals from the grocery. It also saves time and energy on those nights when you don't feel like making something from scratch.
  • Be Alert at Check-Out. Make a note of the specific price of items and make sure your purchases ring up at the correct price. Let the cashier know if there is a discrepancy. Many stores offer you the item free of charge if you are charged an incorrect price.
  • Brown Bag Your Lunch. If you spend $5 - $10 a day on lunch, you can really save a lot by bringing your lunch from home. If you enjoy eating with your co-workers, initially cut back to 2-3 times a week. Saving $10 - $20 a week is still significant. You will need to plan for your lunches when making your grocery list, but it is still less expensive in the long run.

Healthier, tastier meals and reduced food costs are just two of the positive changes that can happen when you take the time to plan your meals, cut coupons, and make shopping lists. Remember that every dollar you save on your total food bill can be used to increase your savings or pay off your debt more quickly. Reason enough to start now!