Saving up for the next big trip can be a long, hard-earned process, especially if you're driven by quality, but sometimes pricey, good food like I am (the artisan cheese section gets me every time! And let's not even mention delicious wine...) However, I've learned a few simple tips and tricks along that way that have helped my slash my weekly grocery and food bill while still being able to enjoy great meals - both home-cooked and out. Here are 10 win-win changes that you can make to your eating habits that will help you improve your diet and save money for your next great adventure.
Plan out your meals for the week
Planning out weekly meals not only helps save money (which it does exceedingly well), but this practice can also drastically improve your eating habits. When we know exactly what's for dinner each night and have the fridge and pantry stocked with the right ingredients, we're far less likely to order that pizza or stop for take out on our way home from work. In terms of saving money, meal planning allows you to plan for budget-friendly meals, reduce food waste, repurpose left overs, and batch cook so you have lunch ready for the next day or a freezer stocked with healthy "plan B" options.
Need help getting started? CookSmarts has a great weekly Meal Plan Service delivered right to your inbox
And if you want it even easier, Blue Apron sends recipes and ingredients
Set a weekly grocery budget and stick to it!
This is the one I struggle with the most... I love trying out new products and splurging on things like truffle salt (fantastic on popcorn!) and gourmet hot chocolate (I recently picked this one up in Berkeley and it's amazing). But creating a weekly grocery budget and sticking to it is a great way to save money for the travel fund. Planning out meals helps tremendously when trying to stick to budget ;) How much should your weekly or monthly grocery budget be? I recommend dedicating around 12-15% of your take home income to groceries (for example, if you earn $3,000 a month, set aside $360-450 for food). If that sounds like a lot, take a look at how other countries prioritize their food budget. Notice that the USA is way down at the bottom...
Buy in bulk
Buying in bulk can save tremendous bucks. Most grocery stores nowadays have a bulk section where you can stock up on things like rice, dried beans, grains, nuts, seeds, and spices. Choosing bulk spices, especially, can save tons of money. If your grocery store doesn't have a bulk section, consider buying online. Azure Standard, Bulk Foods, and Mountain Rose Herbs (for spices) are all great options.
Make your own…
Stocks and broths (chicken, veggie, beef, seafood), granola, salad dressing, hummus, etc... are all high-price foods that are easily made at home. If you go through a lot of these kinds of grocery items, consider dedicating a few hours a week to making your own homemade variations. Believe me, you'll save quite a bit of grocery money! Need some recipe ideas? Check out these links:
Choose cheaper cuts of meat
Meat is expensive, but this doesn't mean that we need to shell out top dollar for the priciest cuts. Look for less popular meat options because these tend to be lower in price. If you're not sure what alternative cuts are available, strike up a conversation with your butcher - they're usually more than happy to answer questions. Some examples for cheaper cuts are: chicken thighs instead of chicken breast, hangar steak instead of NY strip steak, pork shoulder instead of pork loin.
Embrace vegetarian Proteins
I was a vegetarian for 16 years and I while I'm now an omnivore, I still eat a lot of budget-friendly vegetarian proteins. Beans and legumes are a fantastic way to either substitute or compliment meat dishes (think chili, soups, or stews) and tofu and tempeh can (shockingly ;) be quite tasty and satisfying. Don't knock 'em 'til you try them! This tempeh Bahn Mi is 👌 Seitan is also a great vegetarian protein that has more of a meat-like texture. And of course, there are always eggs. If you're a dedicated meat eater, aim for making at least one dinner a week totally vegetarian and if you already dabble in vegetarian cooking see if you can commit to 3-4+ totally vegetarian meals a week (breakfast, lunch, or dinner).
Shop the farmer's market during the last 30 minutes
I love farmer's markets and I love supporting local farms, but unfortunately they're not usually the cheapest places to shop at... If you go towards the end, though, farmers are often willing to offer great deals like 2 for the price of 1 or everything on the table a flat $3. I've scored some great fruits and veggies at amazing prices just for showing up 30 minutes before the market breaks down!
Drink primarily water
Water is free, other beverages are not, so I don't really need to tell you how or why this tip will save you money ;) Plus, water is calorie free and devoid of added sugars and chemicals, so it's a better choice for your body as well! I'm not saying give up your wine or beer or occasional kombucha, but be mindful about how much money you're spending on beverages that are not necessary and how that money could be used for your next trip. Three dollars a day x 365 days of the week is a plane ticket to anywhere in the world!
Research Happy Hour Deals
I love eating out, but I don't love how expensive it's gotten. You can spend a good chunk of change just on a shared appetizer, two entrees, and two glasses of wine! But I've found that a lot of restaurants offer great happy hour deals that are perfect for an early dinner or light snack before a homemade meal. Call or visit the websites of different restaurants in your area to see if they have any happy hour menus.
Invest in a good espresso machine if you’re prone to ‘drinking out' everyday
I'm a coffee fiend. I can't get out of bed in the morning unless there's the promise of a good cup of coffee in the very near future. As such, I found myself spending way too much money on double shot Americano's and organic lattes. Realizing my weakness, I knew I wouldn't be happy with plain old drip coffee in the morning, so my solution (actually my boyfriend at the time's solution) was to invest in a great espresso machine. Yes, it was expensive, but since we were both spending at least $4 a day on coffeeshop coffee, I think our our investment was returned pretty quickly.