Tag Archives: Food

I Spend HOW Much on Food?!?!?

It’s been a while since I told you all about my New Year’s resolution to slowly create and live within a budget.  I’m thinking it’s time for an update on my process.

After trying to track my expenses without third-party help, I quickly came to the realization that I am never going to succeed without some help.  Writing down and tracking my own expenses is not so bad, but staying on top of what my husband spends as well just adds a layer of complexity that I’m not up to.   There are seemingly endless budgeting tools available online, and I feel like I’ve tried most of them at one point or another.  But when it comes right down to it, what I really wanted is a good old-fashioned spreadsheet.  I’m pretty good with spreadsheets (because they are very handy for my job), so if I could just get my account data transported into a spreadsheet I know I’m capable of manipulating it in ways that are useful to me.  Thankfully I found Tiller.  This tool connects my accounts to a customizable Google Sheet, so I can sort my transactions by date and category.  I’m on a one-month free trial right now, but I’m already thinking this will be worth the $59 a year it will cost me to continue.  I was able to get it all set up in about an hour, and quickly saw that the biggest consumption of my money (beyond housing and medical bills) is food.

I looked at my food expenses and saw that there is definitely room to cut back on dining out as well as on groceries.  Dining out is the easy piece.  We just won’t do that as often.  This will end up being better not only for the wallet, but also for the waistline.  Groceries are more complicated.  As I’ve done my tour through a few different stores lately, I’ve been paying better attention to how much things I consume regularly cost.  There are some things (predominantly pet supplies) that I sometimes buy online.  This week I compared that cost to in-store prices, and discovered that online is indeed cheaper for these things.  But it would have been easy to just never check because I enjoy the convenience of having kitty litter delivered to my front porch.  Now that I know the online price is less, I’ll make sure I have enough coming that I never have to buy it in store.

Another grocery cost-saver is whole foods versus prepared foods.  A bag of steam-in-bag brown rice is significantly more expensive than a bag of raw brown rice.  A little planning and some quality time with my Instant Pot can make that transition very easy.  A jumbo tub of old-fashioned oats is much cheaper than pre-packaged instant oatmeal or any boxed cereal.  For produce it’s important to consider the time of year.  Fresh produce is not cheap in Pennsylvania in February.  But frozen berries and vegetables can get the job done for a lot less money.  I’ll wait to enjoy fresh when things are in season.  And then there is meat.  There is definitely savings to be found from buying in bulk.  That jumbo pack of chicken breasts can easily be broken down into individual packages and frozen.  That 9-pound pork shoulder roast can be slow cooked and then frozen as several individual pounds of cooked pulled pork for future burritos and casseroles and sandwiches.  Today’s rotisserie chicken is tomorrow’s chicken casserole.  And don’t forget about the poor-man’s staples:  eggs, pasta, beans, rice, and meat that comes in a can (I prefer tuna, but I know there are still Spam lovers in the world!).

There are a lot of ways to shave the food bill.  I’ll keep exploring them and sharing what I learn.

 

Food on the Road

Thanksgiving is the biggest travel holiday of the year in the United States.  Whether by car, train, bus, or airplane, there are steps you can take to save a significant amount of money on food while you are traveling.

If you’re heading out on the ground (car, train, or bus) it’s easy to pack a lunch, including drinks, to eat along the road.  A sandwich and soda or water that you bring from home are a lot less expensive than those you buy along the way.   Throw it all in a bag and you are set for hundreds of miles!

Things get a little trickier when you are traveling by airplane.  The TSA has restrictions on what you can bring through security.  Luckily, the restrictions only apply to liquids.  So your sandwich (and apple, and chips, and crackers) is fine to go through security.  The beverage is the tricky part.  When I fly I always carry on an empty refillable water bottle.  Most airports have bottle filling stations, so once you get through security you can fill your bottle and be set for the day (also an effective strategy for staying hydrated at the law school!).

Traveling is expensive enough on its own.  There’s no need to compound that with the cost of road food!

Thanksgiving: The intersection of travel, food, and shopping

The week of Thanksgiving always make me think of three specific things:  travel, food, and shopping.  Since I already waxed poetic over leftovers last week, I’ll take the spotlight off the turkey feast, and instead focus in on the intersections of food and travel as well as food and shopping.

When you are getting ready to drive or fly or bus or train to wherever it is you may be going, start by eating a good meal and then packing some food for the road.  Travel food, whether it be airport chow, a roadside restaurant, or a Sheetz stop along the highway, is always going to be more expensive than food you prepare yourself.  So make a sandwich.  Fill a baggie with chips or  veggies.  Grab an apple.  Fill a travel mug with coffee or a plastic bottle with water.  And save yourself a fortune in travel food!

The same rules apply if you are braving the crowds at the stores on Friday morning.  Don’t leave home with an empty stomach that will lead you to a mall food court.  Make a plan.  Pack a snack or even a whole meal.  I’m a big fan of Black Friday shopping.  I sit down with the sales flyers from the newspaper Thursday night and plan my attack based on the items I am pursuing and what time the stores they are in open.  Last year I remember specifically having about 20 minutes in between when I was done getting a great deal on a frying pan at Macy’s and when Bed, Bath & Beyond opened.  This was my breakfast window.  I sat in my car in the parking lot enjoying the coffee I had brought from home and the granola bars I had in my purse for exactly this situation.  It would have been really easy to run to McDonalds or Sheetz for a breakfast sandwich.  But I didn’t need to spend that extra money (or consume the extra fat).

When you’re thinking about your Thanksgiving week adventures, plan ahead.  Take some food with you.  You’ll save a bunch of money.  And while you’re at it….don’t forget to think about all the many things you are thankful for.

thanksgiving

 

Leftovers–and how to make the most of them!

Leftovers happen.  At home.  At work.  At school.  Leftovers simply happen.  And if you are prepared for those leftovers they can be a glorious thing that saves you not only some money, but also some meal preparation time.

Everybody thinks about the big leftovers.  With Thanksgiving just around the corner, nearly everyone is thinking about turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce, or whatever your favorite turkey leftover combination is.   But what about the unexpected leftovers?  The handful of vegetables that could go into the compost….but could also go into the freezer for a future casserole or soup.  The leftover potatoes that can make some delicious hash browns or home fries for the next morning’s breakfast.  If you have a leftover that you’re not sure how to use, ask Google.  There’s an answer for everything.

And then there are the work/school leftovers.  Random pizza, salads, or sandwiches leftover from a meeting or event.  It’s easy to grab one to eat immediately.  But what if you’re not hungry right then and would like to save it for later?  If you’re prepared you’ll have the right tools handy to be able to do just that.  If you don’t have one yet, you should get yourself a “locker leftover kit.”

Locker leftover kit

Keep these simple tools in your locker and you’ll always be prepared when leftovers present themselves to you!

Dining Out on the Cheap (a classic tip from 2/1/2010)

The best way to save money on food is not to dine out.   But sometimes a meal in a restaurant can be a very nice treat.  And with a few tricks, you can do it without breaking the bank.

Try the early bird special.  Many restaurants offer reduced prices in the early evening.  You don’t have to be a senior citizen to take advantage of it.

  • Go out for lunch rather than dinner.  A lot of restaurants serve similar offerings on the lunch and dinner menus, but at very different prices.  The lunch menu is almost always less expensive.
  • Order the big portion—and a doggy bag.  Many restaurants offer multiple portion sizes on their entrees.  In some cases you can get up to twice as much for only a few dollars more.  Take the big portion.  Split it in half and take the extra home.  You’ll get two meals for the price of one!
  • Eat out on off nights.  Most restaurants are busiest on Friday and Saturday nights.  Be on the lookout for places offering special deals on weeknights as incentive to lure customers in.
  • Use coupons.  Watch the newspaper for coupons for national chains.  Find other coupons in the Entertainment Book or buy discount gift certificates at Restaurant.com.
  • BYOB.  If you like a glass of wine with dinner, look for a restaurant that doesn’t have a liquor license but will allow you to bring in your own bottle of wine.
  • Drink water.  There is a huge profit margin on beverages at restaurants.  The glass of soda that costs the restaurant only a few cents to pour will likely cost you a dollar or two to purchase.  But water remains free…and much better for your health!

Follow these tips and enjoy some great restaurant meals without going broke.  Bon appétit!