Guest Post: Saving Money on Meals


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How to Save: Food Budget

It is an honor to be guest posting here at Our Freaking Budget! Let me introduce myself, I’m Sarah Jane Skaggs. I am one-half of the team at the frugal lifestyle blog Pretty Providence. I just graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in Family Studies, my husband is finishing the final semester earning his, and we have managed to get through with zero debt (hard but worth it!). My passion lies in finding ways to have fun, eat well and make my house look nice without the full price tag. I like making and devouring baked goods, pop culture, relationship education, financial peace of mind, social media and wearing jeans with a cardigan every day. I have way too many cardigans. 

For me, food is one of the most delightful parts of life. I incorporate treat consumption into all of the other activities I do for fun. Once, when I was first married (almost four years ago), I told my husband that I was frustrated because we didn’t have enough money for me to spend on my hobbies. When he asked which hobbies I meant, and my knee-jerk response was “going to Cafe Rio.” Let me explain. I love going out to eat, and my favorite restaurant is a Mexican place called Cafe Rio. The food is so amazing, it’s addictive. It started in Utah but has begun to expand nationwide so if you have one in your town, go try it! He still jokes with me about my main hobby being eating at Cafe Rio, but it was kind of true. If I want to see a friend I haven’t seen in a while, we always meet there for some lunch. If we go on a double date, we always end up there because everyone likes it and can agree happily upon it. If we want takeout for an evening in? You guessed it.

The problem was we had a vicious cycle going with our food budget (or lack thereof.) We’d been spending so much money on groceries, but were sick of the meager meals we could make with them. It’s worth mentioning that we were both students, working and getting home after 7 pm every night, starving and tired. This would lead us to grab fast food for dinner more often than we should have just because it was easier than having the same grilled chicken again and again.  Our food-life was unsatisfactory. I became determined to save more at the grocery store, but where to start? We had really only been buying what we considered necessities: cereal, milk, eggs, cheese, frozen chicken breasts, etc. But for some reason it was breaking us.

Typically we were spending almost $100 a week on food: $50 on groceries and $30-$50 eating out. After a few months of strategic grocery shopping – using coupons or price-matching where I could, we were only spending $20 a week on groceries and $20 on a date night. Now I no longer use any coupons, and we have been trying to eat out less (once every other week) and spend about $30 a week on our groceries. Here are the things I do that have helped us shave down our food budget while still feeling satisfied with our meals.

Shopping Smart

Knowing your store’s sale cycles is key. Typically a grocery store will put a certain item on sale once every three months, but that can vary a little depending on where you shop. I suggest asking your store’s manager about how the sales work. Stock up on things you like to eat when they are on sale, buying enough to last til the next time it will be on sale. For example, since we eat a lot of black beans I only buy them when they are on sale for .40 cents a can or less. If I buy 12 cans at .40 cents each I’ve spent less than $5 for three months’ worth. If I buy them once a week for .80 cents a can, I’ve spent almost $10. If you use this principle with everything you buy, it all adds up and you’re spending 50% of what you would have on the exact same items. GrocerySmarts.com is a great resource for finding out where the sales in your area are each week. Price matching is a great way to keep your shopping at one trip a week instead of going from store to store to get the deals.

Meal Planning

Planning your meals takes the question “What should we have for dinner tonight?” out of your life. If you spend an hour once a week deciding what to have each night that week, make a grocery list, and shop only once, you will save a lot of dough. You will already know what’s on the menu, can prep ahead of time if needed, and won’t be tempted to head to the drive-thru instead of dealing with dinner. It helps if you choose budget-friendly meals that might include similar ingredients but that have a different flavor so you don’t feel like there’s no variety. Also, when the budget is tight, go the safe route – choose things you know you like. At my house we always keep corn tortillas, black beans, frozen corn, salsa, sour cream and cheese around. They are very cheap and last a while. Then we can choose savory chicken, sweet pork or spicy beef enchiladas, tacos or salads, and and we’re both happy at the end of the day. We throw in some other budget friendly chicken dishes, soups or salads between the Mexican food nights. Planning your meals around what’s on sale that week is especially effective.

Freezer Cooking

This is a busy person’s life saver. Prepare a bunch of different meals all in one session, throw them in the freezer (in gallon ziploc bags) and pull them back out ready to heat and serve. You can also put together slow-cooker meals, freeze them and then just dump the frozen contents in the crock-pot before you head to work one day. This is an awesome way to use food you buy on sale. I like to make big batches of shredded pork in the slow-cooker and freeze it in different serving sizes so it’s ready to go on busy nights.

So there it is, saving money on food made easy. More room in the budget for the fun things, like eating at your favorite restaurant or splurging on some Nutella (never on sale, still worth it). At Pretty Providence we have some great Freezer Cooking tutorials you could check out, and I love Money Saving Mom’s resources too. What are some ways you have found to save money on food without feeling restricted or bored?

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13 Comments

  • Reply Michelle March 28, 2013 at 8:30 am

    I’m a big foodie too! We meal plan and it definitely saves a lot of money. My favorite restaurant is a Mexican place right up the street from us. Super cheap and the best food I’ve ever had!

  • Reply Brian March 28, 2013 at 9:20 am

    I actually like cooking and assuming we plan ahead enough (I mean remember to pull out a frozen chicken boob or a steak) I will usually make something from mostly scratch. I don’t do anything to exotic, but I vary the meal. Now that spring is almost here I can start going back outside and using the grill. We enjoy grilling almost everything and one of the best ways I have ever spent money was on a couple of grilling classes where they cooked foods on the grill you never even thought about!

    • Reply Sarah @ Pretty Providence March 28, 2013 at 10:46 am

      That is awesome that you like cooking! I wish I liked it more, haha. My husband and I are hoping to buy a grill this summer, so we’ll see… right now we have a George Foreman which for the most part gets the job done. I’ll have to look into some grilling classes though!

  • Reply My Financial Independence Journey March 28, 2013 at 10:14 am

    I do a lot of meal planning. I’ve tried to watch sales cycles, but I just don’t have the free time or interest to do that. I also found that I tend to waste more food if I stockpile stuff than if I just buy what I need each week.

  • Reply [email protected] March 28, 2013 at 10:52 am

    As a newly married gal, I am inspired by your gumption to get out there and figure this whole dinner thing out. I didn’t used to cook at all until I met my husband. Together we have figured out how to eat well on a budget by price matching and planning meals around what is on sale. I like to switch things up, so I will spend some time Google-ing interesting meals to make with the items we have….then my husband will always improve them. He is great at making a meal go from good to awesome with just a few unexpected ingredients. I am hoping to try the freezer meals soon. Sounds like such a great time and money saver.

    • Reply Sarah @ Pretty Providence March 29, 2013 at 11:45 am

      It is seriously the best. There is nothing better than coming home after a long day and having a delicious dinner already made for you!

  • Reply Michelle March 28, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    I am a huge foodie and as a result of this food obsession I spend a lot of time thinking about food! I learn towards the menu planning and limited freezer cooking. I love thinking up amazing meals that satisfy my heart as well as my body. Yummy! This week I made homemade pho. It rocked :)

    • Reply Sarah @ Pretty Providence March 29, 2013 at 11:46 am

      Pho! Was it hard? I have actually never even tried that but I want to because people seem to love it.

  • Reply Louis March 28, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    Once I finally got over my fear of store-brand foods, I started racking up the savings. Now that little “cost/oz.” or “cost/sheet” on the bottom of the price tags is my best friend. And if you haven’t tried Walmart’s generic brand Girl Scout cookies… shoot, get on it!

    • Reply Sarah @ Pretty Providence March 29, 2013 at 11:48 am

      What? I had no idea that Wal-Mart had generic Girl Scout cookies! I do love a good samoa. I’m going to have to look for those. I have always been fine with buying generic brands, except when it comes to a few things. Sometimes the difference is too much, but for the most part I buy generic and it’s true, the savings add up QUICKLY!

  • Reply Maureen October 31, 2014 at 4:47 am

    I am a huge foodie! We plan meals daily and hardly any food gets wasted which helps us in saving lots of money weekly. Food gets wasted only when we have party at my place and that too not too much. We buy fresh fruits & food every 2 days so the food doesnt get spoil.

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