The Roaming Economist is not a legal or financial professional and any advice or opinions expressed should be taken as general information. Please read my DISCLOSURE for more information.
$7,729. That’s the average annual amount spent on food per household in the U.S.
That’s around $650/month spent buying groceries, ordering take-out, or going to a restaurant. A $650 average monthly spending may not sound bad to you, considering it includes all food purchased.
However, a “household” doesn’t just include married couples or families with multiple kids. It included singles living on their own as well. That’s a lot of money to part with each month, especially if you’re a single person literally eating through $650/month.
Whether you fall in with the average or already spend less than this, looking for ways to cut your food budget can save you hundreds of dollars each month!
In this post, I’ll reveal nineteen habits that are sure to help you drastically slash your food budget.
How to Reduce Your Dining Out Costs
1. Cut Back Dining Out Expenses
Most people who dine out do so several times a week, whether it’s ordering take-out or going to a sit-down meal at a restaurant. As a result, the average American spends around $290/month in dining out expenses.
No matter if you dine out twice a week or every day at lunch, dialing back on the number of times you go out will help you decrease your monthly restaurant expenses.
2. Skip Take-out Delivery
If you’re ordering take-out, go pick it up yourself. It may be a little inconvenient, but having food delivered can double the cost of your order.
There are so many apps today where at the push of a button, you can have any food you want delivered within a half-hour or sooner.
I love these apps as much as the next person. Sometimes you don’t feel like getting out and about, but spending just a little time going to pick the food up yourself will save you a lot over time.
How to Reduce Your Grocery Costs
3. Make Cooking More Fun
Many of the tips in this post are applicable if you’re shopping and cooking meals at home. Let’s face it; doing it all yourself will be the cheapest.
But what if cooking’s not really your thing?
A lot of people don’t like to cook, myself included. I would almost rather skip a meal than cook something that’s going to take up a lot of my time.
I especially hate cooking alone, but I find it more enjoyable when my husband and I make it an activity we do together.
If you also don’t like cooking (if that’s what’s holding you back from slashing your food budget), find ways to make it more enjoyable for you.
Crack open a bottle of wine while you and your significant other make dinner together. Play your kids’ favorite Disney soundtrack while they help you measure ingredients. Or if you’re single, have a weekly meal prep get-together, so cooking becomes more like a social event.
4. Stop Your Meal Delivery Service
Although this can be a great alternative to dining out several times a week, if you’re serious about cutting back your food budget, the meal delivery service has got to go.
These services like Blue Apron, Hellofresh, and many more have been welcomed with open arms by us busy, young professionals who don’t have much time to cook and enjoy the convenience of a speedy, home-cooked meal.
In fact, my husband and I used Hellofresh for quite a while. It helped us dine out less, introduced us to new foods and recipes, and did the planning for us for three meals every week. So meal delivery services have their place for sure.
The convenience is undeniable; however, grocery shopping and cooking yourself will always be the cheaper option. Most meal delivery services cost around $60/week for three meals that serve two people. Their plans vary in size and price, but that’s a reasonable estimate.
That means if you’re a two-person household getting three meals delivered each week, you’ll pay $240/month, and you still have to buy groceries to cover your other meals for the week.
5. Where You Shop Matters
On average, households in the U.S. spend $4,363 annually on groceries. And where you grocery shop can have a significant impact on your total monthly food costs.
Some grocery stores charge more for the same items. Whether it’s because they sell specialty ingredients or are simply a more upscale establishment, the price difference can have a tremendous impact on how much you pay.
For example, we shopped almost exclusively at more affordable grocery stores. Then we moved, and our new apartment was a one-minute drive to a store where food costs a little more. We told ourselves even though it was close, we weren’t going to shop there. Little by little, “I’ll just go grab one ingredient,” turned into us purchasing almost all our groceries at this store.
Once we realized what we were doing, we made the conscious effort to go back to using our slightly further away, more affordable grocery store. Just by making this switch, we saved around $50/month without making any other changes in our shopping habits.
In case you aren’t sure where to begin, here are some grocery stores that are known for having lower prices:
- Trader Joe’s
- Sam’s Club
6. Put in the Work
Be willing to put in the work when you get home from the store, and you’ll save yourself a lot of money.
Pre-prepared ingredients are more expensive because someone else did part of the work for you. A whole chicken you have to cut up yourself is cheaper than a bag of chicken leg quarters. And that bag of leg quarters costs less than the pre-cut and skinned chicken breasts.
Chopped mushrooms are more costly than whole mushrooms. Chicken bouillon cubes are cheaper than buying already made chicken broth. Microwave or pre-packaged meals are going to run you $3-6 for a small portion that doesn’t even fill you up.
You see the pattern here? The bottom line is, the more work you’re willing to do yourself at home, the more you’ll save.
7. Buy in Bulk
As a general rule, the more you buy, the less you pay per unit for the item. This is why stores like Costco and Sam’s Club can offer such affordable pricing.
Don’t hesitate to buy in bulk for items that don’t go bad or take a long time to spoil. We recently purchased a 25-pound bag of rice for $18 and a 25-pound bag of red beans for $30. This will probably last us a year or more. We’ll get countless meals off it, and it won’t spoil.
Buying in bulk can be a little off-putting at first since your initial grocery run can have a higher than usual price tag, but the food will last you longer and bring your overall costs down long-term. You make one more substantially-priced trip instead of a lot of less expensive grocery runs that add up to more in the end.
Just because you’re buying in bulk doesn’t mean you can’t purchase any perishables. It still may be to your advantage to bulk-buy, but you have to treat these items differently than the bag of rice that can hang out in your pantry all year.
There were a few times we bought perishables in bulk to save money, and then some of them went to waste because we didn’t use them all before they went bad. It isn’t really saving you money if you do this.
Buying perishable items in bulk requires a little bit of planning. That’s where your freezer comes in.
8. Take Advantage of Your Freezer Space
Don’t let food go to waste because you couldn’t eat it or cook with it fast enough. You can freeze many foods before cooking, and most can be frozen afterward without adverse effects on the food.
If you bought perishables in bulk, go ahead and cook a meal with them, freeze some or all of it and pull it out later on a night you don’t have time to prepare a meal.
9. Incorporate Meatless Meals
Meat is a costly ingredient.
- Chicken: $1.5/lb.
- Ground beef: $3.7/lb.
- Pork chops: $4/lb.
- Shrimp: $6/lb.
- Steak: $8.2/lb.
Although these prices/pound may vary depending on where you shop, the quality of the meat, and your geographical location, this still gives you an excellent example to see how much meat alone can inflate your food budget.
Cooking a few meatless meals each week will help the overall cost of your grocery budget by trimming down how much of this expensive ingredient you buy.
10. Shop More Affordable Ingredients
Some ingredients just cost more.
Limit the number of expensive foods you buy – nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, steak, shrimp, cheeses, and anything pre-packaged like tortellini and ravioli. Although these foods are delicious, and I’ve bought them many times myself, they will inflate your grocery bill – quickly.
If you’re trying to decrease your food expenses, opt for more affordable ingredients like eggs, grains, beans, rice, veggies, or potatoes. Choose cheaper meats like chicken, ground beef, and canned tuna.
11. Buy Generic Before Switching to Name-brand
Sometimes it matters, and quality suffers when you leave the cozy, warm name-brand blanket. But most of the time, it doesn’t.
Many generic store-brands have the same ingredients and quality as the name-brand at a fraction of the cost! So try the generic and quality test it before automatically buying name-brand foods.
If there are name-brand foods you already buy regularly, give the generic a quick try if you haven’t in the past. You may find there’s no difference, and immediately start saving a bunch on your food expenses!
There will be times when the off-brand won’t cut it for you; you find the quality of the name-brand to be better. And that’s okay. By giving the off-brand a try, you’ll discover which name-brand items add value to your pantry and which ones only inflate your grocery bill.
12. Look for Mark-downs
Ever see that rack off to the side where every item has a large, yellow sticker? Never breeze past it again!
Maybe at your store, it’s not on a rack set off by itself, but the principle is the same. Taking advantage of discounted foods can save you money. Whether it’s the bread that’s on the verge of becoming stale or a dented can of tomato paste, you can save a significant amount by searching through marked-down items.
You’ll also find higher-priced items like meats regularly discounted. Usually, these are meats approaching their expiration date, and the store will have to throw them away if they don’t sell them.
Since it’ll be going bad if you don’t use it soon, either cook it that day or freeze until you’re ready to incorporate it into a meal.
13. Make a Meal Plan
Planning out your meals for the next week or two before you ever enter a grocery store can help you significantly when it comes to decreasing your food budget.
You can plan what you need to buy and exactly how many meals you’ll get out of those purchases. No more “I guess I’ll need this” or “Well, maybe I’ll use that” only to never use it and have food go to waste.
With a plan, you’ll only buy needed ingredients and incorporate variety into your meals for the week. A variety of meals is essential to dining out less frequently. It cuts down on “I don’t want anything we have” syndrome because you’re so tired of eating the same dish over and over.
If meal planning doesn’t come naturally to you, the Mealime app can be a beneficial tool for quick and easy meal plan creation. You can check out my full review here.
14. Purchase Versatile Foods
Remember that obscure ingredient your recipe called for? The one you got and never used again? Skip it next time.
Some foods are more versatile than others, incorporating multiple ways into a meal. You can easily use ingredients like pasta, rice, veggies, potatoes, beans, onion, and garlic for many different dishes.
Purchasing foods you can use in a variety of ways will require you to buy less while also allowing yourself recipe variety.
This is something to think about while you’re meal planning as well. Selecting meals with different taste profiles, but similar ingredients will mean you need to buy fewer items when you go shopping.
15. Make a List & Stick to It
A great way to cut down on splurge spending is to make your grocery list before heading out to shop and vowing to stick to it.
Don’t get anything that’s not on your list. When you’re at home, you’re thinking about the items you’re out of or that you really need to pick up while there. Once you get to the store, that’s when the temptation begins. You see the tasty-looking snack on the shelf or some other items that “would be good to have around,” and you throw them in your basket.
These impulse buys can add a lot to your grocery bill. Deciding to stick to your list will help keep these from creeping into your cart.
16. Compare Prices
Comparing prices doesn’t just refer to purchasing the cheapest per unit item at one store, but comparing prices across multiple stores. It does take some dedication.
For example, Aldi and Walmart are both more affordable grocery stores. (Good for you for choosing the more affordable places to shop!) Let’s say eggs are cheaper at Aldi, and milk is less at Walmart (I have no idea if this is actually the case). You’ve found several other items that are less expensive at either store. Make separate Aldi and Walmart lists and grocery shop in two spots to get the absolute best prices.
This only makes sense if you have multiple items you need at each place. Also, I don’t advocate driving all over town, visiting ten different grocery stores to save something like 50 cents.
If shopping at two different places doesn’t appeal to you, you could always shop in one place and see if they’ll price match the lower price another store is offering. However, that will be a little more time-consuming at check-out.
17. Never Grocery Shop Hungry
Have you ever noticed your grocery bill inflates when you shop on an empty stomach? Somehow every item sounds delicious and magically appears in your basket.
Splurge spending is much easier to do when you’re hungry, and what tastes good is on your mind. Don’t even try to resist the temptation; never shop hungry, so you don’t have to worry about it.
18. Utilize Curbside Pick-up
If you know you can’t stick to your grocery list or lack of time keeps you dining out regularly, consider grocery store curbside pick-up.
There’s no chance for you to be enticed by something that caught your eye on the shelf or give in to your hunger impulses.
You make your order, let someone else get it for you, then drive your car up without ever going inside. Some grocery stores offer curbside pick-up for free; however, others charge a $5 fee. Depending on your time constraints or tendencies to impulse buy, a $5 curbside pick-up fee may be well worth it.
19. Use Cash-back Apps
This tip will take a little time before you start to see it impact your food budget.
Apps like Ibotta, Fetch Rewards, Paribus, Checkout 51, and many more can get you cash-back for qualifying grocery purchases. You can use these rewards in many different ways, but what if you used them to help fund your eating expenses?
Earn cash-back that you can use towards your food budget, decreasing your total out-of-pocket costs.
With these tips in mind, look at your food expenses for the last few months.
How much was it? Were you a little surprised to see how much you spent on food alone? Or did you fair pretty well against the U.S. average of $650/month?
Whatever your expenses were, start implementing these nineteen tips right away and see just how much you can cut down your overall food costs.
Your Challenge: Cut your food costs in half next month using the tips in this post.