With planning and a little more time in the kitchen, you can stick to your budget without sacrificing taste or nutrition. Here are 10 tips that can help you feed your family for about a hundred bucks a week.
1. Plan in Advance
Create the week's menu, but leave some room for flexibility. The most important step in sticking to a weekly budget is to come up with a plan for every meal, snack, and beverage you'll need for 7 days. Make sure you account for every item you put in your cart. This will keep you from adding expensive impulse buys that may go to waste.
2. Steer Clear of Convenience
Check your grocery store's weekly circular for discounts and coupons. These specials can be a starting point to plan your meals for the week. Foods packaged for convenience, such as individually boxed raisins, juice, and yogurt, are a no-no for those on a tight budget, says nutritionist Elizabeth Somer, RD, author of 10 Habits That Mess Up a Woman's Diet. Ditto for those 100-calorie packs of cookies. Marinate your own meat instead of buying the premarinated, packaged kind. Swap out those milk or juice boxes in your child's lunch for a Thermos. These options are all less expensive, and the reduction in packaging is better for the environment.
3. Be Brand Blind
If the peanut butter you usually buy is not on sale, but its competitor is, go for the cheaper one. Being flexible with brands lets you score the best deals. Be open to store brands as well. They're typically the least expensive option for most canned, packaged, and frozen foods and usually taste just as good as their brand-name counterparts.
4. Use Coupons...Wisely
Manufacturers put out 285 billion coupons last year, according to coupon processor NCH, but only a fraction of them are worth using. Many may lead you to purchase unnecessary-and often unhealthy-items loaded with artificial colors, preservatives, and sugar. Your best bet is to use coupons for household staples like beans, yogurt, spaghetti sauce, and pasta. Some of the best coupons can be found for vitamins, cleaning products, laundry detergent, and toiletries such as toothpaste, she says.
5. Consider Your Alternatives
Although that big grocery store may be the most convenient place to shop, it's not necessarily the cheapest. Check out ethnic markets, bag-your-own-warehouses, and farmers' markets, which can often yield better buys on produce, meat, eggs, milk, and fish. Don't rule out deals at a drugstore, either. With reward cards and coupons, you can often score big deals on cereal, granola bars, and beverages.
6. Don't Dismiss the Deep Freeze
When certain fruits or vegetables move out of season or go up in price, consider buying bags of inexpensive frozen produce instead. Growers flash freeze their harvest at its peak, which locks in most of the nutrients. Plus, there's the bonus of not having to wash, peel, or chop them yourself. Frozen veggies make quick, convenient additions to soups and stews, pasta, or rice dishes.
7. Put On Your Apron
One of the easiest ways to eat well on a tight budget is to make some ingredients yourself. If you have a bread maker buried at the bottom of a cabinet, haul it out, and you can cut at least $3 from your budget for each store-bought loaf. Likewise, making your own juice ice pops, salad dressing, hummus, granola, and desserts can shave money off the bottom line without making you feel deprived.
8. Become a Flexitarian
One of the healthiest ways to save money is to swap meat for beans as your protein source a few meals a week. Packed with high amounts of protein, fiber, and antioxidants, beans are one of the healthiest foods out there. They are also one of the cheapest items in the grocery store, especially if you buy them dry and soak and cook them yourself. Try them in burritos, soups, chili, and salads.
Cutting back on meat is not just good for your wallet, it's good for your health as well. Most Americans far exceed the recommended meat and protein allowances for our diet, and with that meat can come unwanted saturated fat.
9. Leftovers Again!
Use last night's dinner to make tonight's meal-one of the easiest ways to cut your grocery bill is simply by reducing the amount of food you throw out. Leftover meat can become a base for soup or stew for the next night's dinner. Or serve it on whole grain bread for lunch the next day. Extra vegetables can be paired with eggs to make a frittata or added to tofu for a stir-fry dinner.
Store leftovers in clear containers where you can see them to keep them top of mind-and out of the trash. If the fresh fruit or vegetables in your crisper are in danger of going bad, chop them and freeze for later.
10. Go Less and Buy More
Make fewer trips and buy more of the basics
The fewer times you go to the market, the fewer opportunities there are to fill your cart with impulse buys. Stick to your list and buy a little bit more than you think you need of the basics like milk, bread, and fruit. Most people underestimate how much they will use over the course of a week, say experts.
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