Food, wine, and cocktails are a love language. When you prepare an amazing meal at home, you are showing your family how much you love them. Dinner out at a restaurant with your wife or husband is more than a meal. It is a date. So, it is little wonder that cutting your monthly food budget to fight inflation or save for a down payment can feel like love lost.
The goal, then, is to find ways to save money on food each month without sacrificing quality, taste, or the joy of sharing a meal with the folks you care about.
What follows are some money-saving suggestions to help you spend less each month on groceries and eating out while still speaking food's love language.
Plan Meals in Advance, Buy Accordingly
Planning a meal in advance is not texting your husband or wife at 3:00 p.m. to ask, "What do you want for dinner?" Planning in this context is looking out at least one week or longer.
Let me give you an example. At the time of writing, you could purchase 50 pounds of huge baking potatoes for about $19 at US Foods Chef'Store, which is a wholesale food and kitchen supply chain with locations in 14 states. In contrast, if you have purchased those same massive baking potatoes ten pounds at a time in the grocery store —assuming your local grocery store has the Nerf-football-sized potatoes we are referring to— the 50 pounds would have been more like $49.
Buying in bulk, in this case, means you could save $30. If you are only planning means for the next couple of days, buying 50 pounds sounds crazy, but a family of three that I know does this all of the time.
They plan a month in advance, which, by the way, is plenty of time to use up 50 pounds of potatoes. Their weekly menu typically includes:
- Burger and french fry night. That's three to four potatoes used.
- Baked potato night. Another three potatoes devoured.
- Hashbrowns on Saturday morning. Four potatoes gone.
- Breakfast potatoes on Sunday morning. And another three or four potatoes are used.
When you consider the occasional potato soup, aloo gobi curry, or homemade gnocchi, the family is consuming something like 12-to-15 potatoes per week.
Planning ahead allows you to take advantage of bulk purchases to save and lets you take more time to prepare food. The aforementioned occasional homemade gnocchi will take some time to make, but will be well worth it.
So here are two points to close out our first suggestion for saving money on food.
- The key takeaway is not only bulk buying, but planning. If you bought 50 pounds of potatoes and did not plan to use them, they could rot. Plan and stick to the plan.
- Second, in this example, the quality of the food actually increased. Those monster baking potatoes from the wholesale shop are typically the ones that end up in high-end restaurants. They are much better than the russets found in many grocery stores.
Lunch is for Leftovers
Closely related to meal planning is that idea that lunch is for leftovers. When I am planning the menu, I consider which sorts of dinners also make great leftover lunches.
For example, burgers and french fries are not good as leftovers. Likewise, if you need to eat out on Wednesday because of band practice, you won't have fresh leftovers on Thursday. So plan for that.
Make pasta with red sauce for dinner on Tuesday, and when you do, toss in an extra pound to give yourself and your wife or husband pasta lunch on Wednesday and Thursday.
What's more, leftovers for lunch are 100 million times better than eating at McDonald's, Taco Bell, or any other fast food restaurant. Your leftovers will taste better and be so much better for you.
Avoid Processed, Packaged Foods
Siete Family Foods Charro Beans come in a 15.5-ounce can and would have set you back about $3.99 at a Whole Foods store in October 2023. These are by far the best canned charro beans I have had.
But when you are trying to save money, it can be worthwhile to avoid the wonderful canned beans and make the frijoles charros. Here is a recipe you can try.
Charro Beans with Avocado Oil
- 2 cups dried pinto beans, soaked overnight
- 6 cups water (or vegetable broth for more flavor)
- 3 tbsp avocado oil
- One large onion, finely chopped
- Four cloves garlic, minced
- Two large tomatoes, diced
- Two jalapeño peppers deseeded and finely chopped (adjust to desired heat level)
- One red bell pepper, diced
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Two bay leaves
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 2 tbsp lime juice
- Rinse the soaked pinto beans and discard any stones or impurities.
- In a large pot, add the beans and water or vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until beans are tender but not mushy.
- While the beans are simmering, heat the avocado oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Add the chopped onion and sauté until translucent, about 4-5 minutes.
- Add garlic and sauté for another minute until fragrant.
- Add the diced tomatoes, jalapeño peppers, and red bell pepper. Cook for about 5-7 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.
- Stir in the smoked paprika, ground cumin, salt, and pepper. Mix well.
- Once the beans are tender, add the sautéed vegetable mixture to the pot of beans. Mix to combine.
- Add the bay leaves and let the mixture simmer for another 20-30 minutes to allow flavors to meld together.
- Before serving, stir in the chopped cilantro and lime juice.
- Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
- Serve hot.
Depending on the items you keep in your pantry, the homemade charro beans will include about $6 worth of ingredients, but produce more than 55 ounces of food. You can save the beans and serve them with three or four meals over a two-week period.
Take this same approach for most of the processed or packaged foods you buy. Pasta sauce, soups, and chips are all examples of items that can be significantly less expensive to make fresh rather than purchased in processed or packaged form.
This whole food approach to cooking at home takes planning, so make sure you paid attention to the first suggestion above.
Grow Some of Your Own Food
Let's be clear, gardens can be expensive. My friend's garden has tongue-and-groove raised beds and a $5,000 drop watering system. That is not how you save money on your monthly food expenses.
There are, however, ways to save with a garden, whether that mini-farm is in your backyard or your balcony.
An herb garden planted in an old aquarium is an excellent way to start. Think about the fresh herbs you like to buy. Are there some herbs you could raise from seeds and save money?
Control Eating Out
Given that our topic is saving money on food, one might argue that you could stop eating out altogether, but that's no fun.
Instead, look at your budget for the past three months. Total up how much you have been spending eating out, and aim to cut that by 50 percent.
Here are some tactics to help control what you spend in restaurants.
- Have leftovers for lunch. As described above, eating leftovers for lunch saves money and is actually better food.
- Never eat at a fast food restaurant. Make the pledge now. Never again eat fast food. Your entire life will be better for it.
- Plan dinners out. Don't be spontaneous. Eating out on a whim can become a very expensive habit. So plan for them.
- Set a meal budget. Keep track of how much a meal at some of your favorite restaurants costs. So you know that the Thai restaurant typically costs $120 while the Mexican place is usually $80. This doesn't mean that you never get Thai, it simply means you stay on budget for this particular week.
Make Meals Part of Your Overall Budget Plan
Finally, I wanted to put in a plug for good old-fashioned budgeting. What you spend on food each month should reflect your overall budget. Here are a few helpful articles.
- Budget Definition: What is a Budget Anyway?
- How to Create and Stick with a 50/30/20 Budget Plan.
- How to Create and Stick to a Zero-sum Budget Plan.
- How to Create and Stick With a Successful Reverse Budget Plan.
- Japanese Financial Journaling: What is Kakeibo?
- How to Use the Kakeibo for Couples and Household Budgeting.
- Money Saving Tips for Your Journey Out of Debt.