This is a collaborative post by Ellie Jo about ways to eat good food on a budget.
We all love both food and money, but food can cost a lot of money and money is something we need to keep a tight rein on. While keeping food costs in check can be tough sometimes, it can be even harder when traveling or living abroad. It can be tempting to eat out at restaurants (though this takes a big chunk out of your bank account) as it is an important way of experiencing local foods. So how can we afford to eat solid meals that actually taste good without breaking our bank accounts?
How to Eat Good Food on A Budget
Avoid eating out at restaurants
This has to be the number one tip about eating on a budget; however, since restaurants and the food they serve are often a big part of local culture, never eating out is pretty irrational. Keeping that point in mind, could mean eating out once a week for some people, and once a month for others, but the point is to avoid the habit of eating at a restaurant, especially a fast-food restaurant, on a daily basis. By doing some calculations, it is easy to see how much money can be saved by not eating out regularly. Keep it for special occasions or when there are offers on.
When you do go out to eat
Although we effectively have to dine out every once in a while in order to fully understand a foreign culture, there are plenty of ways to keep money in your wallet even when you’re dining out:
Ask for a takeaway container when the waiter brings your meal, then divide it up into halves – one for now, and one for later.
Look for lunch menus, daily specials, or all you can eat deals, and evaluate prices and portions with the regular menu.
If you’re in a group, have everyone order a different appetizer in place of the more costly entrees, then pass them around so everyone gets a taste of each dish.
If you do go to a fast food restaurant, stick to the cheaper options on the menu.
Plan and stick to a grocery budget
First, set aside a certain quantity of money you’re willing to put towards your grocery bill. Next, you could plan out your meals ahead of time, at least 1 to 2 weeks in advance, so you save yourself from having to make trips to the store every other day. When writing your list, check to make sure you don’t already have some of the ingredients amassed somewhere. In conclusion, take a calculator with you and add up everything as you go, almost assuring you stay within your funds.
Shop like a local
Grocery stores aren’t the only choice, and even with discounts, coupons, and smart shopping, they’re not the cheapest either. Search out local vendors and markets in your area. Farmers markets are a great place to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables, and you’ll be able to find every just about every type of local herb, spice, and sauces at ethnic stores, and you and your friends can pool your money together to have fresh foods delivered from local organic farms. This is a great way to eat healthier, and keep in mind the people that shop at these markets are the life of the community you live in – getting to know them is a good idea.
Sign up for customer loyalty programs
In every country you have lived in or traveled to, all grocery chains will have had a customer loyalty program. Most people usually just sign up for the card and from then on just instinctively swipe their card at the check-out, but it pays off to take time and learn about incentives and bonuses like members-only pricing or shopping hours, double coupons, birthday/holiday bonuses, and general store discounts on DontPayFull.com. Some people complain about getting junk mail from these programs, but the savings are there, and it is easy to build up loyalty points every time you shop – however little you buy.
– Note: Don’t forget to sign up for loyalty programs and membership cards at restaurants as well.
Buy store brands in bulk
Try and stick to generic or store-brands, which have the same taste but a lower price tag than the brand name equivalent. Better yet, buy store brands in bulk. Keep excess pastas and cereals in storage containers, and packaged vegetables in the freezer (if you have access to one) for a longer storage life.
Cook it yourself
Avoid pre-packaged meals and cook yourself. Yeah, they definitely save you time, but they don’t necessarily save you money. You end up paying the cost of someone else preparing, cooking, portioning, and packaging your meal, which , if you buy the ingredients individually and cook the meals yourself, you’ll probably be able to eat the same food for half the price. By cooking on your own, you’re also able to determine exactly what goes into what you’re eating, making them much healthier, and if you use different herbs and spices, your meals will have more flavor too. This is also a great way to learn more skills in the kitchen, an essential part of development and independence.
Cook in bulk
If time is something that’s holding you back from cooking your own meals, try cooking large batches of food when you have any spare time or on the weekend, then section them out into containers or plastic bags that can be put into the refrigerator or freezer. This way, when you’re in a rush during the week, getting in a solid meal is just a matter of reheating and eating. This is also a great way to keep those ingredients you bought in bulk from sitting around on the shelf or in the fridge forever.
Saving money is essential when enabling us to live a good life, while still keeping our bank accounts in check. Look out for vouchers, promotions, deals and it is also a good idea to see if a store you’re in has a reduced section.
Rachel is an Austin blogger, educator, mom, wife, young breast cancer survivor writing about health, saving money, and living a happy life in Austin, Texas.
Rachel has written for HuffPost and Hometalk and has been featured on KXAN, Studio 512, Fox 7 Austin, and CBS Austin.