Even those who have the best intentions to stay within their budget often overspend at Christmas. That means many are feeling the pinch and looking for ways to cut corners when it comes to saving money.
One thing I have learned for sure over the past 21 years of managing our household is if you want to cut costs, food is perhaps the best place to start.
That’s because there are so many costs you can do little to cut — heat, water, gasoline — all of which seem to do nothing but become more expensive.
Food costs have also steadily increased. But if you do some planning and think creatively, you can usually shave a substantial amount off your monthly food bill.
Here are some tips and suggestions that have worked for me over the years.
• Determine your bottom line —
The easiest way to get a handle on this amount is to use cash when shopping. This forces you to do some planning ahead, be smart when shopping and keep your spending in check. When the cash is gone, whatever is at home will have to make do.
• Stop eating out —
If you must eat out, try to limit yourself to just once a week. Bring leftovers from home for lunch, or just pack an apple and a sandwich.
I know people who eat out every day, and even though their lunches may not cost that much, they do add up.
Even if you spend $6 or $7 on lunch, that translates to about $150 a month. You can buy a good amount of groceries for that amount.
• Coffee at coffee shops counts as well —
When you don’t have a plan for dinner, what do you do? Many people pick up the phone and order pizza.
Depending on how much your family eats, pizza delivery can easily add up to $30 or more. Do that once a week and you have spent more than $100. Again, that $100 can buy a cart full of groceries.
• Try making a menu plan once a week —
Before planning your weekly menu, remember to see what you have in the refrigerator and/or freezer. Also check your calendar and take into consideration after school and evening activities.
If you shop at a certain store that has a weekly flyer, incorporate specials into your menu plans.
Finally, make your list and stick with it. Post the menu so your family members can see it and explain that this is the new system.
• Go meatless several times a week —
Believe me, after living with five carnivores for all these years, I know this is a tip you have to use creatively.
Try having soup and grilled cheese sandwiches one night, or a vegetarian pasta dish with a salad. If you have meat lovers in your family like me, just don’t mention it’s vegetarian night.
• Seek meat sales —
• Eat breakfast for dinner —
A dozen eggs is a few dollars and will likely feed your entire family.
Try making customized omelets for everybody or make a quiche or a breakfast casserole. Pancake mix is also inexpensive and just about everybody likes pancakes.
• Explain the strategy —
And family vacations don’t have to cost a fortune. Some of our fondest family vacation memories were either camping in tents or staying in small mountain cabins.
Adlen Robinson is author of "Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home." E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.If your children are old enough to understand, have a family meeting and explain your food budget strategy. Strategize about saving for a family vacation with the money you save on food. Breakfast foods tend to be less expensive than "dinner" foods. Take advantage of cheaper cuts of meat and stock up when it is on sale. When ground beef or chicken is on sale, buy it in bulk. A deep freezer really comes in handy for stocking up.Especially if you don’t make a big deal about it, your family might not notice. I like to make mine on the weekend when I might have a little extra time. Menu plan, menu plan, menu plan. Most people are shocked when they see the actual number of how much they spend each month eating out. You probably saw that coming, right? As painful as this is for many, you have to figure out how much you are spending on groceries each week. Once you do, after your jaw is able to close, you likely will want to cut that amount.