You know how it goes. You look through your checking account statement only to notice how seemingly 90% of your transactions are for food. A quick dinner after work, drinks with friends, grocery store run, dinner out with family, lunch out with co-workers, and the occasional convenience store stop because you don't have time to for another grocery store run. And that's just in one week.
Humans eat a lot. In fact, in a 30-day month you'll eat right around 90 meals (not counting snacks). Which means there are at least 90 times a month you will have to provide food for yourself. Hence your out-of-control food budget. But there's help. Here are four ways to get your food expenses under control...
Budgeting has never been accused of being fun. Yet, it is, and always will be, the most effective way to keep your financial life headed in the right direction. We play this trick in our minds when it comes to food. Since it's food, it's necessary, so we "write-off" the cost of food pretty easily. If you're hungry and there are 16 fast foods places near you, it's easy to justify a $6 meal. Food is necessary for sustaining life, sure, but it has become an extension of our lifestyle. Whether you eat tons of fresh produce or junk food, what and where you eat is a huge factor in determining the cost. Which is why budgeting is your saving grace.
Don't allow your food expenses to go unchecked! Budget 12 percent of your take-home pay for food.
Is dining out your main source of entertainment? It is for a lot of people-which probably has something to do with our bloated food expenses. You don't have to give it up as long as you factor your habits into your budget. If dining out is entertainment for you, combine your food and entertainment budgets. Five percent of your take home pay can go toward entertainment, combined with your 12 percent food budget will give you a hefty 17 percent for groceries and dining out. Yet, it still requires some diligence to maintain.
Set a weekly dining-out budget and keep track of transactions to keep yourself accountable. Breaking down your budget like this keeps you from eating out based on impulse or convenience.
If you're honest with yourself, really anything goes at the grocery store. You may start with a list, but the majority of what ends up in your cart wasn't written down. The best way to curb impulse purchases is to make a list, and not just a haphazard list written as you walk out the door-a complete grocery list. This requires choosing meals for the week and determining what ingredients you'll need. A good grocery list is also in tune with your calendar. Going out of town next week? Make sure not to overbuy fresh produce. If you spend time making a real grocery list, there truly is no reason to stray. This also means you can at least ballpark how much your list will cost to purchase.
If you want to really challenge yourself, only take the amount you want to spend in cash. Can't spend money you don't have!
Coupon cutting gets a bad rap. You don't need to be the family with a seven-year supply of canned soup in their basement, but you don't need to be the other extreme either. Coupon apps, deals, promotions, discount stores, and any other way you can save money on food is just plain smart. Why not save $1.50 on that box of cereal you were already planning on buying? Just beware of over-zealous couponing. If you don't need ground beef, there's no reason to take advantage of a ground beef coupon.
Be discretionary. Find deals for the products and foods you eat on a regular basis. No use wasting money on food you won't eat.
Peter Dunn, aka Pete the Planner, is an award-winning financial mind who has authored five books, hosts the popular Pete the Planner radio show and travels around the country offering financial education. For more from Peter, visit www.petetheplanner.com.
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