Saving money in general is easy: buy less. Then there are the specifics of frugality: spend less money on things I have to buy. Food is one of these necessities, and with a little thought and minimal effort, it's easy to keep my budget balanced. It should be noted that I love food (cooking, making, and eating), and after rent and health insurance, that's where most of my money goes. Still, I've found ways to get the most bang (or bites) for my buck.
- Cooking at home keeps costs down. Eating out will always be more expensive than buying groceries and making your own food. People have tons of excuses for not cooking, but if you're watching your wallet (and your waist), eating in is a no-brainer.
- Shopping at Aldi (or your local equivalent) keeps costs even further down. First, you save by not eating out, and second, you save by getting the best deals on (almost) everything on your list. People are always surprised at the variety and quality of items at Aldi. Except for a few random items (soy sauce is the only one I can think of right now), all of our groceries come from Aldi. Even our dish soap, laundry soap, and things like aluminum foil, plastic wrap, garbage bags, and light bulbs are from Aldi. They have local/in season produce, organic options, and a rotating selection of name brand quality food items. Another no-brainer.
- Making things from ingredients instead of from boxes saves some sweet cash. Stick to non-processed foods (produce, dairy, some grains, meat) and buy in season: your meals will taste better and be better for you along with cutting down your grocery bill.
- Every little bit counts. A lot of times we go to the grocery store and stock up on anything and everything that looks good, especially when we're hungry. That always leads to throwing things out in a week or so when fresh stuff starts to go bad and we haven't used it yet. I've learned that we waste much less food if I have a plan for meals for the next week and I only buy what we need for that. Yes, this means being on top of the grocery shopping and getting creative with what's in the pantry/fridge, but it also means throwing less food (aka money) away.
- If I'm gonna eat out, I have to eat smart. This means getting lunch instead of dinner, splitting a meal, or waiting until the place I want to go to has a special. I'm a rewards member for places I like to frequent when I don't want to cook (Native Foods, Noodles & Co, Moe's Southwest Grill) and I save "going out" for when they send coupons my way.
While I consider myself frugal, I've never been one to scrimp on food. These guidelines keep my grocery budget in check, but my kitchen and my appetite don't know that. That is to say, it's possible to eat well and save money. I hope you noticed I didn't mention coupons - if you're shopping at the right store, you don't need them! (Remember, a coupon is only saving you money if you meant to spend that money in the first place.) And one final tip: never grocery shop while hungry!