Frugal Friday – Food

Ah, it's Friday, my favorite day of the week.  Not just for how it ends the work week (although that's always a nice bonus), but also because that means it's time for one of my favorite parts of the blog week, Frugal Friday!

This week, we're looking at one of those absolute essentials of the human condition, eating, and seeing if there's anyway we can do it cheaper.  I don't know about you, but I do enjoy my food (probably too much, which is why I should work out more and spend less time in the front of my computer, but that's the subject for another day).  But with food starting to cost so much (how does a gallon of milk cost more than a gallon of gas, anyway?), it's more important than ever to keep those shopping trips as frugal as possible.  Here, then, are several suggestions on how to keep yourself well-fed, without spending all your money at the supermarket:

1. Eat Food You Prepare Yourself: One of the best ways you can ensure that you spend less on your food is to make it all yourself.  If you eat out less and take your own lunches (and for those of us who have to pull late nights on a frequent basis, dinners) to work, you can greatly decrease the amount of money that flows from your wallet into restaurant coffers.  Of course, if you end up overspending on your supplies it doesn't matter if you cook everything yourself; if you hope to keep your grocery bill down, you'll also need to…

2. Plan Ahead, Make a List, and Don't Deviate: As with many things in life, a little forward thinking can save you a ton of trouble (and a decent amount of money).  Before you go shopping, scan your refrigerator and pantry, determine what you'll need in the coming week (or whatever time period you use for your shopping), put it on a list and ONLY buy what's on the list.  Assuming that your list is well made, you should get everything you need without being tempted as you would be by ‘just browsing'.  (This doesn't mean you have to deprive yourself in your shopping, just that you should plan ahead; one or two indulgences won't kill your budget nearly as much as filling half your shopping cart with random things you just happened to see on the shelves.)

3. Don't Shop Hungry: While we're on the subject of sticking to a list, the best way to keep from buying more than you need is to make sure that you've had a decent meal shortly before you go food shopping.  There's nothing like shopping when you are hungry to make you start thinking that everything looks good, and to start grabbing things off the shelf that you don't need, costing you plenty of money and plenty of calories, to boot.  Make sure you are well fed before you shop, and you should definitely feel less of a need to impulse shop.

4. Check the Unit Price: This is one that can catch lots of people.  It's tempting to think that the biggest unit is always the best bargain, but that's not the case.  Many times, buying in bulk is a great idea, but sometimes the smaller sizes offer the most bang for the buck.  How do you tell?  Check the unit price, usually found on the shelving label. If you know how much each size (and each brand) costs per ounce, pound, or other unit, you can buy the cheapest, or at least know how much your preferences cost you in additional spending.

5. Buy Produce in Season: If you're trying to eat healthy (and here's hoping that you are), you'll probably want plenty of fruit and vegetables.  If so, sticking with produce that's in its proper season will save you a great deal of money.  While we're on the subject, going to farmers' markets can provide you excellent savings, and if you happen to have a green thumb and some yard space, growing your own produce can be the cheapest way to get your food of all.

6. Choose Generic Brands: I know, I know, you've been eating and drinking the same national branded products as far back as you can remember (perhaps even further), but be a bit adventurous.  If you give the generics a fair chance, you might find that you enjoy them as much, if not more, as the much more expensive national brands.  If you buy generics rather than the non-generic brands (which have those big advertising budgets to pay off), you'll save a bundle every shopping trip.

7. Stock Up on Non-Perishables When They're On Sale: You should try to take advantage of sales whenever you have the opportunity, of course.  Of particular note, though, you should try to build up reserves of anything that you can freeze or keep in the pantry when it's on sale.  If you build up your supplies when they are less expensive, you can hold out until the next sale and repeat the process.

8. Keep Your Food Organized: How often has this happened to you: you get to your monthly refrigerator clean out (alright, quarterly…yearly, I hope?) and find something you didn't even realize you had, perhaps something you bought more of because you thought you had none, and you end up throwing out what had been perfectly good food?  Well, everytime that happens, a portion of your good budget is going to waste.  Be sure to check out your supplies on a regular basis (monthly is probably fine for your pantry, but bi-monthly or weekly for your refrigerator or other places you keep perishable goods), and try to use up anything that is about to spoil on you.  That way, you can eat more of what you buy, and spend less to keep yourself fed.

There you go, eight ways to keep your food budget under control and yourself fat and happy.  Follow this advice, and you should have no problem keeping your pantry, and your wallet, full.

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