Monday, November 12, 2007

Food budget, how we love thee.

So you've gone through your expenses one by one and trimmed any fat that you can live without. You're now driving less. The heater runs 5 degrees colder in your home. Basic cable is becoming somewhat watchable. Your subscription to National Geographic has gone the way of the Do-Do. The guy at Blockbuster no longer knows your Visa number by heart.

But it still isn't working. You've cut some corners, but apparently not enough. Just existing costs a surprising amount of cash and when you're in the red to an epic degree, it costs an enormous amount of cash. That's when a lot of people eye the elephant in the corner of the room. The one thing that's the easiest to slash, but you just don't wanna.

The food budget. I'm not talking about you being bad with the vending machine, or sneaking something off of the Value Menu. But the groceries. Eggs, bread, and butter.

It'll vary on geographical location, but chances are if you live in Western Society and you're middle class your stomach can handle it being cut in half.

Don't believe me? How much soda do you buy? How many frozen lunches do you bring to work a week? How many bags of chips do you consume on a weekly (daily?) basis? How many beers or glasses of wine do you regularly suck down like it was liquid candy? Speaking of which, how many candy bars do you tear through?

We used to live off of $200 - $250 every two weeks. We've cut it down to $50 dollars every week. That's $7.14 a day. $2.38 a meal. For two people who love to eat.

Here's how:

  1. Kill the alcohol. It stings, I know. But the money you'd normally spend on a 12 pack of Sam Adams or Corona can feed you for 2 days. Scared you'll really get the jitters? Check into AA (you lush) or grab some Bum Wine.

  2. Kill the soda. It's tasty and sometimes you need the caffeine fix. But not only is it nutritionally deficient in just about everything, it is also responsible for leeching the potassium out of your body. Drink a lot of soda with a bad diet? Ten bucks says you suffer from muscle cramps two or three times a month. So long as you read the nutritional facts of no name juice concentrate, you'll probably have a cheaper, more beneficial drink.

  3. Clip coupons. Buying a Sunday paper costs somewhere between $1.00 - $1.90. Crack that baby open and feast upon the delicious coupon goodness within. If you only find one or two coupons you'll use that week on your grocery shopping jaunt, you'll have already paid for the paper. Three or four? You've just earned a 3 Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger bonus. Combine this tactic with your favorite grocery store sale flier. Often manufacturers will release their coupons in conjunction with in store sales. And hey, while you're at it check out the classifieds. Maybe you'll find a better job.

  4. Reuse everything. Before you buy anything for dinner, think how much use you can get out of it. A fairly priced steak may feed you well tonight, but it reheats lousy. On the other hand, a whole chicken is cheaper by the pound, but it can be stretched to fill three or four meals depending on its size and those eating it. Squirt some mayo on left over chicken, chop it up and throw it on bread. Sandwich. Cut it up into your ramen. Hobo soup. Shake some hotsauce on it. Whitetrash chicken wings. And it reheats great. When there's nothing left but bones? Boil 'em and you have a great stock for chicken soup.

  5. Make stuff yourself! That banana bread sure looks tasty, but it's nothing more than sugar, flour, two bananas, a single egg and a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a whole lot of mark up. Not only does making your own snacks save you money, but it'll allow greater customization. Oatmeal raisin cookies from the megamart bakery are great, but how awesome would they be with cranberries? Or apple?

  6. Curb your hunger before you leave the house. A hungry shopper is going to buy way more than a satisfied one. Eat lunch or a nice snack before leaving home.

  7. Make a list of what you need and stick to it, no matter how tasty those lobsters look at the seafood counter. Examine the sales flier and your coupons well before you leave your home to help you better decide what's best. If you're a little anal, writing up a meal schedule for the week won't hurt either, even if you decide on the fly you want Tuesday's dinner tonight and tonight's dinner Friday it'll still prevent you from buying unneeded groceries that could potentially spoil.

  8. Bring a calculator. Enter the price of everything as you progressively shop. It's a lot easier to fix an enormous number in the milk aisle than it is at checkout.

  9. Set a limit and stick to it. Whether it be $25 dollars or $150, it'll give you some focus.
Whether you're looking to simply hedge your bets for some future seasonal shopping, or bludgeon that Amex invoice cutting into the food budget isn't nearly as painful as you'd think. And hey, you always thought you could afford to lose a couple of pounds, right?


Kyle said...

I've been trying to kill my soda consumption for a while now. It's hard (some people like their booze too much, I like my soda too much), but it's coming along. You'd be surprised at how much money you can save by just cutting yourself down to a single soda a day.


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