Remember the meal planning rules? We’re at # 3 – and it’s all about the money.
Meal planning rule # 3- keep to your meal budget.
Of course, this rule assumes that you have a meal budget. You don’t? Well, no time like the present. It’s not about counting pennies, but being aware of the dollars and where they go.
Budgeting is like dieting in at least 3 ways:
- It is much easier to give advice than to take it.
- Cheating is rampant, but you can’t fool the only one who counts in the end – yourself.
- You’ll be amazed at where the money goes/the calories come from.
Instead of starting theoretically with how much you should budget, track how much you really spend. Pick a reasonable timeframe – a day, week, or at most a month, depending on how long you can keep up the discipline of expenditure tracking. Include restaurant meals, drinks at bars and coffee/muffins bought on the fly, as well as all the food you buy at the grocery store. Once you have figured out your total spending, consider honestly what you can afford to spend on food and drink.
Leave aside what you need for staples (for the pantry, breakfast and snacks) and what you can afford to/want to set aside for going out. The remainder of your food money is “ours” to budget. My rule is to be thoughtful about what you spend on meals. I do not advocate limiting spending if you can afford more. Nor do I advocate particular money-saving strategies (cheaper cuts of meat, bulk buying, stretching meals with less expensive food groups) as if they were one-size-fits-all.
The only advice that does fit all is to know what you will spend before you go to the grocery store. You’ve probably heard the maxim, don’t go food shopping when you are hungry. Live by it and you’ll save. Impulse buying is expensive and wasteful. Figure out what meals you need to make, what dishes will be in each meal and create a shopping list. When you go to the grocery, stick to the list, unless you have the knowledge and organizational skills to improvise your meal plans as you shop sales.
The same goes for meals. Know what a meal will cost before you buy the ingredients. I provide cost estimates for the recipes on this site. Sure there are regional and seasonal differences in price, but if you keep those variables in mind, you can get a ball-park estimate for whether a recipe (and the meal of which it is a part) will be low, medium or high cost.
I look at my food budget on a weekly basis, because that time period works for me. Each week, I try to make some low cost meals – e.g. pasta with meat sauce or vegetables, inexpensive chicken dishes, and hearty soups. When I see a food ingredient that we like on sale, I often buy it and adjust my meal plan accordingly. Generally, I save meals that are more expensive than our norm for company or special occasions.
Those of us who have enough money for food are lucky. About 1 in 7 households in the U.S. are food insecure and about 1 in 7 people worldwide will go to bed hungry tonight. How about skipping dessert or Starbucks for a week and donating the savings to your local foodbank? I’ve made it easy for you – find your local foodbank here. I just made my donation to the Capital Area Food Bank. How about you?
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