The Total is What??

It’s no secret that food costs are rising. My trips to the grocery store are costing me more than usual and I imagine yours might be too. Here are a few ways to save money on food, including tips for reducing food waste. For additional information and resources on how to make the most of your money at the grocery store visit us at Spend Smart. Eat Smart.   

  1. Try the store brand. Do a blind taste test to see if your family can really tell the difference. They may be requesting foods because of the advertising or packaging.
  2. Use unit pricing. Sometimes the larger size is a better buy and sometimes it’s not. Use unit pricing to get the best buy for your money. Determine the unit price using the unit price calculator on our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. app.
  3. Choose both animal and plant-based sources of protein. Enjoy both chicken and black beans in our Cheesy Chicken Enchilada Bake.
  4. Store fruits and vegetables correctly. To make the most of what you buy, be sure you can eat it before it goes bad. Check out our videos on storing fruits and vegetables.
  5. Add nearly-too-ripe fruit to yogurt or use in smoothies, muffins, cobblers, or crisps. Add berries to a Yogurt Parfait or use ripe bananas in Banana Oatmeal Bread. Enjoy them for breakfast or a snack.
  6. Switch to skim milk. Lower fat milk costs less so switching to skim means spending less money.
  7. Power up low-cost staples Add protein and vegetables to mac and cheese or Ramen noodles to give them a nutrition boost. Try Meat and Veggie Mac or Ramen Noodle Skillet.

Over the next few weeks we’ll continue to share additional cost savings tips here on the blog and on social media so be sure to check them out.  

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Tracking My Family’s Food Expenses

Budgeting can be challenging, and it can take time before you find a system that works best for you. My husband handles finances as part of his job so at home I handle most of our day-to-day expenses to give him a break. After some trial and error, I have finally found a system that seems to work for us. 

The first step is to have a general idea of how much a family similar to yours should spend each month on food. Spend Smart. Eat Smart. has a Grocery Budget Calculator to help you determine what that range might look like for you. Based on this tool, my food budget should be close to $679.26 a month for our family of 3. This tool did not factor in that I am currently expecting our second child later this summer and that my dietary needs have shifted slightly. However, our spending is pretty close to where the calculator says our family should be.

To determine if I was close to the amount calculated by the budget calculator, I kept all my food receipts to see how I was spending. I looked at groceries, convenience store stops, take out and coffee runs. Once I had the receipts in front of me, I could see which areas were costing us the most. The smaller items like takeout and convenience trips seem to add up the quickest in our house. To help me stay on track, I decided we would set a monthly budget for these purchases and keep an envelope with the budgeted amount in cash. Using cash for those items helps us stay on track and we know not to exceed our monthly budget once those envelopes are empty. This method has helped me eliminate a few unnecessary food expenses by purchasing coffee to make at home rather than purchasing it out and packing snacks on days I know I will be traveling as opposed to purchasing from convenience stores.

I know that not everyone can have a specific amount of cash for these types of expenses. Another idea that worked for us in the past was to keep a small piece of paper in our wallets to mark down each time that we made a purchase and the amount. You may be surprised at where your money is going. This can help you narrow in on where you would like to cut back or where you can spend a little bit more.

Additional tips to help save money on food:

– Look at weekly store ads for deals- swap out fruits, vegetables, and even meat options for ones that are on sale.

– Meal plan and stick to your list- straying from my list tends to lead to an overabundance of produce and items that may not keep well before I can use them.

– Pick meals where items can be used in a variety of ways- for example, if peppers are on sale at the store one week, my meal plan would consist of Stuffed Peppers, Vegetable Quesadillas, and the Sausage and Vegetable Skillet to ensure that the produce gets used without going to waste.

What have you found to be helpful when tracking your own food expenses? We’d love to hear what works for you!

Katy Moscoso

Katy Moscoso is a Program Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. As a new mom she is always on the lookout for easy, healthy recipes to prepare for her family.

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