You got off of work late, have to get the kids to soccer practice, get home and find nothing in the fridge and have no time to get to the grocery store before bedtime, so you make that familiar call. The person on the other line doesn’t have to ask your address. You’ve made the call enough that they know your phone number…and your first name. The pizza delivery guy arrives 20 minutes later to save dinner once again.
Sound familiar? We’ve all been there. Many times, takeout is a saving grace to every busy person, parent or not. And that’s okay. The problem is that if we do this on a regular basis, it becomes a habit and we come to rely on it to get us through the busyness of our lives. These types of habits can add up to a significant amount of our expenses if we don’t keep them in check.
According to the Consumer Expenditure Survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average household in the U.S. spends about 10% of their budget on food. Not bad compared to the 40% spent on food in 1901. Yet, for every dollar U.S. consumers spent on food in 2013, “31.5 cents went to pay for services provided by foodservice establishments, 15.5 cents to food processors, and 13.1 cents to food retailers”. This tells me that we are spending a great deal of our food expenses dining or ordering out.
For those of us that are working to pay off debt or increase our savings, the money we spend on food can be crucial to the success of meeting our financial goals. Plus, food is an expense that is mostly under our control, as it is not a fixed number each month, like the rent or loan payments. The statistics show that many of us have room to cut back on the convenience of dining out and save enough money to make a difference in lowering monthly expenses.
Easier said than done in our busy lives, I know. Yet, a little bit of planning can get you a long way with food expenses. So, how do we accomplish this? How can you possibly cook when you barely have time to sleep some nights?
Planning doesn’t have to take hours. On the weekend, look at your calendar and identify the days that you have time to cook and the days that are so crazy that there is no way in he** any cooking will occur. Plan for leftovers or super quick meals on those nights. Jot down what you will eat each night, so there is no question each evening. (Of course, you must ensure you have all of the ingredients on hand.)
Super quick meal idea: A pound of pasta, a jar of good pasta sauce, and a bagged salad would cost around $8, even if you aren’t shopping the sales. It takes 10 minutes to cook pasta and heat sauce. Compare this to a $25 pizza delivery.
Cook extra food
On those evenings when you have 30 minutes to whip up a quick dinner, make extra. If your family will eat leftovers, great! If not, just make extra of one part of the meal to create another. Meat, rice and veggies can be prepared ahead to easily create another meal.
Let’s say you are cooking chicken and rice in the oven one evening (which, by the way, is a quick, healthy meal that can be thrown together ahead and put in the oven when you get home). Make enough extra chicken for another busy evening meal, such as nachos, chicken salad, or chicken and pasta with vegetables.
Or use a crock pot. Dinner is ready when you get home! Ingredients for crock pot recipes can be thrown into the crock and placed in the fridge the night before and you can put the crock into the heating element and turn it on in the morning.
Have a backup plan
When planning has failed and desperation has ensued, have meals in the freezer or pantry that can simply be thrown in the oven, or cooked on the stove top or in the microwave. Even a frozen pizza is cheaper than delivery.
Keep frozen meals, mac and cheese, and noodle bowls on hand in case of emergencies. Or, create your own freezer meals. Make an extra lasagna on the weekend to throw in the freezer for a busy night (just remember to thaw first!).
BONUS: If you tend to eat your lunches out, start using these methods to plan ahead for your lunches and save even more on food costs!
Once you get into the routine of planning, quick meals become easier, allowing you to save a ton of money. Even if you have to buy some convenience foods at the grocery store, such as bagged salads, individually frozen chicken breasts, or steam-in-the-bag rice, it is more economical than ordering in or dining out. Even if you save $50 per week, that’s $200 per month that can easily be put toward freedom from debt or saving for the future.