How to Get Your Food Expenses Under Control

Before I get to saving you money, I just want to note that Frugal Fake Economist has made Feedspot’s Top 50 Canadian Personal Finance Blogs and Websites for Canadians in 2020. Thank you Feedspot!

Food is probably one of your biggest expenses. As you can see in Statistic Canada’s graphic below, the average couple spends $8,908/year on food. That’s $742/month!

What if you could cut that in half? If you invested $371 per month and earned a real (after subtracting inflation) return of 5%, after 45 years you would have over $700,000. That’s a lot of money, enough to generate a sustainable income of close to $30,000/year. It could potentially fund a comfortable retirement all by itself, especially if you won’t be spending a lot on groceries.

Most people don’t make any real attempt to reduce their food costs. If that describes you, then cutting your bill in half is definitely possible. Below are some tips to do just that. And no, none of them involve coupons.

Buy groceries

Whether it’s a sit-down restaurant, delivery, or meals from a grocery store, prepared food is expensive. Even meal kit delivery services cost a lot. Compared to any of these options, buying your own groceries and preparing a meal at home could easily be one-fifth of the cost.

Use recipes with few ingredients

You might be skeptical that cooking your own meals could really be one-fifth of the cost. Maybe the last time you tried a new recipe, you spent $50 on ingredients.

The key is to stick to recipes that use relatively few ingredients and draw from a similar set of basic pantry items. This way you aren’t constantly buying new spices or other ingredients that you may never use again.

If you don’t know where to start, a good resource is Budget Bytes. Many of Beth’s recipes draw from the same list of pantry items. It may be expensive to stock your pantry, but once you do you will find that it is quite easy and inexpensive to throw meals together with whatever is in your fridge.

Make some meals that are practically free

It’s hard to keep the cost low for every meal. It’s much easier to keep the average cost of your meals low by slipping in a few that cost practically nothing. One example of this is rolled oats. A serving of oatmeal or overnight oats can cost less than 20 cents. Servings of dried lentils, beans and rice also cost pennies when bought in large quantities. Dishes like thick lentil soups with rice of bread will really bring down the average cost of your meals.

Cut out meat

Meat is expensive. Even if you don’t want to cut it out entirely, reducing your meat consumption can be pretty painless. I regularly use refried beans as the base ingredient for tacos. For other dishes that might typically use ground beef, I cut it with at least an equal amount of lentils. This maintains a similar flavour and texture while making for a healthier meal. For jambalaya-type rice and vegetable dishes or when I roast a tray of vegetables, I will add a bit of really flavourful meat, like smoked sausage:

Build your meals around inexpensive vegetables

You can spend all your time hunting for deals and collecting coupons, but some vegetables are just more expensive than others. It’s worth trying to build your meals around the least inexpensive, which will be those that are in season. In Canada, that means roots vegetables, squash and cabbage for half the year.

Let’s stick with the cabbage example. It’s really quite versatile:

Don’t get me started on carrots, sweet potatoes and spaghetti squash. Peas and broccoli are particularly special because they freeze exceptionally well, which means they are inexpensive year-round.

There are also versatile combinations of inexpensive vegetables:

  • Onion, celery and bell pepper are known as the holy trinity and form the base of dishes like paella and jambalaya.
  • Onion, celery and carrot are a staple combination in Italian cooking, and form the base of virtually every soup I make (e.g., chicken noodle).

Eliminate the junk

Let’s face it, we don’t need chips, cookies or sugary drinks. Try cutting out all junk food from a few of your grocery runs to see what kind of difference it makes. You might be surprised.

Shop with a list and less frequently

It’s easy to fall into the trap of impulse purchases at the grocery store, so it’s important to shop with a list and stick to it. Since no one is perfect, it’s also best to shop less frequently. A good option to limit your grocery store visits is to sign up for a CSA vegetable box, which allows you to pick up a fixed share of produce every week.

Meal Prep

Making large batches of food saves time. Freezing some of it means that you never have to buy a lunch and that you can go a few days or a week without cooking, if you just don’t feel like it. Freezing also allows you to vary your meals instead of eating the same dish every day for a week,

Eliminate food waste

Wasted food is essentially throwing away money. Don’t buy more food than you can use before if goes bad and try to keep track of what you have in your fridge.

Final thoughts

This isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. Small steps can make a big difference in your food spending and have a massive impact on your finances in the long term. Most of the tips above will also make for a diet that is healthier and better for the environment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.