In the first corner, we have unprepared foods. They required a little more energy (energy, energy) which can be difficult to muster (muster, muster) after a long day, hard day. In the next corner, restaurant food. Quick and tasty with all the added sodium (sodium, sodium). Hits the spot, but can put a hurt’n on your wallet (wallet, wallet).
When I met WonderMan, he was convinced that preparing home cooked meals was more expensive than his daily $5 Whataburger sandwich and shake habit. He was a bachelor who hated cooking. I was in love. It was his money (and high cholesterol history). Who cared? Fast forward 16 years later, he still abhors cooking and I’m not convinced that restaurant food is ever less expensive. Let the smackdown begin.
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I decided to compare my weekly grocery receipts to a hypothetical week spent eating on the town. Health concerns aside, research consistently endorses prepared meals at home to eating out in order to control food spending. Food can be one of the most difficult variable expenses to budget for consistently. Being the foodie that I am not, I generally opt for simple meals that require two pots or less. In a week, my typical grocery bill includes: $75/week for a family of 3, $15-$30 for a midweek run to Jewel when I ask my husband to pick up an item, and $20/week for cafeteria lunches (WonderMan will not take his lunch. That’s not a battle I’ve chosen to wage). I’m not including my infant’s formula habit because that cost wouldn’t change in either scenario. She’s too young for happy meals. So roughly $100/week on grocery dollars when I cook meals at home.
To contrast, I’ve taken a sampling of our favorite restaurants and combined them in a fictions week of eating out. I’m using a typical order we would place (which rarely includes the dollar menu or even fast food for that matter) to make my case.
Wow! I was all set to plot out an entire week of painting the town red. Our restaurant habit is moderate. It’s not the dollar menu, but we don’t do steak and potatoes on a regular basis either. In just two days of eating out, we would match an average weekly budget of grocery shopping and cooking at home. Many people probably don’t eat out every meal. However, 3, 4, 5 times per week – in addition to groceries – will definitely extend your food budget unnecessarily.
Even if we – as a family – consume just 6 meals outside the home in a week, we would double our weekly food budget. To further stretch your food dollars, consider the following tips:
- Use coupons. This is not my strong suit. Some larger chains offer electronic coupons via your smartphone or connected automatically to a store card. If you need a little help, we have a great primer on getting started with coupons Be careful to use coupons for items you purchase anyway.
- Try meal planning. This is also a little too obsessive for me, but planning your meals along with local sales can get around coupons and stretch your food dollars.
- Shop store brands. When you’re in the aisle. Look down. Next, look to the left and/or the right. You can typically find the same product produced by the grocery chain for a fraction of the brand name price. Test the water and try a new brand or two each time. I’m convinced the difference in the products is really the advertising budget and little else.
- Register online. At the very least you’ll receive alerts and hopefully useful coupons on products you use most.
- Switch stores. This is my approach after being delivered from grocery store snobbery. I’ve taken advice from friends and found wonderful, local establishments (and some chains) that have exceptional quality and rock bottom prices.
Hopefully, we’ve convinced you that hands down, grocery shopping is the best approach to stick to your food budget. Do you have other tips to stretch the grocery dollars? Please leave them in the comments below.