Do you have a budget? I mean an honest to goodness budget where you consistently calculate your expected income, determine your household expenses and monitor/adjust/balance the flow on a regular basis? If you are like 2/3 of Americans, the answer is "no." The good news is that, no matter what your income, if you do not have a budget, you probably have more money than you think. The bad news is that, no matter what your income, if you do not have a budget, you are probably spending more money than you think. And the combination of overspending and the feeling of not knowing where your money is going is a wonderful recipe for financial stress.
So, let's do a little "food budgeting 101"
Every budget has two basic categories on the expense side: fixed and controllable. Fixed items are those that are basically going to remain the same month after month - rent or mortgage, car payment, student loans. Controllables are items that you have the ability to - well, control. And, no surprise, food costs are actually one of the biggest controllables in our personal budgets.
Here is the easiest way to start to "controlling" your food budget. Beginning on the 1st of the month save every single receipt spent on food items. Whether it's a $1.99 cup of coffee, a restaurant meal, a pizza delivery or a grocery store trip; if you spent money for it, record it. Now check what you are spending your money on consistently (at least twice a week). Start with the small items - that's where you can make the biggest impact with the least effort.
When I first made out my own personal food budget I noticed that I was spending $2 every morning to buy coffee. Doesn't seem like much, but that $2 a day adds up to $ 730 a year! When I realized that I was blowing almost a grand a year on coffee, I purchased a coffee maker and a year supply of filters (total cost $14) and a giant insulated travel coffee mug. Now I buy a bag of Seattle's Best coffee and a giant container of creamer every three weeks for about $10.00. I get the same value (delicious hot coffee every morning) but after the initial $14 investment, it only costs about $170 a year. That's a saving of $560 a year.
The "little things" we overlook can often carry a hidden, but hefty, price tag over the long run.
Coffee may not be your thing, but maybe your list will show you how much you are spending hitting the vending machine a couple times a week for a bag of chips or the coffee shop for a muffin. For every food dollar spent outside the grocery store, check out how much that item is costing you over an annual period. You then can make the decision to either eliminate that item - or explore ways to keep the item but pay less.
Bottom line: if you are looking to save money, the absolute starting point is finding out exactly where your food dollars are going and asking yourself - how much am I REALLY spending and how can I get the same value for less money? The answer might surprise you.