Food Budgeting: When to Splurge, When to Save

If you're trying to keep to a food budget, sometimes you have to make hard choices between what you want and what you can afford. But it can't be all about sacrificing - we need some luxury now and then, too! Here are our thoughts on when to splurge and when to save. What are yours?We all have different budgets and we definitely have different ideas of what constitutes a splurge or a save. Tricks like shopping at different grocery stores to find the best products and stocking up when the deals are good are ways to find a compromise between cost and quality.

When to Splurge

Spices - We really believe that high quality seasonings can lift a dish from mediocre to amazing. Plus, we tend to need less of a good-quality, fresh spice to season our food, which spreads out the cost a bit.

Oil and Vinegar - Like spices, we think it's a good idea to invest in a quality bottle of olive oil and a few quality vinegars. Note that we said a few! Even those of us who love to collect every unusual oil and vinegar we find would agree that we don't actually need all of them.

Ingredients You Care About - If buying grass-fed beef or organic produce is important to you, then quality becomes more important than cost. You can still work it into your budget by buying less meat or saving on other ingredients, but it's important to find a way to support your choices.

Special Meals - A fun dinner party is a treat for both you and your guests! If you've been sticking to a tight budget, reward yourself every once in a while to a nice dinner with everything you've been missing.

When to Save

Fruits and Vegetables - If you buy in season, you can usually buy good quality produce at affordable prices. As tempting as it is, you might want to put down that heirloom purple cauliflower that's selling for $8 a pound and stick with the vegetables you eat every day.

Dry Beans, Pasta, and Grains - The bulk bins are your friends for these ingredients. Take a pass on the little 8-ounce packages of imported Italian pasta and stock up in the bulk aisle.

Ingredients You Don't Use Often - Especially perishable ones! If you know you're not going to use that expensive saffron before it loses its potency, maybe better not to spend the money. Ditto on the artisan-made nut oil that you probably won't use very often or any other specialty ingredient you don't think you'll use before the expiration date.

We found it surprisingly difficult to come up with even these few solid suggestions for spending and saving. We could think of counter arguments and special circumstances to negate almost each one! A lot of it comes down to our own particular values and habits.

So now we're curious to hear what you think: When do you splurge and when do you save?

Related: Conscientious Cook: What Should You Buy Organic?

(Image: Flickr member luz licensed under Creative Commons)

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