Welcome to a column from The Financial Diet, one of our very favorite sites, dedicated to money and everything it touches. One of the best ways to take charge of your financial life is through food and cooking. This column from TFD founders Chelsea Fagan and Lauren Ver Hage will help you be better with money, thanks to the kitchen.
Getting the most out of a modest food budget is tricky. I don't know about you, but I feel like I spend an inordinate amount of time researching recipes that are cost-effective yet tasty — and still end up spending more than I thought I would. If I'm really not careful or diligent about my food budget, my bank statement looks like I may as well have been eating Chipotle for every meal, because that's how much I spent at the store. And let's face it — living in one of the most expensive cities in the country (New York) probably doesn't help.
What I find the most helpful is reading about what other people have done to trim their own food budgets, and then straight-up steal their ideas. Below are some of my favorite blog posts for food budgeting from The Financial Diet. Even if you're not necessarily looking to go vegan or completely stop eating at restaurants, each offers a few insightful tidbits that can help anyone looking to cut back on food spending. Enjoy!
Ever since reading The Omnivore's Dilemma in college, I'm a bit wary of buying anything labeled "organic" or "all natural." The industry just isn't that regulated, and sometimes that means you end up spending a hell of a lot more than you should on avocados because you thought there'd be a significant difference between the organic and conventional ones (spoiler alert: there's not). This article gives a super-helpful breakdown of which conventional fruits and vegetables are "clean," and which ones are worth the extra splurge to buy organic.
Before you roll your eyes and move on to the next post, hear me out. You don't need to be vegan (or want to be vegan) to learn from this post. The writer gives an extremely thorough breakdown of where to shop when you're following a vegan diet, including bulk stores, produce stands, and even a home garden. For non-vegans, it also offers some helpful hints on spreading your shopping across different stores, so you know you're always getting the best deal.
I work from home about three days a week, and by far the biggest benefit has been the way it's improved my food budget. I'm no longer tempted to ditch my sad desk lunch for a $12 salad because my fridge full of leftovers is right there. On the days I do go into an office, however, I'm so glad I have the right supplies to make sure I'm never without lunch (looking at you, stacks on stacks of perfectly sized Tupperware containers). If you work in an office, definitely check out this post for everything you need to make sure each weekday lunch is so good, you don't even miss the overpriced gourmet sandwich shop down the block.
As someone who budgets $500 a month for food and can't seem to knock that number down anymore, this post title sends chills down my spine. Spending $3,000 for an entire year of food? Amazing. Now, the writer includes the caveat that she limits the restaurant, bar, and coffee portion of that budget to $400 a year, or about $30 per month. I'm sure that wouldn't work for me personally, but hey, if going out to eat isn't that important to you, it's worth it to consider if your money would be better spent elsewhere. This post also details the writer's actionable steps for how she's lowering her food spending, including the super-specific way she treats herself every once in a while.
I grew up in a suburban American household where a fully stocked fridge was a sign of a healthy home, financially and otherwise. And you know what that meant? A lot of wasted food — produce that went bad and lunch meat that got moldy before anyone ever got around to eating it. In order to get better about my own food spending habits, I needed to change my mindset in regards to what constitutes a "healthy" fridge. This post gives some great tips for eliminating waste and getting the most out of what you already have — something we can all work on, I imagine.
What are the food budgeting articles that have helped you the most? Let us know in the comments!