6 Tips to Save Money on Food — Whether You're Dining Out or Cooking at Home
You shop around for deals on clothes, drive a pre-owned car and watch Netflix rather than paying $20 for a theater ticket.
But if you aren’t monitoring what you spend on eating and drinking, then you’re likely ignoring the biggest wallet drainer of them all.
Forty-five percent of respondents to a 2016 Principal Financial Well-Being Index said they blew the most of their money on food. When broken down, 25% said they overspent most on dining out, while another 20% blamed other food and grocery costs.
And no surprise to Starbucks lovers: 9% of respondents indicated that coffee was a major budget buster.
Forty percent of respondents are also worried about rising food costs, second only to health care costs.
It's hard to predict which supermarket or menu items will cost more in the new year — and, of course, it's not realistic for many households to simply quit eating out altogether. That said, it is possible to get your food and drink spending under control, if you follow these rules.
When Eating Out
BYOB or don't drink. Alcohol adds up, so consider skipping pricey cocktails altogether when eating out. If sipping water during a special dinner just doesn't feel right, then consider bringing a bottle if the restaurant allows it. After all, at some places a single glass of wine could cost as much as an entire bottle from the liquor store.
Keep an eye out for specials. Some restaurants offer deals on slow nights of the week or happy hour specials between their lunch and dinner rushes. If you are flexible, then consider dining out when you can get a discount. (And of course, there are always restaurant deals on sites and apps like BlackBoard Eats, Living Social or Groupon.)
Brew your own coffee. By not spending $4 a day, five days a week, on a beverage that you could make at home, you could potentially save more than a grand by this time next year.
At the Grocery Store
Skip pre-made or prepackaged foods. Cut veggies and grab-and-go sandwiches are super convenient, but anything that requires human prep will have a markup. Buy a bag of carrots or sandwich ingredients and do the work on your own.
Download your grocery store's sales app. Many major chains have mobile apps that send you coupons for items you regularly purchase. Some apps may even work with your store loyalty card, so regular customer get even bigger deals.
Be smart about sales and bulk buying. Unless you’re truly sure your family will finish them off, resist bulk perishables like produce, dairy and meat. Same goes with two-for-one sales; you might get seduced into purchasing a lot of a food you really don't want or can't finish before the expiration date.