Food budgeting: 20+ money saving ideas

‘’Burgers and chips??‘’ I can hear you say from the other side of the screen as you may understandably be wondering what this has to do with a travel page or with food budgeting. Everything! Let me explain.

GOALS

As 2021 begun, as a family, we discussed our goals and dreams for the next few years and how we plan to get there. Naturally, as travel lovers, we have our sights set on catching up on all the adventures we have missed out on due to COVID-19. Our original plans were to use Qatar as a base to explore this part of the world. Obviously, we don’t know what this year is going to bring when it comes to travel restrictions and lock downs around the world. But long term, we know we are eventually going to get back on a plane with our children and we will be off to explore the world once again.

So as we set our sights on far away lands, we have committed to have a BIG saving year, with our first priority being to reduce the amount of take away meals we buy. For some reason, as 2020 came to an end, I found myself not being able to remember when was the last time I had actually cooked dinner from scratch. The usual culprits are a couple of local of Pakistani restaurants, Pizza Hut and burgers from either  Fresh Way or Hot tea, if you are wondering.

PRIORITIES

Back to the delicious meal above. This is what some people call a ’fake away’ and it’s related to how we have previously achieved to get away so often. Furthermore, its part of our food budgeting strategies. This also happens to be a question we get a lot: “how do you afford to travel?”. And one of the answers is that we prioritise saving our income for travel as much as possible. Saving can come in many different ways but in this article we will focus on food, a major expense in many households. It can start by simply eating out only once a week to culling our expensive addiction to Baskin Robbins.

So, if you are looking at scaling back on your spending and start working towards your travel goals just as we are, keep reading. Here are our food budgeting tips on how we save money as far as food is concerned and how you can do it too. 

MONEY

TIP # 1 Budget

Work out how much money is coming in and how much is going out. Find out how much of your monthly expenditure or outgoings goes towards groceries and eating out/take away. We use our credit card for all purchases as it helps us keep track of our spending. Additionally, it maximises the reward points we can get by simply making our regular purchases.  We can later use our reward points for other needs or grocery shopping. Just don’t forget to pay it off completely each month to avoid fees.

If you don’t currently have a record of your spending, start by either writing it all out or use a budgeting app to help you get started. Furthermore, there are tons of resources online to figure out your budget. Once you have an idea of where you stand, you can allocate a monthly amount or goal for all food related items. Now, this was the easy part. The next tips are the strategies you can use to reach your goal.

MEAL PREPARATION

TIP # 2 Meal Planning (this is a big one)

Step 1- Write down a list of your go-to home made meals and favourite take away foods.

Step 2- Add a couple of bulky meals to it that are nutritious and easy to cook in bulk to cover lunches. Some examples are: fried rice, stew, curry, soups and chilli. Do a search online for inspiration if you are running short of ideas.

Step 3- Make a list of all your favourite snacks. 

Step 4-  Before a new week starts, spend some time planning and writing out what meals you will be cooking each day. This can just be a list on a piece of paper, a note on your smart phone or you can search for a template meal planner online.Look back at your lists from tips 1-3 and add items from them to each day of the week. Don’t forget to account for breakfast and lunch as well. 

TIP # 3 Fake Away

Replace your regular take away meal for a “fake away” option instead and add it to your meal plan. You can make this extra fun by involving the kids. Have them put their own toppings on their pizza or build their own burger. This is our go-to pizza base recipe: https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/7245/jays-signature-pizza-crust/ I like to double it, shape and top with sauce, then cook the base for 7 minutes, cool and then freeze. For a quicker option, you can buy pre made bases from the supermarket. 

TIP # 4 Cooking in bulk

When you are making something that freezes well or that you don’t mind eating for dinner and then lunch the next day, then plan ahead and make a massive batch. This saves you time and money. This can be things like casseroles, stews, lasagna, chilli, soups, etc.

TIP # 5 Go easy!

Don’t forget to add easy meal ideas when meal planning. I usually save these for times we are super busy or have been out and about. A couple of my go to’s are: baked beans with steamed broccoli, sausages with steamed veggies, toasted cheese sandwiches, mie goreng noodles with veggies and egg.

TIP # 6 Sauces

Although it is quite cheap and easy to buy jar sauces for your pasta and pizza, it is even cheaper to make at home, and more delicious too. My pro tip here is to make a double or triple batch of your homemade sauce recipe and freeze for later use. This means you have yet another tasty, easy meal. Simply defrost and reheat the sauce and cook a fresh pot of pasta and you are done. 

TIP # 7 Baked goodies

Bake cakes, muffins, or any of your favourite baked goodies. This one is personal favourite because, although it does take a bit of time, I get to choose exactly what goes into the muffins and cakes I make for the kids. I usually half the amount of sugar required and add more of the healthy stuff like fruit, seeds and nuts. Just make sure to double or triple the recipe so you can freeze some too.

GROCERY SHOPPING

TIP # 8

Make a detailed shopping list with only the meals and snacks you have accounted for in your meal planning. No extras or ‘just in case’ items as this is where your budget usually gets out of control.

TIP # 9

Do one big shop for the week. Usually the less trips to the store, the less unneeded items or impulse buys make it back home. Alternatively, if buying online is an option, do that instead as you are less likely to be tempted to add a sneaky chocolate bar to your cart.

TIP # 10

Avoid buying individually packaged snacks. They tend to be unnecessarily expensive and you only end up paying for extra trash. Instead, buy the bigger package and use either containers or zip loc bags to portion them out. With three kids, I can tell you this definitely helps us get more bang for our buck. For example, if we decide to treat ourselves with some crisps, I buy the big family bag and place crisps for each child individually in a zip loc bag or bowl. I do this with sultanas, nuts, popcorn, crackers and cookies. Additionally,  you can buy a big pot of yoghurt instead of individual packaged ones. 

TIP # 11

Let’s take it a step further and reduce the number of packaged snacks you buy altogether. Instead, invest in some reusable containers or wash and reuse your zip loc bags (yes, I totally do that). Choose unprocessed food instead. We usually go for cut up fresh fruit, cheese cubes, boiled eggs and peanut butter sandwiches. 

TIP # 12

Find out when your local supermarket marks down products and time your shopping visit accordingly. 

TIP # 13

Buy your fruit and vegetables from a green grocer or local market as you are likely to find cheaper produce and more bargains. This is one I have personally struggled with in the past due to convenience. It is sometimes easier to do one big shop at one location than have to travel to many. However, when I make the effort, it actually pays off.

TIP # 14

Buy fruits and vegetables that are in season, and preferably local. They are likely to be fresher, less processed, more nutritious and cheaper. 

TIP # 15

When comparing prices, have a look at the supermarket tag on the shelf. It includes what the cost is per kilogram or 100g so it helps you spot the cheaper option a lot quicker. This way you may find that an item that is advertised as being ‘on sale’ is actually still more expensive than some of the other options which are not on sale. 

GOING OUT

TIP # 16

Pack your lunch! If you are either off to work or taking the kids on an outing, pack your snacks and meals instead of buying food while you are out. Look at our go to’s in tip

TIP # 17

Invest in a quality bottle to keep your water cold. They can be expensive but if you are out and about often, they will quickly pay themselves off. 

TIP # 18

This one is for the coffee drinkers. Buy yourself an espresso coffee machine and a good quality thermal mug. I had already quite reduced my habit to purchasing take away coffee when I had the kids and moved to being a one income family. However, even now in Qatar, this habit not longer exists. Not only are espresso drinks inaccessible in our small city, a nice capuccino anywhere else in Qatar can set you back over 20 QR per cup! If I want to drink a coffee down at the park while the kids play, I make it and bring it with me instead. 

TIP # 19

When going on an outing, it is easy to fall into the trap of wanting to treat the kids while you are out. A drink here, an ice cream there, next thing you know, this has turned into an expensive outing. Instead, try being prepared and bring the treats with you. Some ideas are: surprise them with their favourite chocolate or lolly, freeze juice boxes at home, get them a cheap ice cream cone from McDonald’s on your way home.

TIP # 20

If you haven’t had time to pack a meal or snacks, there’s still no need to eat at a restaurant. You can stop at a supermarket and buy your picnic items from there instead. Many supermarkets these days sell ready to eat meals or have salad bars with ready made items. 

OTHER TIPS

TIP # 21

Don’t forget your ‘why’. Remind yourself why you are making these changes to your lifestyle and making sacrifices. Going the extra mile is definitely easier when you are motivated. You can stick pictures of your dream trip around your house, create an inspiration board or write down your reasons in a journal or sticky note.

TIP # 22

Join online groups or forums with like minded people. It could be a traveling group like our Travel Inspiration Group or one on saving money. Reading about and getting involved in discussions with people that share our interests helps to keep us motivated.  You can also head to youtube and watch videos on all things budget related to get you a bit closer to your goal.

LAST THOUGHTS

These are all easy to implement strategies but they are definitely time consuming and require you to be prepared ahead of time. Long term, once you change your current habits to these, it becomes extremely easy. Not only will you be saving money weekly but it guarantees you and your family will be eating healthier meals as well.

Also, don’t feel like you have to get rid of everything you love or to change everything you do. Pick a change or two and implement it. Add more as you feel more comfortable. We definitely haven’t quit ice cream all together. We either buy it less frequently or purchase it from the super market instead. Alternatively, you might choose to go down from three take away meals a week to one. You get the idea and it all absolutely helps.

How do you keep your food related expenses down? What are your biggest culprits? Share with us below. We’d love to hear from you!

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