The #1 Way to Save Money on Food (No Couponing Required!)

It should come as no surprise that the girl who hates budgeting doesn’t use coupons to save money on food and shopping. I’m glad we’re figuring each other out!

I have a few reasons I don’t coupons, and why I don’t recommend it to you either.

Best Way to Save Money on Food

Let’s say that you are a casual couponer (I don’t think my audience is full of extreme couponers) and you use just a few coupons per week. You have to ask yourself a REALLY fundamental question: How much money do you save on food vs. how much time you spent getting the coupons? Or, (if I can drop an economics term on you), what is the opportunity cost of couponing?

For example, you make $45,000/year. That means your time is worth ~$22.00/hr. In order to make couponing “worth it,” you need to find over $22.00 worth of savings an hour. If you can do that, rock on with your bad self! You should write a guest post on this site to teach me how. In almost all instances, however, you are better off not couponing and making your shopping experience a little more relaxing.

Also, coupons are almost always for over-processed, crappy, very bad-for-you food. You’ll almost never find coupons for fruits, vegetables, or lean proteins.

But if you’re anything like me, food tends to still cost you a bit of money. Between groceries and eating out, my food bill is still one of the biggest of the month.

However, my family and I started doing something that has made a WORLD of difference. We save more money, time and energy than ever by MEAL PLANNING!

When we started planning meals in advance, we noticed the following benefits immediately:

  1. We spend less money on grocery shopping because we buy exactly what we need, and we use ingredients in multiple meals.
  2. We don’t waste food like we used to because we don’t buy stuff that we don’t need.
  3. We eat out less, because…
  4. We don’t have to have to summon our creativity to come up with a new meal every night.
  5. We eat more healthfully because we buy fresh things and actually eat them.
  6. Instead of buying 1-2 snacky ”fun items” each time we go to the store (which used to be every day of the week), we only buy 1-2 snacky “fun items” per week.

I can’t tell you how many numbers of dollars this has saved us over the course of a few months.

The BIGGEST benefit to me, though, hasn’t been the money, but the time and energy I save each night. When I come home from work drained and tired, I have no energy left to think about what to make for dinner. That’s what leads to eating out or eating fast-cooking processed foods.

When there is a meal idea on the schedule and a fridge full of groceries to make it, life is so much easier. Sure, I come home just as tired, but I don’t have to use any more of my time and energy figuring out what to eat. I check what’s on the schedule, whip it up and enjoy my dinner.

After just a few months of meal planning, I’m an evangelist for it. It is a life-changer.

Here’s How You Can Do It Too:

  1. When you have 15 minutes of downtime on the weekend, write out 5-7 dinners for the week. You’ll probably still eat out for a couple of dinners, and that’s fine. I even plan eating-out days so that I don’t feel deprived.
    1. If you have trouble coming up with meals, break out those cookbooks you’ve meant to try.
    2. Also, consider having 2-3 go-to meals that you eat every week. It’ll make planning faster.
  2. Consider making one BIG dish on Sunday that you can eat for lunch during the week. Soups, casseroles & pasta dishes make good week-long lunch candidates. Like with dinner, if you feel deprived by not eating out, schedule a couple of days you can eat lunch out guilt-free.
  3. Plan your snacks in advance! Buying chips at the gas station or convenience store will be more expensive in the long run than if you buy them at the grocery store and take them to work.
  4. Write out the ingredients you need for your meals and any snacky stuff.
  5. Go shopping!

I’ve had incredible success with meal planning so far. Let me know in a comment if it works for you too!

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