Step Down Your Food Costs

How much did you spend per gallon the last time you put gas in your car? How much was a gallon of milk at the grocery store this week? While we’re all aware of gas prices going up, increases in food costs can affect the family budget even more. On the average, people spend about three times more on food than on gasoline each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If you'd like to cut down on the amount you spend on food, consider "stepping down" your food shopping. I like the idea of stepping down because I don't have to deny myself something I want—instead I modify the activity.

For example, more than one-third of the money people spend on food is for food away from home. It makes sense to look at the dollars you spend at restaurants when trying to change your food spending habits. But, rather than denying yourself the enjoyment of meeting friends for dinner at a restaurant, consider changing the activity. Perhaps you and your friends can agree to step down to a less expensive restaurant. Or, maybe you’d like to step down again to a less costly choice and have a potluck meal at your home. Stepping down means that you can still enjoy the time with your friends and save money.

For some people, stepping down the amount they spend eating out at lunchtime might be a possibility. Rather than eating lunch out every day, pack a lunch two or three times a week.

When money is tight, I look at my habits to see where I’m spending money unconsciously. Small changes in habits can add up to a lot of money. Buying a specialty cup of coffee that costs $3.50 just once a day adds up to $1,277 a year. Stepping down that cappuccino to a regular cup of coffee at $1.25 a day will save you $821 a year. And, making coffee at home and bringing it to work in a thermos—stepping dwn again—would save you even more money.

Here are some more stepping-down ideas to consider. Choose store brand foods instead of name brands. Store brand foods are sold by grocery store chains and are often less expensive than name brands. Try the store brand food products. You may be surprised to find that you like them just as well as the products you usually buy.

Often preparation of food can add costs. Step down to food that requires more time to prepare. For example, buying whole carrots is usually less expensive than buying cleaned and cut "baby" carrots that are ready to eat.

It's worth your time to think about ways that you can lower your food costs. Step down your food buying activities and save money.

Source: Kathy Sweedler, Consumer and Family Economics Educator, University of Illinois Extension