If your New Year’s resolution is to save money, taking a closer look at your food bill can help you achieve your goal and simultaneously reach a variety of other accomplishments, including losing weight and eating healthier.
Shoppers saw food prices rise roughly 3.75% this year, according to the USDA. Next year, they’re projecting prices to go up another 2.5% to 3.5%. That’s no small change, considering that food is the third-biggest expense for the average consumer. Per the Department of Labor’s latest 2010 figures, that’s a total $6,129 a year for food consumed at home and in restaurants.
Here are eight frugal foodie resolutions for 2012 that will have big impact on your budget:
Explore the bulk bins.
“They’re always a great deal,” says Jackie Keller, founding director and executive chef for NutriFitOnline.com. You can easily save 50% buying spices, grains, pastas, beans and other staples in large quantities. Make sure to store the excess carefully, so it doesn’t go bad, which will eliminate the savings.
Nosh on healthier grub.
Some of the cheapest ingredients, including cabbage and brown rice, are also some of the healthiest foods for you. Beans, for example, come in at $0.15 per serving and are an inexpensive source of protein and fiber. Coupons, and other savings strategies, can cut the bill further.
“Seasonal food is much less expensive than out of season items,” says Stacy Spensley, a certified holistic wellness coach. That’s because in-season produce is more plentiful and often available locally. It’s also the freshest and tastiest. To take advantage of the best seasonal deals, try visiting the farmer’s market, local u-pick farms, or joining a farm share.
Make it yourself.
Ditching your $3-a-day latte habit in favor of home-brewed drinks is an obvious saver, but other DIY-swaps can also yield substantial savings. For example, try making your own baby food or pet food to increase savings. Homemade wet dog or cat food can be half as expensive as buying the store brand. Another cost-saver: Growing your own garden.
Eat less meat.
“Eating a more plant-based diet can be beneficial to both your health and your wallet, as certain types of meat contain unhealthy saturated fats and are often one of the pricier items in our grocery cart,” says Chrissy Carroll, a registered dietician. It’s an especially good strategy among rising food prices. In November, beef prices were 9.8% higher than in 2010, according to the USDA. Port prices were 6.9% higher, and poultry, 3% more. Give Meatless Mondays a try, or experiment with eating vegetarian until dinnertime.
Eat out smarter.
It’s cheaper to cook at home, but when you do eat at a restaurant or order take out, make sure you have some way to save, such as a web coupon, a deal-site voucher or online ordering site loyalty points. That goes double if your night out includes a cocktail or two. Using creative strategies, such as Foursquare check-ins, can result in $1 drinks and other deals.
Avoid food waste.
A scary stat: Americans throw away a quarter of the food they buy. Resolve to buy only what you really need and then plan meals in ways to use lingering scraps. “When you’re prepared, you’re more likely to follow the plan instead of eating out or wasting food,” Spensley says. Soups, for example, are a great ways to use up bits of veggies and leftover meats and grains.
Learn a new skill.
There are plenty of sites offering free video or step-by-step photo cooking lessons, which could greatly expand your cooking repertoire and entice you to make meals at home. Frugal Foodie is hoping to improve her knife skills this year, and learn how to butterfly a chicken. And if the new skill requires special equipment or a few gourmet ingredients, well, don’t fret because there are ways to cut that bill, too.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.