Prepare to Pay an Extra $875 for Food in 2013 (Unless You Use These 4 Tips)

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crops drought
While we've been lounging poolside and enjoying our summers, the sun has been putting in a lot of overtime -- which has U.S. crops and farmers suffering horribly as a nationwide drought persists.

Many crops have been burned, including grains such as corn and wheat -- grains that are precursors to many foods such as sodas, cereals, baked goods, dairy products, chicken and beef.

Experts predict rising commodity prices will result in up to a 5% increase in food prices in 2013 -- and perhaps even into early 2014 -- leading to higher grocery bills and restaurant tabs for consumers.

What This Means to a Family of Four

The Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion estimates a moderate weekly grocery bill for a family of four with school-age children at roughly $236.60, which translates into an annual family budget of approximately $12,300 for food consumed at home.
Assuming the anticipated 5% increase in food prices next year, a family of four is looking at an additional $615 on their annual grocery bill in 2013.

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For dining away from home, if we assume the average American family of four's typical weekly restaurant bill is $100, or $5,200 per year. That 5% increase will add $260 to a family's restaurant spending next year.

All told, the unrelenting national drought could add up to an extra $875 on food spending for an average family of four. But you can avoid getting hit by that entire bite by adopting some smart shopping strategies.

Four ways to offset rising food costs

In the face of increased grocery and restaurant costs, families have two main choices: Scale back food expenditures or cut spending on other places to free up more money for food. Here some strategies to help you save.

1. Shop generic in certain categories: According to Discovery Channel's TLC, store-brand products thought to be the same as their pricier name-brand cousins include milk, flour, sugar, staple cereals, baby formula, bottled water, salt, bleach, aluminum foil, antacids, and pain relievers. Grab store-brand staples for these items. Doing so at the grocery store each week is a painless way to free up some cash.

2. Crunch the numbers in the checkout line: You already know that sticking to your shopping list will keep impulse spending under control. So when you're tempted to toss an unnecessary $5 item in the cart each weekly trip to the store, think about the extra $260 that amounts to annually. Another tip: Avoid the temptation to buy prewashed and pre-chopped bagged veggies -- the "convenience" costs you a bundle. (For more ideas, check out The Motley Fool's "4 Simple Rules for Supermarket Savings.")

3. Don't let what's already in your fridge go to waste: We've all been there. It's Thursday night. You're racking your brain for dinner ideas. You open the refrigerator, and everything looks bland and boring. You think, "A decent meal could never materialize from this stuff!" As tempting as it is to pick up the phone and order takeout, there's a cheaper option. Sites like bigoven.com, allrecipes.com, supercook.com, and recipematcher.com allow you to enter the list of ingredients staring at you from under the fridge bulb and, voila, out pops a recipe for a meal from food that would most likely get pitched. Assuming $8 worth of food is tossed weekly, this trick saves $400 in a year.

4. Dine out on the cheap:

  • Go out for lunch instead of dinner. Since lunch entrees are significantly cheaper than those at dinnertime, alter your dining-out clock and save big.
  • Look for restaurant deals on Groupon or apps for cheap eats and drinks like happy hours or Nationwide Happy Hour Finder.
  • Bring your own wine. Restaurants typically buy a bottle of wine for what they charge you for a glass of it. Buy your own wine at a discount retailer, like Costco, and bring it to the restaurant. Even after the restaurant's corkage fee, you'll still save.
  • Skip the beverages altogether. Instead, order water with lemon. A family of four can shave roughly $10 off a restaurant tab by doing so. Assuming your family dines out once a week, this can save you more than $500 annually.

Prepare to Pay an Extra $875 for Food in 2013 (Unless You Use These 4 Tips)

Coffee is a favorite go-to example in money-saving circles. Brew your own coffee at home, and you'll spend $15 to $40 per month -- about $180 to $480 per year. Buy one or two coffees each day at an outlet such as Starbucks (SBUX), and shelling out from $3 to $6 or more per day can cost as much as $1,500 per year.

Forgoing the tap or the water cooler at work in favor of buying a bottle or two of H2O each day easily can add up to $3 a day, or about $1,000 a year. Instead, try filtering water at home with a special pitcher or sink-attached device and filling a water bottle or two to last you through the day. If that's too much trouble, just buy your own bottled water at supermarkets, where cases of it on sale can be relatively inexpensive.

When shopping for produce, focus on what's in season. These days, for example, you might find cherries selling for $3 per pound, whereas they can sell for $7 or more per pound in other seasons.

Keep life spans in mind, too. A lot of money can be wasted if you don't get around to preparing and eating fruits and vegetables before they spoil. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the average American throws away more than $40 of food each month (some 33 pounds' worth), totaling close to $500 annually. And according to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans waste about $100 billion worth of food annually -- enough to fill the Rose Bowl each day!

Be careful with "convenience" foods, too. It can certainly be handy to buy small packets of potato chips or cookies, as they can immediately be tossed into a lunchbox or bag, but that convenience is costing you money -- up to 40% more than the item needs to cost. Consider buying regular-sized packages, or better still, buy in bulk then assemble your own individual servings.

Try to buy store brands, too. According to a study by the (admittedly not so objective) Private Label Manufacturers Association, over six weeks the typical consumer can save about 33% by opting for store brands over name brands. That amounted to roughly $42 in the six-week period, or $364 per year.

When it comes to frozen dinners or other prepared meals, know that you can save a bundle by opting to make the meal yourself -- even when the prepared ones are on sale.

A Lean Cuisine dinner might be on special for just $2.50, but for less than a dollar a serving, you can prepare a more filling pasta meal, with a vegetable on the side. Even if your homemade meal costs more than a frozen alternative, it can be far more nutritious and filling, keeping you from seeking supplemental snacks.

Coupons also offer great savings. It's not too hard for a household to rack up $10 in supermarket savings each week by using coupons. That adds up to more than $500 in savings per year, without too much effort. Don't be embarrassed about using them, either -- studies show that those most likely to use coupons are the wealthy.

Food costs a lot already. By planning ahead, sticking to your shopping list, making smart decisions, using coupons, and changing a few habits, you can save $2,000 or more per year -- relatively easily. Share your tips and tricks for slashing your food tab below.

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