How I Halved My Food Budget to $600 a Month

Cashier smiling at customer on checkout line in supermarket, close-up
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By Kali Geldis

I opened up my budget tracking tool last November, and my jaw dropped -- I had spent $1,200 on food that month. That's when I knew I had to make a change.

Now, a few notes about that total: That includes groceries, restaurants, bars and fast food. Also, I prepared Thanksgiving dinner -- $125 for couple of pies and a turkey for six people. However, that $1,200 number stuck with me -- I needed to cut my spending on food.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%It's no surprise that food was a big budget-breaker for me -- it's one of the most common expenses on which financial planners see clients spending too much money. I definitely felt like I was throwing money away. There are so many other ways I could use that money -- paying for a vacation, investing more money in an individual retirement account, saving for a down payment on a home, paying for a wedding.

It was when my now-fiancé proposed over Christmas that I knew needed to buckle down and cut my food spending by a lot. Weddings are expensive, and the money that was going toward nights out and nice dinners with friends was wrecking my budget. While I wasn't going into debt, I realized it was just a matter of time. And debt is something I strenuously avoid. (I never carry a balance on my credit cards and am constantly monitoring my credit scores for free on to make sure my credit utilization level is low.) If I was going to start cutting my food spending, I needed new rules for myself.

How I Cut My Food Spending in Half
  • Pack lunch for work. A simple step, yes, but I realized that I don't need to pack a lunch every day for work, just pack supplies for lunches once a week. I realized I could get a big supply of baby spinach, some dried cranberries and some salad dressing, and have enough to last me for lunches the entire week. It made packing a lunch less of a hassle, and helped me avoid ordering lunch delivered to the office on Seamless on a daily basis. (I still let myself order in every once in a while.)
  • Make grocery shopping a priority. I'm a New Yorker, so stocking up on groceries for the week is more difficult than hopping in my car, filling up my cart and heading home. I have to carry all my groceries from the store to my apartment, and a week's worth of food is shockingly heavy. I've opted instead to use Fresh Direct to order groceries every week. Even though I know I'm not getting the best deal on every item I buy, I know that by regularly filling my fridge, I'm not ordering a $25 meal from an online food delivery service. The savings adds up.
  • Just say no. Part of my food spending problem was that I would go out with friends and feel pressured to order another round of drinks, splurge on dessert, or get a bunch of appetizers for the table. I deserved it, right? I had to learn some self-control and think about the bigger expenses I really wanted -- owning a home in a few years, saving money for my upcoming wedding (and the awesome honeymoon we want), and planning for a fully funded retirement. (Yes -- I'm a millennial who is thinking about retirement -- we do exist!)
I looked at my food spending in May -- it's down to about $600, a huge accomplishment. It took me about six months to really get into a groove with these new habits, but the payoff is big. My fiancé and I are on track to save more than $1,000 a month for our wedding, and we're hoping to have a little left over to save for the other big costs down the road.
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