How to Stretch Your Money on Food for Your Family

When I first started writing Super Saving Tips almost seven years ago, I had a specific goal in mind. It was simple, I wanted to use my 40+ years as an adult and share what I had done in order to save my money and have enough left over to enjoy life and plan my retirement. There are always a few (or more) bumps in the road to getting there and I have had my share for sure, but somehow I did make it. You can, too. And it helps if you know how to stretch your money.

When looking at how to stretch your money, it's a good idea to concentrate on your food budget. Here are some tips to save on feeding your family.

Some Things Never Change

These days, little has changed from when I started my plan way back when. It seems like everyone’s looking for ways to cut costs and stretch their income further. If you’re not, that can put you into deep trouble that is yet to come!

Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to reduce your expenses without making radical changes to your standard of living. When these methods are combined and made a habit, these small changes and adjustments can add up to significant savings each month. Savings that produce real results!

Where Do You Begin?

The first thing I think about when it comes to spending and saving my money is and always has been related to food. You have to eat and you probably think about food in one way or another multiple times every day. That’s exactly why I truly believe that if you do the right things when it comes to spending on food, you not only will save money, but you will be happier and even healthier when you do!

Food to me comes down to buying it, ordering it, shopping for it, and preparing it. Multiply it all by the number of people in your family and the numbers get astronomical quickly. So let’s examine the real impact and money aspect of your food costs.

Shopping for Food

If you shop for food, you need to do it often. Every week at a minimum, but many of us do it even more often, like every day! That’s a big mistake. Why?

First of all, shopping itself for anything is a “budget buster”. And food is no different. Great minds have for centuries been trying to find the ways to get you to buy and spend more. In the 21st century, it is an art form to itself. To put it simply, the more time you spend shopping (for food or anything else), the more money you will spend. You can’t really escape the temptations of sight, sound, and the smells that a supermarket or food shop will have on you. And if you shop without the proper equipment with you, you are doomed.

The List, the Card, and the Coupons

No, this isn’t the name of a movie, it is the “equipment” you need to shop and save. First and foremost is the shopping list. Like any other skill you develop, you get better with practice, and making your shopping list is actually a skill.

In the old days, we used to check out the ads in the local newspapers and flyers and that is still a good way to see what is being promoted at sale prices. When you see a non-perishable item on sale that you actually use and like, you should buy it and even buy more than just this week’s supply when it makes sense. Basic items with a long shelf life that you actually use are money savers when bought on sale! That’s where the term “stock up and save” comes from.

But There’s More to It Than That

To make a shopping list and to save money at the same time is a challenge. I always have loved a challenge so I took to it like a fish does to water.

Step one is to know what you want after you see where the “deals” are being offered. That means, knowing what your local store is advertising, and also know what the competitors are doing so that you truly know whether you have seen the best prices.

One of my best tricks is that I learned to track those deals and to write them down in a notebook each week because almost every store uses a sale cycle that is repetitive and predictable! After about six weeks, you will be a sale price expert if you just follow this one trick! Then you will know when to get the best prices.

Newspapers, Flyers, Digital Ads, and (Clipless) Coupons

You no longer have to actually go shopping to see the deals because of the internet. You can find the best deals and track them online and even order the products (although there may be fees) if you want to do it and have them delivered to save time, energy, and maybe even your health in the pandemic world of 2021. Just make sure that you get and use a free loyalty shopping card for any stores you shop at and sign up before you shop for all the discounts, perks, and even freebies they bring you.

They all have them and if you aren’t using one, you are leaving your money on the table and walking away.

Be Flexible, Not Brand Loyal

Another sure way to save is to be just a little flexible when you shop. You may love a certain brand of mustard or ketchup, but have you ever even tried the store brand or generic? If the answer is no to that, you might be overpaying regularly for a product and you may not even know that there’s a product you can use and be happy with that saves you money. Just because your mom and dad use a product doesn’t mean you have to and yes, old habits die hard, but all I am saying here is be willing to try.

Try soups, bread, or any basic product that is one that you just might like. If you try it, you may like it and you will certainly like the money savings aspect of it all. Perhaps you can try a store brand mayonnaise instead of a brand name like Hellmann’s? That alone can save you a buck every time you do it and that helps you stretch your money.

Prepare Your Own Meals

Next up in the savings game is a biggie. You simply must learn to do your own meal planning and preparation!

We here spend about $7,700 dollars a year for a family of four on food in the U.S. and almost 43% of it is on dining out, takeout, and delivery!

There are only three ways to get food into your tummy. One is to dine out, two is to have delivery or takeout, and three is to prepare it yourself. Two of those ways are potential money disasters.

While dining out used to be normal and will come back again, it should be reserved for special occasions or when you are on the run like picking up a burger in between important stuff you’re doing (I will allow for a fast food treat every once in a while!). But doing it 5.9 times a week…no!

Even more dramatic, it costs nearly five times more to have a meal delivered to your home from a restaurant than it does to cook it at home. And home cooking doesn’t just save money, it’s healthier, cuts down on calorie consumption, and can offer a fun activity for families to do together.

Plan Your Menu in Advance

Meal planning is deciding before you shop what you and your family will eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It will help you lower your overall food bill, eliminate waste, and minimize impulse purchases.

Waste is a pet peeve of mine and should be for you too. Americans throw out more food than any other country on earth except Australia according to info from 2019. That’s mainly because we over-buy and under-use what we buy and eventually it just spoils.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Americans waste more than $161 billion each year on food, with dairy products being the food item we toss out the most. The average American family of four throws out $1,600 a year in produce.

Multiply that by the typical 18 years that a child lives at home and you could easily pay for a year’s worth of tuition at any number of America’s private colleges or universities.

Shop within your financial budget limits and when possible buy things that are actually in season like fruits and all of your produce items. Utilize nutrient-rich but inexpensive protein sources like eggs, beans, ground turkey, and canned tuna as a solid part of your weekly food budget.

I could probably write a book about how to stretch your money further even though I haven’t as of yet. But if and when I do it, the first chapter I will write about is on food and how it impacts your budget, money, and health.

Final Thoughts

I know of people who spend more time dwelling on food—what they will eat, where they will eat it, and how they will shop for and prepare their very favorite “expensive” foods—than anything else they do and talk about. I find that really sad.

That is especially sad because these same people do not use that approach when it comes to such things as eating healthy and planning for their future as in retirement.

If you simply plan savings around your food each week, a food savings goal can turn into a retirement goal. Imagine how your savings can grow over a period of years and years. Think about it this way. Saving just $100 a month on food costs adds up to $1,200 a year times a potential 50 years of savings. You could do that with a plan and discipline easily. At a paltry 1.50% interest compounded over those years it would yield you:

Total Contributions ($1,200 x 50 years)$60,000.00
Interest Earned$29,026.75
Total Accumulated Savings$89,026.75

That amount could easily be 10% or more of your retirement funds if you did!

Are you a good food shopper? If not, why not? Why do you think you have failed to accomplish this saving challenge? Can you do it now if you try?

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