Never let food go to waste, our parents told us. It was never a problem for me, as I had a healthy appetite. But my older sister was a picky eater with a small appetite. So I would often offer to help her out as we wanted to leave the table and go play.

You owe it to yourself to give your family the gift of good, healthy food on a budget you can afford. The leftover – money, I mean – well, that’s yours to keep.

I was and still am a major foodie. I like to eat and I love to try new foods whenever I can.

But as I grew older, I saw how much my dining habits were affecting my finances.

First, I would order food whenever I had a taste for something. I'd reward myself with a restaurant meal for lunch after a rough morning. Most weeks I would splurge on specialty items and convenience foods at the grocery store.

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It turns out I was spending hundreds of dollars on food each month outside of my regular grocery expenses.

When I moved out on my own, my food spending got worse – not because I had to buy food to live, but because I was free to change my diet to whatever I wanted.

I was eating like royalty (though maybe not quite like Kate and William), and there was no one to stop me.

I was figuratively eating my money. That is, until I started getting serious about budgeting.

Budgeting is one of those cliché terms people get tired of hearing. It requires you to step out of your comfort zone, challenge the way you’ve been managing your money, and devise a specific and actionable way to change your spending habits and track your progress.

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For someone like me who didn’t make a ton of money, but had quite a few expenses, budgeting was necessary. It pushed me to look at all of my expenses. I had to question if and how I could reduce them in order to improve cash flow.

I set two conditions for myself:

  1. I wanted to continue eating tasty food. No bad food in exchange for savings!
  2. I wanted to eat food that was good for my body. The quality of my food couldn’t sink just because I wanted to spend less.

Meal Planning

I started planning out my meals. I began choosing whole foods over processed foods to meet both of the conditions I set for myself.

Since my family likes to eat a wide variety of foods, meal planning was a challenge at first. But I started a rotation system for each meal – breakfast, lunch, dinner. Breakfast would not be the same through the week. No one got bored or fed up as we were getting different “treats” all week. I even started prepping meals to take to work so I could avoid costly takeouts.

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Learning How to Cook

I realized you don’t have to be a chef to cook a great meal. Every recipe from any part of the world is there on the ’net along with videos. In fact, I even started to prepare mock recipes from my favorite restaurants. For example, I made my own version of parmesan garlic wings from Buffalo Wild Wings, which turned out to be delicious.

I no longer needed to go out and purchase ready-made food. What I was whipping up in my kitchen tasted better, and I knew exactly what was going into the recipe.

Trading in Time to Save Money

I often hear that disposable income allows you to buy back time, and avoid certain tasks that take a while to complete.

If you want to lower your food spending, I believe you have to see things the other way around: if you don’t have time to cook, shop for deals at stores, and plan out your meals, you probably won’t save any money on food.

Coming home and cooking dinner most nights can be quite a chore. Meal prepping for a few hours before your week begins may not sound like the typical Sunday fun-day. However, once you start becoming more active in the kitchen, things will start to smell better as you become more efficient and set up systems and processes to save you time. Get your whole family involved, so that the work is shared.

After all, you owe it to yourself to give your family the gift of good, healthy food on a budget you can afford. The leftover – money, I mean – well, that’s yours to keep.

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