Food is one of the most essential monthly expenses anyone will have. Whether it's buying groceries every other week or eating out a few times a month, a portion of your monthly income will go toward food.
Learning how to balance home cooked meals against visiting restaurants is one of the biggest challenges. It's easy to see why going out is an easy choice: you don't have to cook, you're also enjoying the ambiance and if you're visiting a trendy restaurant, you know the food will be good.
But always going out for lunch or dinner has consequences. You're spending more money than you need to and your meals aren't always the healthiest. The right balance involves plenty of home cooked meals.
However, you may find difficulty sticking to a healthy diet and still stay within your budget. For various reasons, unhealthy food tends to be cheaper than organic or certified fresh vegetables, produce and other fruits.
With the right budgeting techniques, you can still eat healthy and not go over your monthly grocery budget. The days of settling for a fast food cheeseburger value meal are over.
Start with the list
One of the worst decisions you can make is to head to the grocery store on an empty stomach. You will be tempted to buy more food than you need, and this includes some unhealthy treats and snacks.
Not bringing a list is also another move you want to avoid. Every Sunday night, plan out the week's meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. See what you already have on the shelves and in the fridge and then create your weekly shopping list.
A good habit to develop is to plan your meals around sales. Most grocery stores will advertise their upcoming promotions, such as two bags of salad mix for the price of one. Take advantage of those offerings every week when you shop.
A few mobile applications exist to make it easier to search for those deals. Try using Farmstand or The Grocery IQ to find coupons and less expensive food options. If you are a big advocate for buying your groceries online through services such as Instacart or Peapod, be sure to to look for deals there as well.
Keep your eyes open
Once you're at the grocery store with a list in hand, you have to avoid some standard supermarket tricks as they attempt to get you to buy more than you actually need. For example, the shopping carts are generally large, and they are meant to get you stuff more items in there.
Another classic trick involves strategically placing snacks and other treats near the checkout lane. From candy bars to donuts, supermarkets will use all the tricks to get you to buy more.
Stick to your list, and you won't buy unhealthy food or go off budget.
Buying food that is out of season will end up costing you more. As such, in-season produce is usually the cheapest.
Winter is in full force for many parts of the country. During this time, buy grapefruits, yams, onions, potatoes and oranges, U.S. News & World Report stated .
Once spring rolls around, green beans, strawberries cabbage and honeydew become in-season must haves.
If you crave, or your next recipe needs an out of season vegetable or fruit, look in the frozen aisle, the American Heart Association recommended . Frozen foods aren't bad, and they will be cheaper and just as healthy.
Consumers are taught to embrace name brand items, from clothing to electronics. Generics may be frowned upon in some instances. For some products, name brands tend to be the better option, but when it comes to food, generics are just as good.
Generic foods are approximately 15 percent cheaper than name brand items, stated U.S. News & World Report. In fact, some items are better to go generic, such as condiments and lunch meats. You are still getting the same nutrition but at a lower cost.
Eating healthy and sticking to a budget doesn't have to be difficult if you always shop with a list, know what items are in-season and take advantage of in-season fruits and vegetables.
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