3 Rules to Keep Food Budgets Low
Military members and veterans know well the importance of keeping a budget; it’s easy to run out of money on a military income. New veterans looking for work in the private sector will also be interested in finding out how to make their dollars stretch further when it comes to the monthly food budget. Eating is one of those things you just can’t live without (literally), and neither can your spouse or children. But you’re willing to trade time and/or effort, you can save a lot of money on food.
First Rule: Shop Smart
If you’re trying to save money, fast-food and restaurants are your enemy. Anything you can buy at McDonald’s you can buy for cheaper at a grocery store. You should find the best place to shop that will meet the needs of your family. If you’re still active-duty or retired with 20 years of service (or been awarded the Medal of Honor), you should try to do your grocery shopping at the BX (or PX, as the case may be). The BX is going to give you the best prices you can find on food. If you live too far away from the base for that to be convenient, or you are no longer able to shop at the BX because you were discharged with less than 20 years, you need to consider the needs of your family a bit more.
For a family with 2 or more children, a lot more food is going to be consumed than by a couple with no kids. If your family consumes more food, then you’re usually better off paying for a Costco or Sam’s Club membership and taking advantages of the wholesale prices they offer. For my wife and I (we’re expecting our first child), we simply don’t buy enough food to make the membership worth it. For families like ours, the best bet is to go with a Kroger or other grocery store that offers a discount if you have a membership card (it used to be called a Fresh Values card, though I’m not sure what it is called now). That membership is usually free and brings you significant savings over time.
Second Rule: Imitation Recipes
I love eating out. I love restaurant food. Back in my single days, I didn’t spend much on electronics or gaming or other toys, but I spent a ton of money on eating out. Once I got married and my wife and I got serious about saving for a house, my days of eating out needed to come to an end. The thing that helped the most was to find imitation recipes online for my favorite restaurant foods and make those for dinner. Some turn out better than others, but it can be a lot of fun and a great way to experiment with new foods. Granted, shopping for imitation recipes will not save you as much money as you could otherwise (since the components of most restaurant dishes are more expensive than other options), but it will still save you a bundle over actually going out to eat at those restaurants.
Third Rule: Know the Components of a Meal
This is not nutritional advice. This is financial advice. Generally, a well-balanced meal has three components: a base, a meat, and a fruit/vegetable. A base is usually grain-based like rice or noodles (ramen noodles and macaroni totally count). Potatoes can also be a base. A meat should be fairly obvious. For vegetarians, meat can be replaced with another source of protein. Last, you can have both a fruit and a vegetable or one or the other. If you focus on these components, you’ll be shocked at how cheaply you can feed your family.
For example, if you choose ramen noodles, chicken, and lettuce, you can get fairly creative. You can cut up the chicken and mix it with the ramen, have them as two separate dishes, or forget the lettuce and do green bell peppers and broccoli and make a ramen stir-fry. You could add buffalo sauce to the pieces of chicken and turn them into boneless buffalo wings and have the lettuce as a salad. You can get a lot of different combinations just by getting creative with your three components, and you’ll be surprised at how tasty, cheap, and varied those combinations can be.