The key to better managing your food life is being organized. If you can make an effort to do this then you will save money and time. As well, you’ll probably eat a little better, eat a wider variety of food, and you might even live a little longer. The down side is that it involves a little micromanaging, and is not the kind of subject to talk about at parties unless you want people to fall asleep in front of you.
Making a Dinner List
This might seem simple, but a dinner list is a key step in organizing the food you eat. We keep our list on the fridge and it normally goes two or three weeks into the future. The advantages of making such a list are:
- Organizes grocery shopping, less trips to the store and less food waste.
- More varied menu as you can ensure you don’t fall back on old staples, and can try a new recipe every week or two.
- By putting healthy choices on the list you are more likely to eat them.
Example: Writing a dinner list for the next two weeks. Take stock of what you have in the fridge, freezer and pantry, make a note of any eating out arrangements and then fill in the blanks making sure you make use of what you have in stock. Now write your grocery list based around what you’ve decided to eat.
If you are not big on cooking at home and are thinking this doesn’t apply to you, then think again. Eating out is not only costly, it is generally not good for your health. Fast food, obviously, is bad for you, but even food in decent restaurants is not the best. Ever wonder why restaurant food tastes so good? It is because it isn’t good for you; you are certainly eating more sodium and fat than you would be with a home cooked meal. The key to eating well is to eat food that is tasty and relatively healthy. If you are interested in money then presumably you want to be around to spend it in the future, so think about the quality of the food that you feed your family.
If you throw in a few healthy choices then don’t feel guilty about your less healthy choices. Aware that we eat too much meat, we try and make one day a week vegetarian; similarly, we try and alternate fish and meat throughout the rest of each week.
For most people, dinner is the main meal of the day, but you can, of course, make lists of breakfasts and lunches depending on your lifestyle.
Setting a Grocery Budget
Setting a budget for groceries is a very effective way of saving money, and you won’t even notice a difference in what you eat.
If you don’t already have a grocery budget then spend at least two months tracking every penny spent on food for your household – if you’re really into it you can break it down into different categories; set up a spreadsheet and go wild. Once that is done you can decide upon a suitable figure for your monthly budget.
Combined with a dinner list, a budget is a powerful tool. No more last minute decisions about what you are going to have for dinner, decisions that involve a quick $40 run to the store.
Armed with your dinner list you can do a “big shop”, knowing that what you will buy is going to be eaten, thus eliminating waste. You also won’t mind when you see the total at the checkout because it is covered by your budget.
As you get towards the end of the month you might find that you’re running out of budget money. This is when you can get creative with the food you have left, or “eat the freezer” (see next item). Once you’ve got the hang of budgeting, you will make sure you save enough for perishables needed at the end of each month.
Some months are more expensive than others, and you can fine tune your budget to cater to this. We buy fruit in the summer which we freeze, so we try and save $10 a month from September to June to cover this expense. December is a big month for food so you might want to bump up the grocery budget a little for that month. Any leftover money can be carried forward to the next month, and if you build up a big surplus then you can give yourself an extravagant treat.
Use your Freezer
Most people use their freezer to store food that, more often than not, will end up getting thrown out; this is a really expensive way of wasting food and energy. Do not be one of these people; keep your freezer full and organized, and make it earn its keep.
Whether you have a separate freezer or one as part of your fridge, here are some tips on making it work for you.
- Make an inventory of what’s in your freezer before making a dinner list.
- Make sure you eat foods before they get old by adding them to your dinner list.
- Do not let items get buried and forgotten.
- Label and date items which aren’t obvious.
- “Eat the Freezer” towards the end of the month when the budget is running low or the freezer is full of goodies.
- Scan the flyers in your local paper, and if you’ve room then bulk buy items on sale. Only buy items that you need and you know will keep.
- Use coupons wherever you can for items you regularly buy; coupons are free money.
- Comparison shop for items you buy regularly. The prices of meat, fish and dry goods, for example, can vary wildly.
- Buy in bulk and wrap items in meal-sized packs for freezing. This works well for meat and fish.
Combining a dinner list, a budget and efficient use of your freezer can simplify your life. You’ll know every morning what you’re having for dinner so take out what is necessary from the freezer and it will be thawed by the time you get home. A friend of mine found himself on the phone to his wife every day as he drove home, arguing about what they were to have for dinner. Each conversation inevitably led to a trip to the store; and such shopping trips are rarely money savers. My friend is now a little more organized, and finds the few minutes his family takes to prepare a dinner list is saving him time and money, and cutting down on arguments with his wife!
Remember not to be too hard on yourself. The aim of the above is to save a little money and time, and to eat a little better. Be flexible and change items on your dinner list according to your mood or what’s in the fridge. If you go over your budget don’t sweat it.
Being better organized with the way you eat and shop will mean less time spent grocery shopping, some light relief for your pocketbook, and maybe even a healthier lifestyle for you and your family. You’ll also be doing the planet a favour by driving less, wasting less, and making better use of your freezer. Remember that in North America we waste more food than anywhere else on the planet. Not only is this shameful, it is also a huge waste of money and resources.
Happily married and childless by choice, Rigbee lives in the Okanagan in BC. He enjoys gardening, cooking and learning about retirement and estate planning. When not thinking of ways to retire before 55, Rigbee works as a web site designer and can be found at Seahorse Solutions.