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The exact strategy I’m using to save on the cost of food as a financial planner

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  • Higher food costs are unavoidable right now, but I’m taking steps to cut my spending.
  • I’m dining out less, and I’ve cut out streaming services to make up for bigger grocery bills.
  • When I do go out, I skip the drinks to save. And at the grocery store, I only buy what’s on my list.
  • Find a financial advisor near you with SmartAdvisor.

Inflation has affected almost every area of our day-to-day lives, from gas to rent to clothes, and food prices are no exception. 

Grocery prices have risen 13.1% over the past 12 months, affecting almost every grocery item. The cost of eggs is up 38%. Flour is up 22.7%. Chicken prices rose by 17.6%. Fruits and vegetables are now 9.3% more expensive.

These high prices affect everything from your regular grocery run to your Friday night dinner out — many restaurants cope with higher prices by raising the cost of their meals.

Everyone needs to eat, which makes cutting back or trying to save on food difficult. While there are plenty of small ways to reduce your food spending, as a financial planner, I’m in favor of focusing first on the big-picture strategies that will really move the needle. Here are some of my tips for saving. 

2 big-picture ways to combat high food prices 

High food prices are pretty much inescapable, whether it’s at the grocery store or your local restaurant. But before you start scrutinizing every item on your grocery receipt, I’d recommend taking a look at your overall food spending. Chances are, there are areas to cut back that will save you more money than swapping out one brand of beans for another. 

The big money move I’ve made in the past few months is cutting back on eating out, and opting for more home-cooked meals. Eating out includes both dining in restaurants and ordering delivery. I live in New York City, known for its expensive prices, and dining out is no exception — a regular dinner out costs me around $45, including tip, and can often be even higher. By switching to cooking, I’ve saved a couple hundred dollars a month. 

The second option is making more room in your budget for food purchases. That means cutting back in other areas — like entertainment — to adjust for increased grocery bills. 

I always advocate for a flexible budget, one that can easily be adjusted for emergencies, changed goals, or fluctuating prices. Rising inflation is a great reason to take a look at your budget and identify areas to cut back. For example, I decided to cut back on the number of streaming services to accommodate for my larger grocery bill each month.

I also have some specific tips for cutting your spending when you’re dining out or at the store. 

Making dining out affordable 

None of this is to say you should stop eating out completely (unless it’s seriously derailing your budget). While I believe following a plan is important, so is flexibility. Money, to me, is all about freedom and the ability to enjoy the things we love. 

Going out with my partner on a Friday night and enjoying a bottle of wine isn’t the most fiscally responsible thing to do, but the memories made are absolutely worth it. So while I do still occasionally eat out, I try to treat it like a reward for the hard work of following my budget and cutting back in other areas. 

If you do eat out, there are some simple ways to make your experience more affordable. I’m a huge fan of getting a few appetizers and then splitting one entree, which gives you the chance to sample lots of different dishes and save money at the same time. 

Skipping the drinks is another great way to shave 10-20% off your bill, since alcohol is one of the most up-charged items on a menu. 

If you’re ordering takeout, consider going and picking it up instead of paying for delivery. 

Regardless of how you decide to eat out, make sure you’re not skimping on the tip, as most food service workers rely on tips to make a livable wage. 

Cutting back at grocery stores

Buying groceries is a necessary expense, like your rent or utilities payments. While you can’t cut groceries completely out of your budget, you can proactively reduce your grocery bill

One method I’ve focused on is being more deliberate with my grocery list. Previously, I would go to the grocery store without a clear idea of what I needed, and wind up grabbing extra items that I wouldn’t end up using. Not only was this wasteful, but I was spending around 10% more than I would have. Now, I make sure to go in with a list and only buy what’s on the list — no deviations! 

If you’re a regular shopper at a specific grocery store, see if they have a rewards or loyalty program. These programs often come with discounts, coupons, and sometimes even cash back. 

Other options include hitting up the sales section and buying in bulk. Some words of caution, however — just because there’s a sale doesn’t mean you should buy an item. Make sure the sale item lines up with your grocery list. 

The same goes for buying in bulk. While larger portions often mean lower price per unit, the upfront cost isn’t worth it if you’re not using all the product. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought a larger container of something only to leave it sitting in my pantry. 

The other hack I recommend is doing the work yourself. I love fruit — and realized shockingly that the pre-cut fruit at Whole Foods can sometimes be double the price of whole fruit. Avoid buying things like shredded cheese or cut veggies and do the work yourself at home. 

While all of these tips can definitely help you combat rising food prices, you don’t need to go out and follow all of them to see real savings in your budget. I recommend picking the ones that will yield the most savings, then going for it.

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