We have arrived at the category of how to save money on food, one of the most talked about subjects in the personal finance realm. To make this part of the Save Beyond Your Means Series helpful to as many people as possible, I am going to list each category of food spending on a continuum from most expensive to least expensive because we are all in different places for food expenditures—and offer money saving tips along the way. I will do this for the following meals: breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner. In order for you to save money on your food bill, you can read money saving tips in the category that you are in, or take a step down from where you are.
I love cereal. When I was a child my mother instituted a rule that once a year we were allowed to pick out a “sugar cereal” for our birthdays. My cereal of choice on that precious day was Fruit Loops (my brother and sister always chose Lucky Charms, but I hated the way the marshmallows felt grinding against my teeth). During my teenage years she loosened up a bit and allowed us to choose whatever we wanted, which led me to my love affair of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. That lasted 3-4 years solid, at which point I went back into a Fruit Loop craze. I think I lost my sugar-cereal tooth sometime during college (my sugar tooth in general is definitely still around!). When I was in Florida, my more adult palette was introduced to Honey Bunches of Oats. Mmmmm.
Even today the floor of my kitchen pantry is full of cereal that I scored at $2.00 per box or less. The only difference is that I now eat much healthier versions: for the last year and probably for at least another I am into Honey Nut Cheerios and Kellogg’s Special K with strawberries. Not only do I like cereal for breakfast, but occasionally I eat it for snacks. Once a month or so, I even eat it for dinner. On the weekends I enjoy more breakfast variety such as Paul’s bacon and French toast, a trip to our local Starbucks for an iced soy chai with a cheese Danish, or a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel with cream cheese. Periodically (every 3-4 months) we eat out at a Denny’s or an IHOP.
No matter where or what you eat for breakfast, there are ways you can save money. As always, I’d love for you to share your own breakfast money saving tips in the comments below!
$$$$$ Sit Down Restaurant: There’s nothing like a Denny’s or an IHOP on a lazy Sunday morning. If you have children, you can eat breakfast out at locations that allow kids to eat for free (usually on certain days of the week). Also, check out your junk mail as there are normally coupons for savings at breakfast restaurants like these. Know someone who has purchased the Entertainment Coupon book but does not like to eat out for breakfast? Ask them for their coupons, or offer to swap some of your coupons for theirs.
$$$$ Starbucks and Specialty Coffee Shops: The first thing you want to do is to join a loyalty program at the coffee shop you frequent because you may be able to earn free drinks. Next, you can always order a larger size then save half of it in the fridge for the next day. This will cut your drinking habit down as well as cost you almost half as much for the same great drink you enjoy (I do this with Frappuccinos, and find that I need to let it sit out for awhile to try and recoup the texture). For Starbucks, pre-load a gift card and register it on Starbucks.com (any gift card can be registered and can be loaded onto again and again). This can be your budgeted amount for the month, as well as save you money because if you use the gift card you earn points towards free drinks and you get discounts on added-value items (for example, I receive a $0.60 discount for the soy milk cost each time I purchase an iced soy chai). You can also learn to treat Starbucks and/or your specialty coffee shop as a treat instead of a routine. Challenge yourself to only go to Starbucks when you have cashed in some of your rewards points for a free gift card there from surveys, credit cards, Swagbucks, health insurance company rewards points (like Blue Points), etc.
$$ Frozen Pre-Made Foods: The grocery store frozen aisle is filled with pre-made frozen breakfast items. Fortunately, these items have a healthy amount of coupons in the Sunday circulars. To ensure that you always purchase them at rock bottom prices, you can stock up on sales (because they are meant to be frozen!), and for even more savings, pair the sale together with coupons. Also, there are almost always coupons for new products on the market, so if you are open to trying something new, you will save money.
$$ Keep Supplies at Your Desk: Oatmeal packets, granola bars, cereal and a bowl with a spoon, bag of bagels and a knife (cream cheese in the fridge), a pound of your favorite coffee, a box of tea—these are all items that cost very little per breakfast (and typically have at least a week’s worth of servings).
$ Make Your Own Frozen Foods and Lattes: There are tons of recipes out there that you can make and freeze for a hot breakfast without the added cost and oftentimes questionable ingredients of the pre-made frozen aisle at the grocery store. Try some of these out: Homemade Hot Pockets, Freezer Breakfast Tacos, Homemade Freezer French Toast Sticks, Breakfast Sandwiches, and Cinnamon Rolls. Many women around the web talk about how they have a once-a-month cooking day where they cook and assemble a month’s worth of breakfast foods for their families, and then freeze for convenient, homemade meals for 30 days! You can also duplicate your favorite coffee and tea drinks at a huge savings from going to Starbucks each day. Check out websites like starbucks-secret recipes, or google your favorite drink and “clone recipe”. This could save you a lot of money depending on the frequency of your trips to Starbucks.