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Slides for the How to Save Money on Food webinar can be found at http://go.uillinois.edu/saveonfoodslides.
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What's common in the United States?
Before we start talking about how to save money on food costs, let’s talk a little bit about food shopping behaviors in the U.S. This gives you an opportunity to think about what drives your food shopping?
We have data about all kinds of spending by U.S. consumers through a survey, Consumer Expenditure Survey, done each year by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This data shows us the averages of what people do – of course, any particular individual might do things differently.
What we know from the survey is that food expenses as percent of all expenses is relatively consistent across ages, varying from 11.9 – 13.1% of all expenditures.
However, it varies quite a bit based on percentage of income. On average households spend about 13% of their income on food; that’s a significant percent and why it’s an area worth looking at to be sure that we’re getting the most we can for our dollars! Of that 13%, about 7% is spent on food at home and about 6% a way from home.
If we look at households with incomes of less than $15,000, you can see on the chart, that more of their income is spent on food: 16%, with over 10% on food at home. As incomes rise, a higher percentage of food costs is on food away from home.
What percent of all your expenses is spent on food? If you don’t know, it might be interesting to track your spending and see.
Generational Spending on Food
Researchers and marketers like to look at trends based on when someone was born. Thus we have “generational data.” The USDA recently did a study to see how people from different generations choose to spend their food dollars.
In this study,
- only Millennials born in 1996 or later are included, so that they were 18 years old when the study was done in 2014.
- households are defined by generation by the person who does the shopping.
One interesting tidbit from the study: the number of monthly food trips increase with age, but decreases with income.
This chart shows generational spending on veggies by income. It shows the amount of vegetables purchased as the percent of at food expenditures on the ‘Y” column by income across the bottom “X”.
Look at that red line soar as Millennials income increases! Millennials spend big on veggies, and overall the study showed that Millennials are demanding healthier and fresher foods.
When Millennials eat food at home, then they don’t want to spend as much time preparing it as other generations are willing to do. Millennials shopping habits show that they prefer to buy foods already prepared to eat.
Millennials spend significantly less time on food preparation, presentation & clean-up than the cohort just older than them, the Gen Xers. Millennials on average spend 55 minutes less than Gen Xers, who spend the most time of any generation at 143 minutes. Could be that having more people in their households – like young children – adds to their food at home time.
Interestingly, Millennials spend, on average 12 minutes less eating and drinking each day than Traditionalists – who spend 77 minutes a day. How much time do you spend eating and drinking each day? Is that a factor in creating your food plan?
Balancing Cost & Nutrition
Using publicly available resources, like USDA's MyPlate, can help you balance the costs of food with your nutritional needs. This website has online tools & email updates for meal planning, including budget-friendly resources, like Healthy Eating On A Budget.
You can learn more about USDA MyPlate with this infographic, What's MyPlate All About?
Dining In or Going Out?
Everything has its pros & cons, and the same goes for cooking at home vs eating out.
According to an article in USA Today by Maurie Backman of The Motley Fool, 10 Ridiculously Easy Ways to Save $300 a Month, “The typical food establishment charges a 300% markup on the items it serves, which means that if you spend $30 on an entree, you could otherwise prepare that same meal yourself for a mere $10. And if you're the type who dines out often, whether it's weekend date nights or daily lunches, you could be spending way more than necessary just to keep yourself fed.
Say you typically blow $10 a day on lunch from your local deli, plus another $100 a week on restaurants and takeout. All told, that's $600 in food costs, which you can easily shave down to $200 if you make those meals yourself.
Consider the costs, both in terms of money and time, when it comes to planning your spending on cooking at home or eating out.
Strategies to Cook at Home More
Simplify – use simple recipes, with 5 ingredients or less. You could also try recipes that you cook in one pan or pot.
More Meals – Sometimes it’s just easier to make a larger amount of food. This is true of things like chili, soups, and meatless meals. Instead of eating the same food for a week, freeze some of it and eat it later. It’ll save time and money!
Stock Up – When you know you use something on a regular basis, stock up on that item. These can be things like eggs, milk, canned tomatoes, ect.. Whatever you like to keep handy, make sure you have 1 or 2 of that item at home.
Let’s Eat for Health, Illinois!
Saving on Grocery-Shopping & Eating Out
Proven to Work
Research shows there's a few tricks to limiting spending when shopping for groceries. Use these tips to save more money on food.
Use a shopping list.
Limit shopping to no more than once a week. The more you shop, the more you spend.
Don't shop hungry.
Looking for an easy way to save $1,000 or more a year? Use a shopping list. The average shopper spends 40 percent more on impulse purchases when shopping without a list. If you spend $50 each week at the grocery store, there’s a good chance that $20 of those purchases are unplanned. That adds up! The average shopper spends $2.17 for every minute they’re in a supermarket. You’re likely to spend 50 cents more for every minute you are at the grocery store beyond the first 30 minutes.
For more on this topic, read University of Illinois Extension’s blog post, “Be a Super Speedy Shopper”.
Comparing Costs with Unit Pricing
Information on a unit price tag breaks down the cost of the product into cost per unit, usually given in ounces. This can be helpful when you are comparing similar items of two sizes of the same product to find out which is the better buy.
Bigger boxes aren’t always cheaper by the serving or ounce.
Units can come in different “sizes”. There are times when you might want to compare the cost per serving rather than the cost per ounce of different foods. For example: a bag of apples, you might consider an apple as a serving, so you would divide the cost for the entire bag by the number of apples in the bag. You may also want to consider the nutritional value, your food preference, and the need for variety in your diet.
Driving Down Costs When Dining Out
Share entrees. We have to be realistic when we’re discussing food expenses that you will go out to eat. Some ways we are able to lower the cost when eating out are sharing entrees with a friend or partner. Usually by sharing, you’ll cut the cost of the meal in half.
Order water with meals. Another pricey option when going out is drinking soda or another beverage. On average they can be anywhere from $2 to $4, depending on the restaurant. By ordering water, you’ll be saving that money to be able to spend it on the meal.
Clue in on coupons. Do you have a favorite place you like to eat at? See if they have coupons! Maybe you can buy one entrée and get one free. Or get a few bucks off instead. Just remember to compare the cost of the coupon vs what you’d pay without it.
Do lunch out, rather than dinner. Lunch, especially at a fancier restaurant may be more cost effective than at dinnertime. Usually dinner meals are larger, and a lunch portion may be just right for the price.
Lastly, know what you want to spend. If you can only spend $12, make sure you keep your meal under that limit. By knowing what you can afford a head of time can help keep costs under control.
Step Down Food Costs
Sometimes it’s more effective to “step down” a spending behavior instead of dropping it all together. For example, I’m not likely to stop drinking coffee. However, I could decide to buy fancy coffee less times a week. Or, I could choose to make coffee at home and take it to work.
Going out to eat with friends may be expensive but it’s also a good way to socialize with friends. Who wants to give that up? But perhaps there are ways to step down the costs. Could you all go to less expensive restaurants? Would it be fun to have a potluck at someone’s apartment once a month?
Pulling it Together
Create a Meal Plan
- Add your schedule to a weekly calendar.
- Decide on dinner menus first.
- When you don’t have much time to prepare dinner use these ideas:
- do some meal preparation the evening before or early in the morning (be sure to refrigerate food to avoid food spoilage),
- plan to use leftovers,
- use a crock pot to cook food slowly and safely, or
- choose quick-to-cook meals
- Check foods that you have on hand. Plan to use them in meals.
- Check grocery ads for menu ideas.
- Add in lunch ideas on weekly calendar. Dinner leftovers can be good lunches.
- Add in foods for healthy breakfasts and snacks.
- Write your shopping list from your weekly calendar.
- Add vegetables and fruit into your menu plan.
- Frozen fruits and vegetable are generally less expensive than fresh ones.
- Buy in season for best prices of fresh produce.
- Look for salad bars or pre-cut produce for convenience.
- Avoid waste from buying a large quantity of fresh veg. Plan what you’ll eat.
- Shop locally at Farmer’s Markets. Many Farmer's Markets will take Link Card with SNAP benefits. And some will give a bonus such as $2 of food tokens for $1 of SNAP benefit.
Interactive Chart: Costs per Edible Cup Equivalent. Prices in chart are from 2013 and may vary depending on that year’s crop. Can give a good idea of variation.
Example: 1 Cup Corn: Fresh = $1.81; canned = .51; frozen = .61
More about vegetables at https://www.choosemyplate.gov/vegetables.
Create a Food Budget
Track it. It’s always best that when you’re budgeting for food, maybe even for the first time, to track your spending since food is such a variable expense. We have several resources that can help you track your spending & learn more about budgets & spending plans, including:
Set limits. Whether it's eating out or grocery shopping, set limits on what you want to spend. Our spending on food is often dictated by more than just nutrition, so look for ways to limit spending on food during social events by knowing what you want before you head out.
Compare & change. Does your food spending match what’s important to you in terms of nutrition, convenience, cost? Make plans to change spending and/or food behavior if things aren't working how you want them to.
SNAP Benefits / Food Stamps
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (formerly Food Stamps) helps low-income people and families buy the food they need for good health. In Illinois, you can check out http://www.dhs.state.il.us/page.aspx?item=30357 for more information on qualifying.
Apps can do lots of different things to help us save money on food. For example: They can help us with coupons or rebates. They can also help us make shopping lists. They can even scan the barcodes of what we have, and help us make a list for next time we go to the store.
Also, look at the apps from the grocery store you go to the most often which can help you see the ads & specials for that week.
This is a Saving Badge Eligible Program.