Food for even a family of two can add up quickly. Eating on the cheap, but not cheaply, means you and your honey can save up for that dream vacation you've always wanted, buy a home, or start a nest egg. What's more, you won't spend hours clipping coupons, stalking bargains, or eating rice and beans four times a week.
Track what you're spending now on groceries, including snacks, fast food, takeout and meals in restaurants, for a normal week.
Save your grocery store receipts. Add them up, then subtract personal care items, laundry products and cleaning products.
Deduct what you spend on eating out. What's left is your food budget for the week. Another method is to use national averages of what families spend on food as a percentage of their income and then decrease it so you have some savings to sock away. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that 12.5 percent of income is spent on food. The Department of Agriculture is a little less at 9.8 percent.
Make as list of what you both like for breakfast. Pre-fab food -- prepared entrees and meals -- aren't in the budget anymore. Focus on a protein, a fruit or veggie, a carb and some fat. For example, buy low-fat yogurt in the big containers, not the individual serving size. Combine a cupful with a handful of almonds, and throw in some frozen blueberries or fresh strawberries you found on sale.
Scramble a dozen eggs at a time. Eggs are a bargain. Package in three baggies. That's three breakfasts nearly ready to go. Pop in the microwave topped with grated cheese, a slice of deli ham or last night's leftover sautéed mushrooms. Add a slice of toast and glass of juice. Buy concentrated juice and make it yourself to save more money.
Choose three of your favorite cheap breakfasts and schedule them on a calendar you'll hang near the fridge. You'll know exactly what to serve as you're racing around getting ready for work in the mornings.
Brown-bag your lunch. This is where leftovers come in handy. When you make dinner, make enough for two lunches the next day. Egg salad, tuna salad, sliced chicken or turkey are all inexpensive fillings for sandwiches -- a nice change from leftovers.
Buy the store brand of sandwich bread to pinch your pennies. You'll save up to $3 per loaf of bread. Add an apple or banana; they're almost always cheap and transportable. Drinks are expensive from the vending machine.
Buy a case of bottled water. Pour out about 2 inches of each; it expands as it freezes. Then put it in the freezer. Pack the frozen water in your lunch bag to keep your lunch cold.
Schedule on your calendar what you'll pack for lunch each day.
Go to the public library armed with a notepad and pencil or your laptop. Get the back issues of a number of women's lifestyle magazines. Leaf through them for articles on cheap dinners and budget entrees for inspiration. Write down the basic ingredients for the dinners that appeal to you. Don't bother writing down the exact instructions; you can go to the magazine's website later when you're preparing that dinner.
Plan on serving a vegetarian or meatless meal once a week, pasta twice a week, chicken twice a week and beef or pork once a week, and a hearty soup, chili or stew as the seventh meal of the week. Chicken is usually the cheapest deal per serving.
Make the pasta dishes using a simple formula: pasta, fresh herbs, cheese, oil, veggie and nuts. On occasion add in tidbits of meat. For example, serve rotini with chopped parsley, cheddar cheese, a smidge of butter, frozen peas and walnuts. Take an Italian twist with angel-hair pasta, basil, parmesan, olive oil, garlic, string beans and almonds. Go southwest with shells, cilantro, Monterey Jack cheese, jalapeno peppers, tomatoes and sour cream instead of the vegetable oil.
Write the numerals 1 through 30 down the side of a sheet of paper, skipping several lines between each number. Each numeral corresponds to a day of the month. Start with a chicken dish, noting where you can find the recipe. Add in a starch; potatoes are always cheap, and brown rice is both good for you and your budget. Other starches include white rice, lentils and couscous.
List two vegetables or a salad and a vegetable for each entree. Carrots are cheap and can be made several different ways. Frozen vegetables are sometimes cheaper than fresh. Stay away from packaged, ready-to-use salad mix. It's more expensive than steak on a per-pound basis. Wash and cut your own lettuce instead.
Assemble a shopping list for each week, based on the meals for that week. If you're serving chicken twice a week and want leftovers for four lunches, you'll need abut 2 pounds of chicken. Thighs are usually cheaper than breasts, but stock up on boneless, skinless breasts when they go on sale.
Check the weekly grocery ads and take advantage of what's on sale. You may have to adjust your menus a bit to accommodate these items.
Go through your cupboards and see what you need to replenish your staples, such as olive oil, spices, seasonings, vinegars and flavorings.
- When you're at the store, stick to your list; buy only what's on it.
Katie Jensen's first book was published in 2000. Since then she has written additional books as well as screenplays, website content and e-books. Rosehill holds a Master of Business Administration from Arizona State University. Her articles specialize in business and personal finance. Her passion includes cooking, eating and writing about food.