Are You Eating Your Money?

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Track your food spending for a month or so and you could well be horrified at the amount of money that is literally going down the toilet.

Food is usually your biggest living expense after paying your rent or mortgage. Rent and mortgage payments fit into the category of financial commitments which you can’t change –unless, of course, you move house. Food costs, on the other hand, while essential, are something you have control over. If you find it hard to save or if your living expenses seem high, take a good look at your food budget. Chances are you are eating your money!

Under the heading of food, we need to include takeaways, bought lunches, restaurant meals coffee and wine. No doubt there is the occasional sneaky bar of chocolate or meat pie in the mix as well. It all adds up to a very big total.

There are some people who love entertaining either at home or restaurants or who regularly feed extended family members. Feeding others as well as yourself is a wonderful thing to do, so long as you can truly afford it. It’s nice to have a family meal on Sundays, but have you calculated how much it is costing you? Maybe you have it all worked out and you go to your parents for a free meal!

The amount you spend on food will be partly determined by where you live and of course, the number of family members. However, food costs also depend on your lifestyle – how much and what type of food you put in your shopping trolley. Otago University publishes an annual survey of food costs. The most recent survey in 2021 estimates the weekly food budget for a couple and two children as $221 for a basic diet, $287 for a moderate diet and $344 for a liberal diet. That’s a whopping $123 a week difference between basic and liberal. Over a year that’s $6,396. Compounded over a ten-year period at 3% the difference is nearly $62,000!

These days people lead busy lifestyles and don’t mind paying extra for convenience. As well as being expensive, the food choices we make are not always healthy. Paying more attention to grocery shopping can be good for your body as well as for your budget.

Here are some easy ways to cut back on your grocery spend while still eating great food:

  • Cut down on the number of times you go to the supermarket. Every time you shop it’s easy to slip in a few items that weren’t on the list and which aren’t essential. Sticking to a set routine of shopping no more than once a week means you have to pace your eating to make your food supplies last.
  • Plan meals one or two weeks ahead so you have all the ingredients you need on hand. That way you won’t have to make extra trips to the supermarket.
  • Prepare meals ahead and freeze or reheat them. Cooking in big batches means you can buy in bulk. Having ready cooked meals on hand when you are busy means fewer takeaway or convenience meals
  • Eat less meat. A couple of vegetarian meals a week saves money and improves your diet
  • Cut back on the amount of wine you buy. It’s easy to drink it just because it is there.
  • Keep a few treats and deli snacks on hand at home to reduce the temptation to go out for coffee or lunch.

It’s not easy to change habits. Instead of making lots of big changes at once, try the gradual approach. It’s better to take small steps and succeed than take a big step, fail and give up. Cutting back on certain expenses such as alcohol and takeaways is a lot easier than trying to cut them out altogether. It’s likely you will be more motivated to make changes if you focus on healthier eating choices rather than saving money, however with careful planning you should achieve both.

Of course, there are times when you just have to cut yourself some slack. Holidays wouldn’t be the same without plenty of good food and drink.

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