How I Halved My Food Budget to $600 a Month

A millennial takes six months to draft new habits to halve her food and entertainment budget -- so she can have enough for her other desires.

×
Cashier smiling at customer on checkout line in supermarket, close-up
Getty Images
By Kali Geldis

I opened up my budget tracking tool last November, and my jaw dropped -- I had spent $1,200 on food that month. That's when I knew I had to make a change.

Now, a few notes about that total: That includes groceries, restaurants, bars and fast food. Also, I prepared Thanksgiving dinner -- $125 for couple of pies and a turkey for six people. However, that $1,200 number stuck with me -- I needed to cut my spending on food.

It's no surprise that food was a big budget-breaker for me -- it's one of the most common expenses on which financial planners see clients spending too much money. I definitely felt like I was throwing money away. There are so many other ways I could use that money -- paying for a vacation, investing more money in an individual retirement account, saving for a down payment on a home, paying for a wedding.

It was when my now-fiancé proposed over Christmas that I knew needed to buckle down and cut my food spending by a lot. Weddings are expensive, and the money that was going toward nights out and nice dinners with friends was wrecking my budget. While I wasn't going into debt, I realized it was just a matter of time. And debt is something I strenuously avoid. (I never carry a balance on my credit cards and am constantly monitoring my credit scores for free on Credit.com to make sure my credit utilization level is low.) If I was going to start cutting my food spending, I needed new rules for myself.

How I Cut My Food Spending in Half
  • Pack lunch for work. A simple step, yes, but I realized that I don't need to pack a lunch every day for work, just pack supplies for lunches once a week. I realized I could get a big supply of baby spinach, some dried cranberries and some salad dressing, and have enough to last me for lunches the entire week. It made packing a lunch less of a hassle, and helped me avoid ordering lunch delivered to the office on Seamless on a daily basis. (I still let myself order in every once in a while.)
  • Make grocery shopping a priority. I'm a New Yorker, so stocking up on groceries for the week is more difficult than hopping in my car, filling up my cart and heading home. I have to carry all my groceries from the store to my apartment, and a week's worth of food is shockingly heavy. I've opted instead to use Fresh Direct to order groceries every week. Even though I know I'm not getting the best deal on every item I buy, I know that by regularly filling my fridge, I'm not ordering a $25 meal from an online food delivery service. The savings adds up.
  • Just say no. Part of my food spending problem was that I would go out with friends and feel pressured to order another round of drinks, splurge on dessert, or get a bunch of appetizers for the table. I deserved it, right? I had to learn some self-control and think about the bigger expenses I really wanted -- owning a home in a few years, saving money for my upcoming wedding (and the awesome honeymoon we want), and planning for a fully funded retirement. (Yes -- I'm a millennial who is thinking about retirement -- we do exist!)
I looked at my food spending in May -- it's down to about $600, a huge accomplishment. It took me about six months to really get into a groove with these new habits, but the payoff is big. My fiancé and I are on track to save more than $1,000 a month for our wedding, and we're hoping to have a little left over to save for the other big costs down the road.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Banking Services 101

Understand your bank's services, and how to get the most from them

View Course »

Introduction to Preferred Shares

Learn the difference between preferred and common shares.

View Course »