I spend less than $200 on food and beverages every month. (Click here for a complete breakdown of all my daily meals.) It’s not that easy, but at the same time, it’s very possible.
Here’s 3 strategies that I always use to eat well when I’m on a low budget.
Cook and Eat at Home More Often
If you really want to make a dramatic improvement in your finances, this is the most important thing you must start doing. And don’t worry, you can still dine out. (I’ll get into that a few paragraphs down.)
When you dine out at restaurants, you are paying for not only the food, but the convenience as well. You turn up at the restaurant, you wait a little while, the food gets served, you eat, and then you leave. Oh, and of course, you pay the restaurant for doing all the food preparation. Usually, it’s a hefty premium.
But food preparation isn’t all that difficult. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to spend 2 hours every day slaving away, just to make sure you’re well fed. With a little education, you can prepare all your meals for the week on just one day. Store it properly in your refrigerator. And when the time comes for you to have your meal, just heat it up. Viola!
Always Take Advantage of Food Promotions
If you love to dine out, this is a great tip. Always, always, take advantage of food promotions and loyalty programmes. And free food.
Food promotions can come in the form of couponing. Before I go to a restaurant, I’d usually first ransack my favourite couponing sites. If that doesn’t yield any results, I’d google the name of the restaurant + the word “promotion”, “discount” or “coupon”. If nothing turns up, I’d select another reputable restaurant that has a great coupon. Remember, food establishments are always looking for ways to drive more traffic to themselves. There will never be any lack of coupons on the Internet, so just keep your eyes peeled.
You can also get food promotions from credit card tie-ups. Usually, credit cards have a list of restaurants you can go to, which offer discounts when you pay with that specific credit card. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with Vietnamese Pho noodles, and I know a place that sells a good bowl of noodles for $11. However, when you pay with a Standard Chartered Unlimited credit card, you can get a lunch set for 50% off. That’s a huge bowl of noodles, spring rolls and an iced coffee for just $5.50! That’s amazing value.
Don’t have a particular credit card? Don’t worry, just sign up. Or make a lunch appointment with a friend who does.
Loyalty programmes are great too. You go to a restaurant, spend a certain amount, and rack up points. It’s as simple as that. But here’s the situation for someone like me – I don’t eat out often and I don’t spend much when I do. The one thing I look out for are points that don’t expire, or have an expiry date far from today. Some loyalty programmes have points that expire within weeks / months, and I usually end up allowing my points to expire. What a waste.
Free food is rather uncommon, I think. I have on occasion, though, scored a few free things. You usually have to download an app, do a few things (like post on social media or otherwise), be verified, and then get your coupon for a free meal. I don’t spend my time actively looking for free meals or anything, but it’s possible if you have the time to scour the Internet.
One last tip about dining out – I usually stay far away from fancy dining experiences. And when I say fancy, I’m talking about those 3-hour, $400 meals. Some fancy restaurants do offer discounts, but even with a 50% discount, you’re still paying $200 for a meal. Ouch. In my previous life, I used to eat fancy meals all the time. And they were good. Right now though, I only earn $2,825 a month from my corporate job. Do I want to drop 10% of my pay-check on a fancy meal? No way in hell.
Recognise that Satisfaction is Not Proportional to the Price you Pay
People always assume that an expensive item means that it’s better than a cheaper substitute. That’s why we go after expensive bags, expensive cars, expensive apartments, and expensive meals.
But do you truly understand what you’re paying for? I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no food connoisseur, and I definitely don’t appreciate high-end luxury foods the way I should. I probably can’t tell the difference between a $50 lobster flown in from Maine, and a $10 lobster reared locally, and I certainly can’t tell the difference between a $100 glass of wine and a $10 glass of wine. I’ve had my fair share of insanely luxurious meals in my previous life, but I’d never spend my hard-earned money on any of them. They’re just not worth the price you pay.
After I was forced to give up my luxurious lifestyle, I eventually realised that even some $5 meals derived an equal amount of satisfaction. Great food is available at even greater prices, as long as you know where to source them from. Or cook them.
If you’re able to give up your belief that “expensive always means better”, you could really do your savings a huge favour.
And that’s the 3 Strategies that I Always Use to Save Money on Food
It’s simple, right?
Just dine out less frequently by cooking great food at home. (Personally, I’m a terrible cook, so I’m trying to work on that.)
When you’re dining out, make sure to make full use of money-saving coupons and loyalty programmes.
Lastly, and arguably the most important point to take away, don’t equate quality with the high prices that you pay. You can get great food at even greater prices, with just a sprinkle of ingenuity.