We get it – you’ve been stuck at home for months now. While New Yorkers seem to be handling this better than, say, Michiganders, it’s still not easy for most of us. However, there’s one definite upside to this extended lockdown: it’s an excellent time to check your spending habits.
We’ve written before about financial planning during COVID-19, and we encourage you to check out our tips there if you haven’t already. In this article, we wanted to take things a step further and focus specifically on cutting costs in the kitchen!
After all, if there’s one thing we like more than saving money, it’s eating well!
Trying new cooking websites
Some restaurants are still offering takeout or delivery services, and that’s great! Since we’re a financial blog we are obliged to warn you not to overspend on takeout, but there’s nothing wrong with supporting your favorite delivery spot during this outbreak. But if you’re trying to save as much as possible, takeout and delivery are an easy place to cut spending.
So what do you eat then? Well, we’ve really enjoyed scouring the internet for new recipes and trying new things. One of our favorites is Budget Bytes, because of how they price out every recipe. That’s exactly the sort of cooking blog a bunch of accountants would love, but the recipes are darn good too!
When you start thinking of meals in terms of price per serving, and price per recipe, it really puts into perspective just how much you’re spending (or not) on eating well. And that’s the sort of information you can take with you even after we can all start going to bars and restaurants again.
“Meal prepping” isn’t just another way to say “cooking at home.” It’s a term used for preparing food in bulk ahead of time in order to save time and money. And while we might all have plenty of time right now, it’s always good to save money; plus you can work on building good habits now that will make your post-pandemic life that much better.
The idea behind meal prepping is simple—you block off a dedicated cooking time, say Sunday evenings, and you make food that’s easy to reheat (or that doesn’t need reheating) to eat throughout the week. Meal prepping like this can be a great way to stick to a specific diet, but most importantly (for us, at any rate, since this is a financial blog) it’s a really smart way to save money while eating right.
There are plenty of meal-prep resources for you to check out online, but this list of 50 recipes from MealPrepify is a good starting place! Each recipe on this list clocks in at under $2/serving. That’s a great way to take control of your weekly food budget, even if it’s only replacing one meal a day!
Buying in bulk, not stockpiling
Cooking in bulk leads us to another great way to save money on groceries: buying in bulk. Right away, let’s make the distinction between bulk buying and stockpiling, since the term “bulk buy” probably brings to mind the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020. Bulk buying means buying a quantity you intend to use completely in the foreseeable future: say, a month’s supply. Stockpiling means grabbing up as much of something as you can get your hands on, so that you’ll have a supply in case it becomes unavailable later.
We encourage bulk buying, because it makes sense for your budget. We discourage stockpiling right now, because it creates unnecessary shortages. When things are “back to normal” and supply chains are again operating at full capacity, you can work on creating your “emergency stockpile” of non-perishable items—but that’s a topic for a different blog. Let’s talk about bulk buying.
When you’re buying food, you’ll often see a unit price and a “price per pound” or other weight. It’s that price by weight you’ll want to pay attention to. You’ll often find that you get a better price by weight when you buy a bigger container. Take vegetable oil, for instance. In this example, you can get a 48-oz bottle of vegetable oil for $5, or a 128-oz bottle for $9. Those are the unit prices. The per-weight prices are approximately 10.4¢ per oz for the 48-oz bottle and 7¢ per oz for the 128-oz bottle. By buying the bigger bottle, you’re saving about 30% on the cost of the oil by weight.
Sorry to sneak a math lesson into a blog post, but let’s finish it off. If the price by weight isn’t listed, you can calculate it by taking the item price and dividing it by the item weight. Don’t have a calculator handy? You can do a rough estimate by multiplying the size and price of the smaller item to match (or at least get close to) the size and price of the bigger item. So to go back to our example above—the small bottle is $5 and the big bottle is $9, so pretend we’re buying two of the smaller bottles. That’d be $10, which is close enough to $9 that we can tell what the better deal is. If two small bottles gets us more product by weight than one big bottle, it’s the better deal.
But two 48-oz bottles is only 96 ounces (even if you rounded them up to 50 ounces, it’d only be 100) compared to the 128 of the bigger bottle. So you could buy two small bottles and get 96-oz for $10, or one big bottle getting you 128-oz for $9. Clearly, your second choice is the better option.
One final note on bulk buying—look for bulk markets or items sold by weight in your local grocery store. Think of the candy shop that lets you scoop candy into little bags from the big bins—that’s bulk shopping. There are certain markets that will let you use your own containers; you weigh them when you first enter the store and the containers are empty, then they subtract that weight from your final total when they charge you for your items.
Not only does this sort of bulk shopping save you money, but it cuts down on unnecessary waste from packaging. It’s good for your wallet and for the planet!
Building good financial habits now is essential to weathering the work shortages and other hardships of this pandemic. But it’s also well worth continuing these habits when things open back up.
We’ll be back soon with more tips that can help you get through COVID-19 with your finances intact. And remember, if you ever want to create a custom financial plan for your life, get in touch!