How to save money on food after a reduction in income

While the economy is much stronger, there are still millions of Americans that have a reduction in income for one reason or another. If it happens to you, here are several ways you can save money on your food expenses. You can shop “smarter”, use food pantries, coupons, and cut back in other ways. 

Even with a low unemployment rate, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tells us that each month, around .5 percent of America’s workforce is either laid off, has a reduction in work hours/income or is discharged. Others get sick, go on medical leave, or lose income for some other reason. That may not sound like much of an impact, but over the course of several years, it equals millions of people losing a job or having a reduction income. They then are trying desperately to make ends meet, buy food and pay the bills before another employer hires them.

In fact, a 2016 study by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University found that “one in six workers [or 30 million people] say they were laid off from a job” in the previous five years. This does not count people with a reduction in hours, who went on disability, or had other some other crisis. Not to mention someone going on FMLA leave for say a pregnancy.

Most of those workers will jump back into the job market, especially now with the unemployment rate under 4%, but in the meantime, they must survive on the money they have. That could be a savings account, unemployment insurance, 401K, or a spouse’s paycheck that now must stretch further.

Is that you? If so, then cutting things like the cable or satellite bill is smart, but the monthly grocery bill may also need to change and be cut back on. Here are seven ideas to save money on food

1. Stop eating out. And start cooking at home more. The average household spends $3,008 a year eating out, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Research conducted by author Eddie Yoon and reported in the Harvard Business Review found that “only 10 percent of consumers … love to cook, while 45 percent hate it and 45 percent are lukewarm about it.” When a job loss occurs, it’s time to get back in the kitchen. You may learn to love it!

2. Search for coupons and ads for savings. The mailers you often tossed in the recycle bin now need to be saved and explored. We suggest finding the average food price for specific items in your area and then buying it when it falls below that target. For example, the average price for ground beef in the U.S. was $3.72 in March 2018. If that’s what you’ve been paying, and you see it on sale for $1.99, it’s time to buy. and find sources of free coupons.

3. Stock up the shelves and your own “food pantry”. Sure, it may sound counterintuitive when you’re trying to save money, but it works. If pork loin is on sale for 99 cents a pound and it’s usually $4.99 a pound, then buy a few pounds extra and toss it in the freezer. You’ll save money in the long run.

4. Set a food budget and stick to it. And try slashing it whenever possible. Was your previous weekly food budget $150? Try and cut it to $100. Was it $75? Then trim it to $50. By searching for deals, using coupons, installing phone applications, and then cooking at home, you may be able to spend far less than you think.

5. Change what you eat. Lobster, prime cuts of beef and steak likely are non-starters. In their place, hunt for meats and other foods that are low-cost with a long shelf life, such as beans, rice and potatoes. For a snack food, try popcorn which is cheap. For vegetables, buy frozen ones. For fruit, try bananas. (Get the green ones for longer shelf life.) Also, take advantage of spices to add flavor to your recipes.

6. Turn to a charity for help. Your local town or county is bound to have emergency food pantries. The entire reason they exist is to help you, and others, when they have a hardship. You can get canned groceries, non-perishable goods, and more from a pantry.

7. Plant a garden. No, not every American can do this as they may not have the space or property, but those who have the yard space to do it probably should. Gardening is a fun hobby, gives you a reason to exercise, a great stress-reliever, and it doesn’t require as much time or money as you think. It also is a money-saver. The National Gardening Association tells us that a 600-square-foot garden can save the average household about $600 a year, and it gives you fresh healthy food.

8. Clean out the cabinets. Americans throw out an average of 400 pounds of food per year, according to a 2017 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council. That is a ton of waste, and costly! More than likely, you have edible food in the back of your pantry and freezer, just waiting to be discovered. If you’re unsure if the food in your home is still edible, then visit FoodSafety.gov, which includes answers to the most common questions.

Conclusion

A job loss or reduction in income is never a picnic or easy on the budget, but it doesn’t mean you’ll go hungry or can’t buy the food you need. In fact, with a few tricks and some smart shopping, you can have a freezer full of food. Once you find a job or increase your income, you may never go back to your old money-wasting ways.

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