Did you know almost 50 percent of the world's population lives off $2.50 a day? To put that in perspective, the average American spends more than $150 a month (roughly $5/day) on food alone. That's twice as much! But just because we do spend more doesn't mean we have to spend more. If you're in a tight spot and need to cut back on some expenses, your food budget is a good place to start. Here are some rules, guidelines, and words of advice to help get through it.
Rarely do two stores have the same items on sale for the exact same prices, so it's necessary to check other places to guarantee the best deals. Some stores are better at keeping fruit prices low, while others thrive on lesser canned good costs. Living in a large city with many choices or a small town with limited options can make this difficult, but sometimes driving further distances can make it worth the cost. If all else fails, write a list of necessary items (bread, milk, butter, etc) and their prices at different stores.
Staying hungry is one of the biggest mistakes people make. Skipping a meal leads to splurging later in the day and can cause fatigue or muscle weakness. Shopping hungry is an even bigger error. This can cause the customer to buy things that look good but aren't necessary. Stick to grocery lists and always eat before going out. If it's not needed, don't buy it.
Spaghetti, penne, macaroni, and linguine. Some of the cheapest pasta noodles can make many amazing dishes. Buy a 99 cent can of red pasta sauce, spend a little more for alfredo, or make your own cheese sauce at home. With or without meat, it's cheap, filling, and delicious. If even that is too expensive, a 25 cent bag of ramen can be a good substitute. Don't like ramen? I find butter and noddles to be flavorful enough on their own.
Depending on location and preferences, this can be great or awful. PB&J's are generally cheap, even if buying name brand spreads, but the bread can make a big difference. Where I live, the cheapest loaf of white bread is $1, whereas the next up is $2, and that's still cheaper than wheat or specialty loaves. Grilled cheese with tomato soup is also a delicious option, and deli sandwiches with nothing but meat and cheese can make good meals. Unless you're vegan.
Get used to it.
This tip sucks, as in, it sucks not being able to go out with your friends, or buy a steak because you crave it. But when living cheap, there aren't a lot of options. Inviting friends over to eat for a potluck can be a fun adventure for everyone, but this isn't a permanent solution for everytime someone wants to go somewhere. If the situation is only temporary, many friends can be understanding and someone might offer to pay this time, but that's not something to count on or expect. Sitting out a time or two sucks, but it hasn't killed anyone yet. As for cravings, the internet provides a vast list of many cheaper substitutions.
I don't mean go buy the most expensive meal in town, or a whole cake to not share, but buying a candy bar or stopping for some ice cream helps keep other cravings at bay, especially in long-term situations. I suggest using this more as a reward than as a rule. Set a goal for how much money is needed for food and don't go over it. If the budget is kept, receive a reward. If it's not, then chances are something else bought would already take its place.
This list is mostly suggested for use by single or couple families, but many tips can follow with large families as well. It's more difficult to visit multiple stores with children in the car or to stop them from grabbing things off the shelves, but sometimes it's necessary. While this list is small, I hope it helps someone in need find a shortcut to help them get by.