5 RULES FOR SAVING MONEY ON FOOD (But still eating well)
Author: Kent Thune
One of the biggest discretionary expenses in a budget is food. Put differently, we don’t have much of a choice about eating food for sustenance but we do have a choice about what foods we buy and how much we consume. But who wants to cut out all the good stuff just to save a few extra dollars? As with all best behaviors in life, success in dieting and budgeting is about moderation. And there are ways of having your cake and eating it too when it comes to watching what you eat while saving money.
In fact, food and money have much in common. They both tend to evoke the greatest of passions, which makes them wonderful and potentially dangerous at the same time. Therefore some of the most effective rules for saving money on food are not just clipping coupons—they are behavioral. In different words, the biggest obstacle in the way of our best food and financial practices is usually ourselves.
But with a handful of basic guidelines in mind, you can prevent the unhealthy handfuls of food. Here are five rules on saving money and eating well at the same time:
1. Don’t go to the grocery store hungry. You don’t need a degree in psychology to know that there is an inverse relationship between the amount of food in your tummy and the amount of food that ends up in your grocery cart. The hungrier you are when you shop, the more likely you are to buy more than you need. This bad food buying behavior is a surefire recipe to add weight and subtract money at the same time. But because this is a behavioral item, it can be controlled.
You can try to create a routine around trips to the grocery store. If you want to periodically treat yourself to a tasty but reasonably priced meal, a great time to do it is immediately prior to shopping for food. For example, if you do your shopping on Saturday afternoons, treat yourself to a nice lunch first. You’ll enjoy the food and likely save more than the cost of the meal by eliminating the hunger-driven purchases at the grocery store.
2. Watch your “latte factor:” Financial author David Bach introduced a simple concept he calls the latte factor, which is based on the simple idea that all you need to do to save money and build wealth over time is to look at the small things you spend your money on every day and see whether you could redirect that spending is smarter ways, such as saving, investing or reducing consumer debt.
“Putting aside as little as a few dollars a day for your future rather than spending it on little purchases such as lattes, bottled water, fast food, cigarettes, magazines and so on, can really make a difference between accumulating wealth and living paycheck to paycheck,” Bach said.
3. Track your expenses. Do you ever ask yourself, “Where did all my money go?” It’s likely that a large portion of your paycheck is going to food items that you can probably do without. This is a financial budgeting practice that reveals the latte factor by helping you identify those little expenses that are adding up to be big drags on your bottom line, while potentially adding pounds to your waistline.
But what expenses can you cut from your life? To identify these items, track your expenses for three months and see where your money is going. Once you see how your morning lattes and snacks in the office break room are adding up, you’ll realize that making small, manageable changes in your expenses can have just as big of an impact on your finances as getting a raise. For example, a $3 mocha java every day at Starbucks is $15 per week, which amounts to $60 per month or nearly $720 per year. But don’t completely deprive yourself, either. Have a once-per-week splurge as a reward (see no. 1 above) for good spending behavior. You’ll enjoy the treat more while you spend less.
4. Set realistic goals. Everyone should be on a diet, even if they’re not trying to lose weight. Diets, like financial budgets, require some level of planning; but sticking to the plan is the key to success. According the World of Psychology blog on PsychCentral.com, “Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on changing how you think about yourself, how you act, and circumstances that surround how you act, is an effective treatment for a wide range of problems, including weight loss. The key is its focus on making changes and sticking to them.”
Unfortunately, too many people either fail to plan or they set unrealistic goals for themselves. For example, losing weight quickly is just not possible for normal human beings. This explains why losing weight is among the most common New Year’s resolutions that fail with months, weeks, or within a few days, assuming they are implemented at all. If you want to meet the goals you set for yourself, keep them specific and ambitious (but not too ambitious).
The World of Psychology also says “goals around exercise or types of food you will eat—behaviors you have control over—are better than goals to improve cholesterol or glucose levels, which may fluctuate for reasons outside your immediate control.”
5. Monitor plan. This is the final step in financial planning, and it is the same final step with food and diet planning. Keep track of goals with some kind of feedback or monitoring system that works for you. For example, when it comes to weight loss, a goal to lose a certain but achievable number of pounds per month, or to eat fruit for dessert, rather than cake, is specific and can be clearly tracked.
Also keep in mind that monitoring the plan and sticking to your goals does not mean you can’t make adjustments. Part of the monitoring process involves altering aspects of it when necessary to assure its success. And remember that monitoring the plan is the behavioral equivalent of monitoring yourself. Self-awareness is at the foundation of success in every aspect of your life.
Kent Thune is a money manager and the owner of a Hilton Head Island investment advisory firm, Atlantic Capital Investments. He is also a freelance writer and is currently working on a book to be published later in 2015. Follow his musings on mind, money and mastery of life at TheFinancialPhilosopher.com or follow him on Twitter @ThinkersQuill.