Planning ahead and reducing waste can cut down on your food spending.
Making your favorite foods yourself is often cheaper and even tastier than buying from the store.
Food is expensive. In February 2015, Americans spent $58.9 billion on food eaten at home and almost the same amount ($57.5 billion) on food consumed away from home, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For that second category, which includes food eaten at restaurants and coffee shops, that’s a 10 percent increase over last year, likely as a result of the improved economy.
Just because food is expensive doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to keep the cost under control. Even relatively small steps, like planning out your meals for the week to avoid last-minute takeout orders, can go a long way toward reducing your food expenditures. Here are a dozen more ideas to cut your food spending:
- Buy in bulk. You can often get a better deal if you buy more than one item at once at the grocery store, and this is especially true if you shop at warehouse membership stores like Sam’s Club and Costco. While you pay a membership fee, you can score deep discounts when you stock up on pasta sauce or cereal. The same strategy can be applied to online purchases with retailers like Amazon, which sell grocery items. If you know your family goes through three boxes of granola bars a month, for example, you can opt for the “Subscribe & Save” Amazon option to reduce your costs.
- Compare prices. Taking the time to make apples-to-apples comparisons by looking at the price per unit can help prevent unpleasant surprises at the checkout counter. Fancy packaging and design can make it hard to tell how much of an item you’re getting, so take a look at the small print or tag on the store shelf to see exactly what you’re paying for. You might decide to opt for the cheaper off-brand item if the price is much lower.
- Organize your recipes. If there are a few dishes your family regularly enjoys, then keep them organized in a recipe book or binder, so you can more easily plan out meals for the week and make your shopping list. As an added bonus, writing down your recipes and keeping them organized makes it easy for children to take on cooking responsibilities as they get older. Planning out meals like this also makes it easier to use substitutions and repurpose ingredients for another night. For example, if you cook a roast chicken one night, you can use the leftovers as toppings on homemade pizza the next night.
- Save food for later. Making double and storing extras in the freezer makes it especially easy to whip up a meal on a busy weeknight. Pasta dishes, casseroles and soups freeze especially well and can even be frozen in individual containers.
- Minimize meat consumption. Meat tends to be the most expensive part of a meal, so skipping it can generate big savings. That doesn’t mean doing without protein, though: Eggs and beans make great substitutes, and they’re much more affordable.
- Visit food blogs. Food blogs, such as Smitten Kitchen and Cooking with Amy, offer instructions for hundreds of frugal recipes. Even people who are challenged in the kitchen can follow the step-by-step directions. If you have allergies or specific dietary preferences, then you can find the blog that serves your niche.
- Substitute wherever possible. For many recipes, home cooks can substitute pricey fish such as salmon or tuna with cheaper options like tilapia. Websites such as Allrecipes.com and FoodNetwork.com make it easy to find frugal substitutions.
- Make it yourself. Whipping up hummus requires little equipment other than a blender, and grating cheese just takes a few minutes. But in both cases, the end result is usually cheaper – and tastier – than store-bought versions.
- Embrace starch. Starch, such as rice, noodles or other grains, can really bulk up a dish. For example, adding noodles to a soup, or rice to a casserole, can turn a side dish into the main meal. It also leaves you fewer dishes to clean up afterward.
- Shop in your fridge. You might already have enough for a meal or two and not even know it; a can of beans and some salsa can turn into chili (with the help of onion, garlic, and other seasonings). Similarly, vegetables can become a hearty soup. You can try to make at least one meal a week based on the ingredients you already have.
- Waste less. If you’ve ever had to toss out an opened bag of salad greens because you forgot to use them by the sell-by date, then you know how easily waste can occur. Try to keep your fridge organized so perishable items are visible and less likely to be forgotten. If you notice yourself tossing out the same veggie each week, then consider removing it from your shopping list or buying less of it. And when you store items in your freezer, be sure to label them clearly so you defrost and eat them before they spoil. (The USDA recommends consuming casseroles within two to three months of freezing them, for example.)
- Own the necessary kitchen supplies. It might sound counterintuitive, but certain purchases, such as a Crock-Pot or a coffee maker, can actually reduce your costs because they make it easier to cook at home instead of dining out. If your kitchen is currently understocked, then make some basic purchases so you can quickly whip up meals from home.
By Kimberly Palmer
Picking an adviser is like choosing a mate. Find the right match.
- You must first do some serious self-examination. Identify why you think you need a financial planner. Perhaps you’re going through a transition—say, you have a new baby or you’re recently divorced. Maybe you need to update your retirement plan or get a reality check on saving for college. Do you require frequent contact with your adviser, or are you okay with annual updates? What is your tolerance for risk?
- You must master the alphabet soup. If you’re looking for broad-based advice about various aspects of your financial life, hire a certified financial planner, or CFP. These professionals must pass an extensive, ten-hour exam and meet other education and ethics requirements to gain the credential. A registered investment adviser, or RIA, is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission or a state securities regulator and can manage your investment portfolio. A chartered financial consultant (ChFC) specializes in insurance and estate planning. A certified public accountant (CPA) can help with tax planning.
- A good man (or woman) is easy to find. We recommend fee-only advisers because they are unlikely to sell you inappropriate financial products. Many of them charge per visit; expect to pay $100 to $300 an hour. Some planners levy a yearly fee—commonly 1% to 2% of your assets. If you plan to take that route, you’ll likely need to meet a minimum asset requirement (typically $250,000). When you sit down for the initial interview, establish upfront how much you’ll pay. To find a certified financial planner in your area, go to the Financial Planning Association or the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors. The Garrett Planning Network is a network of fee-only advisers.
- You need to make sure you’re on the same page. One way to ensure that your adviser’s interests align with yours is by asking the right questions. Some basic queries include: What can you offer me? Are you conservative or aggressive? What do I do if I have a question? Look for someone whose clients are in situations similar to yours and who is available as often as you need him.
- Nobody’s perfect. An adviser who charges based on asset size may want to handle as much of your money as possible. That could mean, for example, that he might not advise you to pay off your mortgage, even if it makes sense for you to do so. Such conflicts may be unavoidable, but awareness will help you stay a step ahead. If you’re worried about potential fraud, a quick Google search should unearth the worst abuses. For a deeper look, check out an adviser’s Form ADV. If the adviser is also a registered broker, you can get a free report from FINRA.org.
- Breaking up is hard…and expensive. If your adviser isn’t listening to you or taking your goals into consideration, it’s time to split up. But unlinking your finances can be expensive; prepare to shell out termination and transfer fees. If it’s an amicable breakup, however, your old and new advisers can get together to make the transition smoother.
By Susannah Snider, From Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, May 2013
Credit card fraud takes place every day in a variety of ways. You can’t always prevent it from happening, but you can create some obstacles and make it tougher for someone to get hold of your cards and card numbers. Treating your credit cards and account numbers like cash — that is, very carefully — is one way to head off potential misuse.
How Does Credit Card Fraud Happen?
Theft, the most obvious form of credit card fraud, can happen in a variety of ways, from low tech dumpster diving to high tech hacking. A thief might go through the trash to find discarded billing statements and then use your account information to buy things. A retail or bank website might get hacked, and your card number could be stolen and shared. Perhaps a dishonest clerk or waiter takes a photo of your credit card and uses your account to buy items or create another account. Or maybe you get a call offering a free trip or discounted travel package. But to be eligible, you have to join a club and give your account number, say, to guarantee your place. The next thing you know, charges you didn’t make are on your bill, and the trip promoters who called you are nowhere to be found.
What Can You Do?
Incorporating a few practices into your daily routine can help keep your cards and account numbers safe. For example, keep a record of your account numbers, their expiration dates and the phone number to report fraud for each company in a secure place. Don’t lend your card to anyone — even your kids or roommates — and don’t leave your cards, receipts, or statements around your home or office. When you no longer need them, shred them before throwing them away.
Other fraud protection practices include:
- Don’t give your account number to anyone on the phone unless you’ve made the call to a company you know to be reputable. If you’ve never done business with them before, do an online search first for reviews or complaints.
- Carry your cards separately from your wallet. It can minimize your losses if someone steals your wallet or purse. And carry only the card you need for that outing.
- During a transaction, keep your eye on your card. Make sure you get it back before you walk away.
- Never sign a blank receipt. Draw a line through any blank spaces above the total.
- Save your receipts to compare with your statement.
- Open your bills promptly — or check them online often — and reconcile them with the purchases you’ve made.
- Report any questionable charges to the card issuer.
- Notify your card issuer if your address changes or if you will be traveling.
- Don’t write your account number on the outside of an envelope.
Report Losses and Fraud
Call the card issuer as soon as you realize your card has been lost or stolen. Many companies have toll-free numbers and 24 hour service to deal with this. Once you report the loss or theft, the law says you have no additional responsibility for charges you didn’t make; in any case, your liability for each card lost or stolen is $50. If you suspect that the card was used fraudulently, you may have to sign a statement under oath that you didn’t make the purchases in question.
Federal Trade Commission via http://www.consumer.ftc.gov
EveryWare Global Inc., the company behind Oneida and Anchor Hocking plates, forks and spoons, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Wednesday, April 8, 2015. The company produces items such as bakeware, storageware and cookware under the Anchor Hocking, Oneida, Sant’ Andrea and Buffalo brand names. EveryWare Global, Inc. products are marketed and distributed in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Asia.
The company filed for bankruptcy as part of a prepackaged deal with lenders that will enable it to stay in business. According to court filings, the company has $380.4 million in liabilities and $237.8 million in assets. This deal would eliminate $248 million of EveryWare’s debt. In exchange, EveryWare’s lenders will own 96 percent of its common stock after it emerges from bankruptcy protection. It expects that will happen in the next 60 to 75 days.
In the meantime, EveryWare said it will use a new $40 million loan to run its business as usual.