We like food. As we get older we like it alot. It isn’t because our tastes change, it is because our available time does. Gone are the days of grab and drive meals, wolfed down like a high school lunch between classes. We now have the time and energy to enjoy our meals. That enjoyment, however, comes with expense.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov), for the average American over 55, between 12 and 13 percent of their household expenses are spent on food. Only housing and transportation rank as higher percentages of the monthly budget. Not even health care comes close to equaling this household expense. Clearly food is not only a priority in our lives, but it plays a significant role in our health and quality of life.
As food concerns have become more pervasive in our culture, so has the cost. There are a slew of options which can contribute to consequences for both health and economics. Here are three strategies to eat well on a limited income to stretch that budget.
The Bulk Store
Bulk makes sense with a bigger family. However, the number in the household diminish, many part ways with the Costco, Sam’s, Aldi’s and Gordon’s to return to buying in quantities that seem more practical. But that may have been too hasty. Some purchases in bulk make good sense, if managed properly, more a matter of storage and planning rather than consumption
Planning is a perfect way to capitalize on bulk stores. Dry goods are great examples. By spending some time organizing a cupboard or pantry area, or even investing in some storage containers, initial efforts can yield big results.
Even though some bulk stores have a membership cost, that can often be recouped rather quickly. Most of these stores offer discounts on gas, over the counter pharmacy items, pet food and supplies (like kitty litter), even discounts on travel, windows, appliances, electronics, and car purchases. There may be some work interpreting these benefits, but in the long run, if fully utilized, they can provide great savings.
Use the regular freezer for something other than half filled water bottles and ice cream. Meats, in particular, can be easily frozen and several stores, both big boxes and smaller meat markets, package meats to allow efficient use of freezer space.
The key to the freezer is to use what you put in it. Freezers have a definite “out of sight out of mind” tendency that can cause food wasting rather than budget saving. A simple list noting the contents of the freezer can solve this problem. To avoid another potential freezer problem, invest in a vacuum sealer to prevent the quality degradation and also to save on freezer space. Finally, use a marker to date your purchases, right on the package.
Dare to Share
Finally, don’t shy away from friends and neighbors. Stretch your food budget together. Farmers markets are inexpensive but often provide daunting quantities. Share! Go together with a friend and divide the market’s offerings. The same is true for bulk stores. That is a great price on those six colored peppers, but almost impossible for a smaller household to use.
Don’t stop at shopping. Find two or three buddies and start a soup exchange. Don’t give up on making bean soup or chili because the recipe makes too much. Exchange a portion with the person down the street who has given up making their favorite soup for the same reason. Both households get two soups for the price of making one. Add other dishes to the mix. Exchange lasagna for chicken paprikash or beef stroganoff for ham and scalloped potatoes. At holiday baking time trade around favorite cookies and treats (including ingredients like nuts).
Food is central to life. But, food should be both affordable and fun, and by following a few simple strategies, it can be.