Otto von Bismarck was the first leader of a unified Germany in 1871, but you may know him as the originator of the phrase “The art of the possible,” which, quite obviously, has everything to do with reducing your spending on food…
Let’s step back a bit. When you are trying to find margin in your budget — areas where you can reduce your spending so that you can redirect that sum to another purpose — one of the “go to” spots is your food bill: groceries, take out, delivery, dining out. After the obvious big ticket items, such as housing and transportation, and the non-negotiables (utilities, insurance, child care), this is likely the next biggest line item in your budget. Importantly, it is the one that is most amenable to change.
We all know how to reduce our food spending to the most minimal level possible. Make meals at home, buy groceries strategically according to a plan, dine out sparingly and when you do, order carefully.
But you? You hate cooking. Even worse, you’re a foodie. For you, fine dining is one of life’s pleasures. And that brings us to Chancellor von Bismarck. Rather than focus on the most ideal choice, what is the most possible better choice?
Of course, going to the store yourself (menu plan in hand!) and cooking from scratch is best budget-wise. But if you are unlikely to do that, cooking from a meal kit eliminates the need for both planning and shopping and is less expensive than dining out. If you simply refuse to turn on your oven, then restaurant take-out is less costly than delivery. Prepared dishes at the supermarket counter are obviously more expensive than cooking yourself, but can easily be less pricey than any of the other non-cooking options that may be your go-to.
Imagine your food choices as a circle. If your goal is to reduce your food budget, start with where you are at now and then move clockwise towards the next possible better choice. And then, sometimes, go one step further. If you are addicted to delivery from apps, can you consider moving to take-out, saving on tip and platform fees? If you are willing to do the work of planning and cooking but delivery is a must, then paying for grocery delivery is your next best possible choice.
Another potentially powerful way to reduce the food line item in your budget is to go cash only for anything that you swallow. You may already know that when we use our credit card, we tend to spend more than we would otherwise. Nevertheless, we persist. I won’t ask you to bury your credit cards, but if your food budget is your nemesis, consider going debit card-only for just this one category of spending. Combined with the tactics above, the result could be powerful.
Whether it is reducing your food budget or changing any other spending habit, start with what is most possible for you and build from there.
Lisa is an Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) leveraging her professional and educational experience in finance and economics. Lisa’s 18-year career in international development has given her the opportunity to appreciate the value of diverse societies, and to work across cultures to improve lives. As an AFC, she plans to continue that perspective, working with all households to achieve financial wellness.