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Thanksgiving is the start of the holiday season. It’s the countdown to Christmas, the first real family gathering since Easter or Fourth of July. For some people, it’s the only time they see their families. For many of us, it’s a wonderful time to celebrate gratitude and to be surrounded by the people you love most.
For others, it’s a stressful, labor-intensive, marathon that only ends when your last uncle leaves. In many instances, the end of Thanksgiving is the best part.
That’s not the only problem. Hosting Thanksgiving is a huge financial endeavor. Feeding a dozen people (or more) can be a huge strain, especially on top of other holiday expenses.
But this year can be different. This year, you’ll be composed, organized and dare I say it, even frugal. This year you’ll actually be glad for Thanksgiving. Want to learn how? Read on.
Ask for More Help
It’s not uncommon if you’re hosting Thanksgiving to take on all the work yourself. Especially if you’re a young adult, hosting your first Thanksgiving is a sign that you’re a real grown-up.
Paying for a Thanksgiving meal for a dozen people can add up quickly and sometimes there’s no reason why you should take on the burden by yourself. Ask everyone who’s coming to bring a side dish while you take on the responsibility of cooking the turkey. If you delegate sides appropriately, you can end up with a meal that not only costs less but is less time-intensive.
If you feel odd about asking people to pitch in, don’t. Almost everyone is happy to help, especially if it means they get to decide how they want to make the stuffing.
Buying a turkey on Thanksgiving is a quintessential tradition, but it can also be a costly one. A whole turkey can cost $1.50 per pound compared to the average whole chicken which can be less than $1 per pound.
If your friends and family aren’t die-hard traditionalists, you can probably get away with serving the latter bird. If you really plan ahead you can find a chicken on sale so you spend even less.
If you still want to do a turkey, buy one pound of turkey per guest instead of 1.5-2 pounds. You don’t need to have a ton of turkey leftovers, especially since it’s so expensive.
Aim for Fewer Leftovers
Sometimes there’s nothing better than a meal of Thanksgiving leftovers the next day. I love to pick out my favorites and make a smorgasbord sandwich out of them. But if you’re not careful you might end up with too many leftovers that you can’t use up before they go bad. If this has always been the case, then aim to cut back and have as little remaining as possible. When you do have leftovers, freeze a few so they don’t go bad.
You can freeze anything from cranberry sauce to stuffing to turkey. Dairy items sometimes lose consistency in the freezing process, but it’s still worth trying. When you do freezer meals remember to label them and put them in the freezer right away you won’t forget.
Watch Where You Buy Groceries
It’s always important to comparison shop your groceries, but it’s never more important than on a big holiday. Every store will have its own specials and deals and you might be surprised where you find the best option. My husband and I have recently been shopping a lot at Aldi, a chain more popular in the south in the Midwest. It’s a grocery store without a lot of extra frills so you can find deals way better than any of the other national brands.
We’ve also discovered the secret of ethnic grocery stores where produce prices are often 50% of what I see in my neighborhood grocery store. Before buying your Thanksgiving fixings, check out those stores to see if what you need is cheaper. Remember no one cares if you’re buying generic marshmallows for your sweet potato casserole. They just care that you follow Grandma’s recipe.
If you find yourself spending more on groceries, you may want a credit card that helps you maximize your rewards. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases.
Simplify your Meals
If you’re like me, you probably have a variety of picky eaters in your family. Some people are vegan, some are vegetarian and some are changing their diet every week.
That can make it tempting to make a few different kinds of the same meal to please everyone, but making green bean casserole for your Whole30 aunt and a version for everyone else just isn’t cost-efficient. Take everyone’s diet into account and find a version that will suit everyone instead of making slightly different ones. You don’t need to be like Monica from Friends making three different kinds of mashed potatoes so Ross, Phoebe, and Joey will all be happy.
Use Easy Decorations
Everyone wants the Martha Stewart-Thanksgiving centerpiece, but few of us are that crafty. Instead, use squash in a decorative bowl as your centerpiece. It’ll look more natural and minimalist. Plus you won’t have to throw away the decor when the meal’s over.
If you have little cousins you can also enlist them to make pretty decorations before the meal gets started. If you do decide to buy decorations, make sure you store them properly so they can be used next year too.
Skip the Fancy Dinnerware
I’m one of those millennials who skipped the traditional bridal registry in favor of a honeymoon fund so I never got a ceramic gravy boat or silver platter when I got married. That means that when I host people I put chips in a mixing bowl and leave the dip in the package it came in. So far I’ve found that none of my guests care how I’m serving the food as long as it’s good.
Your Thanksgiving family and friends won’t mind either. Don’t feel like you have to rush out to get serveware that matches. If you truly don’t have a large enough platter head to Goodwill or a thrift store where you can find all those items for just a few dollars.
We’re living in an age of convenience. Groceries can be delivered, clothes can be picked out for you and just about every TV show and movie ever made can be beamed straight into your living room. If I had the money, I could get pretty much everything I need without ever leaving my house.
But unfortunately, I don’t have the money. Do you?
As our society has collectively fallen in love with subscription services, many of us have let them take over our budget. Because these are recurring expenses, it’s all too easy to sign up and forget about your card being charged every month.
It’s time to finally ask yourself -are all of these subscription services worth the money?
Are You Spending Too Much on Subscription Services?
Before you can decide if meal subscription and delivery services are eating up too much of your budget, you have to figure out how much you’re spending on them. This is a very subjective and personal question that depends on your income, total spending and other goals.
Look at your monthly subscription and food delivery spending in Mint, checking to see if the numbers align with your budget. Take the time to sort and categorize the transactions if you haven’t done so in a while. It may help to look through several month’s worth of expenses, because some subscription services like FabFitFun only ship once a quarter.
Spending may also vary based on the seasons or other external factors. You may spend more on food delivery services during final exams because you’re too busy to meal plan. If the seasons change and you don’t have any clothes, you may spend more on personal styling services.
Once you have an accurate account of how much you spend, compare it to your income and other expenses. Spending $50 a week on a meal kit service doesn’t mean anything without context. You need to know how that compares to your other expenses.
How to Cut Down on Subscription Services
If you found that you’re overspending on subscription services, it doesn’t mean that you need to cut them out entirely. Think about how much value each service provides to your life, and prioritize where your money is going.
Make a list of all the subscription services you currently have and how much you spend on them each month. Then rank the subscription and delivery services from most important to least.
Write down how often you actually use the products or services. Be honest with yourself. The goal is to keep the boxes and services that you actually use, love and enjoy on a regular basis. This can help you identify which services don’t fit into your lifestyle – or budget.
Try to be as objective and ruthless as possible here. Yes, you may love getting the monthly Stitch Fix box in the mail, but do you actually keep the clothes they send? Learning to cook with Blue Apron may be a worthy goal, but do you actually like the meals they send?
Once you have a list of essential subscriptions, look at your budget again and determine how much money is left for those services. If the available amount is greater than the total cost, you’re in the clear.
However, if the amount is more than you can afford, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. If you absolutely can’t bear the thought of parting with your subscriptions, you’ll have to look at cuts you can make in other spending categories.
How to Save on Subscription Services
Chances are, you’re paying more for some of your subscription services than is absolutely necessary. Most video streaming services let you watch multiple screens at once so you can split it with friends or family. Some even have student deals if you have a university email address. Your school may even have its own special agreements with certain providers.
If there are a lot of subscription services you want to keep, consider alternating which ones you use throughout the year. Most subscription and delivery services make it easy to cancel and resubscribe later.
For example, if you have a beauty box subscription and a bathroom full of toiletries, quit the service until you’ve used most of the products. Many of these products expire, so you’ll be saving money and cutting down on waste.
If you subscribe services but only use them during a particular season, like a streaming service tied to a seasonal sport, get rid of them and reactivate when you’re ready. You can also do this with streaming services that only have a few shows you’re interested in. Once you’re done watching Stranger Things, for example, you can deactivate your Netflix membership for no penalty.
Seek Alternative Ways to Save
Looking for cheaper versions of your favorite services can also help you avoid overspending. Some grocery stores now have meal kits similar to Blue Apron or HelloFresh. It’s not as convenient, but it’s a much more affordable alternative.
Many companies give customers referral codes they can send out to friends and family. When people use your referral codes, you’ll earn free credit or cash. For example, Barkbox provides a free month if someone signs up for a six or 12-month membership through your referral link.
Sometimes companies will have a special coupon for new customers that use referral codes, like Stitch Fix who provide a $25 bonus for both the new customer and the one who referred them.
You can share these links on social media, by text or through email. Some programs have a limit on how much you can earn with referral codes, but it never hurts to try. If you end up exceeding that amount, you can apply for their official affiliate program to earn cash instead of credit.
If you do cancel a program, check your bank account to make sure you’re no longer paying for it. Some services are guilty of occasionally charging former subscribers even after they’ve quit.
Which subscription service are you going to cut back on this year? Let us know in the comments!
Have you ever sat down to go over your budget only to find out that you’ve outrageously overspent on food? Local, organic, artisan goods and trendy new restaurant outings with friends make it easy to do. With food being the second highest household expense behind mortgage or rent, our food choices have a huge impact on our budget. Using this monthly budget calculator can also help guide how to budget for food.
You may be surprised to find out that the most nutrient-dense foods are often the most budget-friendly. It’s not only possible, but fun and easy to eat nourishing, delicious food while still sticking to your budget. Here are 11 ways to help you learn how to budget groceries.
1. Track Current Spending
Before you figure out what you should be spending on food, it’s important to figure out what you are spending on food. Keep grocery store receipts to get a realistic picture of your current spending habits. If you feel inclined, create a spreadsheet to break down your spending by category, including beverages, produce, etc. Once you’ve done this, you can get an idea of where to trim down spending.
2. Allocate a Percentage of Your Income
How much each household spends on food varies based on income level and how many people need to be fed. Consider using a grocery calculator if you’re not sure where to start. While people spent about 30 percent of their income on food in 1950, this percentage has dropped to 9–12 today. Consider allocating 10 percent of your income to food as a starting point, and increase from there if necessary.
3. Avoid Eating Out
This is the least fun tip, we promise. Eating out is a quick and easy way to ruin your food budget. If you’re actively dating or enjoy going out to eat with friends, be sure to factor restaurants into your food budget — and strictly adhere to your limit. Coffee drinkers, consider making your favorite concoctions at home.
4. Plan Your Meals
It’s much easier to stick to a budget when you have a plan. Plus, having a purpose for each grocery item you buy will ensure nothing goes to waste or just sits in your pantry unused. Don’t be afraid of simple salads or meatless Mondays. Not every meal has to be a gourmet, grandiose experience.
5. Keep a Fridge Grocery List
Keep a magnetized grocery list on your fridge so that you can replace items as needed. This ensures you’re buying food you know you’ll eat because you’re already used to buying it. Sticking to a list in the grocery store is an effective way to keep yourself accountable and not spend money on processed or pricey items — there’s no need to take a stroll down the candy aisle if it’s not on the list.
6. Eat Before You Go to the Store
If your mother gave you this advice growing up, she was onto something: according to a survey, shoppers spend an average of 64 percent more when hungry. Sticking to a budget is all about eliminating temptations, so plan to eat beforehand to eliminate tantalizing foods that will cause you to go over-budget.
7. Be Careful with Coupons
50 percent off ketchup is a great deal — unless you don’t need ketchup. Beware of coupons that claim you’ll “save” money. If the item isn’t on your list, you’re not saving at all, but rather spending on something you don’t truly need. This discretion is key to saving money at the grocery store.
8. Embrace the Bulk Section
Not only is the bulk section of your grocery store great for cheap, filling staples, but it’s also the perfect way to discover new foods and bring variety into your diet. Take the time to compare the price of buying pre-packaged goods versus bulk — it’s almost always cheaper to buy in bulk, plus eliminating unnecessary packaging is good for the planet.
Bonus: a diet rich in unprocessed, whole plant foods provides virtually every nutrient, ensuring optimal health and keeping you from spending an excess amount on healthcare costs.
9. Bring Lunch to Work
Picture this: you’re trying to stick to a strict food budget, and one day at work you realize it’s lunchtime and you’re hungry. But alas, you forgot to pack a lunch. All the meal planning and smart shopping in the world won’t solve the work-lunch-dilemma. Brown-bagging your lunch is key to ensuring your food budget is successful. Plus, it can be fun! Think mason jar salads and Thai curry bowls.
10. Love Your Leftovers
Would you ever consider throwing $640 cash into the trash? This is what the average American household does every year — only instead of cash, it’s $640 worth of food that’s wasted. With millions of undernourished people around the globe, throwing away food not only hurts our budget but is a waste of the world’s resources. Tossing food is no joke. Eat your leftovers.
11. Freeze Foods That Are Going Bad
To avoid wasting food, freeze things that look like they’re about to go bad. Fruit that’s past its prime can be frozen and used in smoothies. Make double batches of soups, sauces, and baked goods so you’ll always have an alternative to ordering takeout when you don’t feel like cooking.
Sticking to a food budget takes planning and discipline. While it may not seem fun at first, you’ll likely find that you enjoy cooking and trying a variety of new foods you wouldn’t have thought to use before. Being resourceful and cooking healthfully is a skill that will benefit your wallet and waistline for years to come.
Sources: Turbo | Fool | Forbes | Medical Daily | GO Banking Rates | Value Penguin
Nothing says summertime like a BBQ, and getting friends and family together for some food and friends for the Fourth of July is the perfect way to celebrate. I’m usually the host for these get-togethers, and even though I absolutely love having people over, feeding everyone can take a toll on your budget, especially with a big family like mine.
Now that I’ve been using Mint to keep track of expenses, here are some tips on how to have a cost-conscious Fourth of July spread:
1) Declare the BBQ a Potluck.
There’s no secret here: potlucks save money AND time. When you invite your guests to bring dishes to the party, that basically means they’re not only helping out with the food budget, they’re also taking the time to shop for the ingredients and deliver it to your house ready to eat! I would suggest setting some guidelines for your guests so that there is a variety of food in your spread and not just 5 versions of chips and salsa….and that’s it. To divide up the dishes, you could try a few different methods:
Assign your guests by categories. If there’s an easy way to divide up your guests, like by their last name, or their birthday month, then you could assign one set of guests appetizers, and another set of guests foods for the grill, for example. For this option, I would suggest asking your guests to confirm their choice with you and even post it on a message board if you are using a website to plan your party, so that you know and your other guests what’s coming and to avoid too much of one type of food.
Ask guests to bring specific foods. If your best friend makes the most amazing potato salad, and you need potato salad, ask your best friend to bring potato salad. There’s no need to do all the work when you can tap into the strengths of your guests. For those who are known to shy away from cooking, ask them to bring something simple like a salad or lemonade.
2) Set a food budget….and stick to it!
This tip comes directly from my previous post on Healthy Food on a Budget because it’s also important to serve your guests healthy food and stick to your budget. Just because it’s a party doesn’t mean you should let your health and your money slip up! It’s easy to set up budgets in Mint, like saving for a vacation, but you can also set up smaller budgets like for a summer BBQ celebration. Ideally, since you’re having everyone over for a potluck, this get-together won’t take a huge toll on your wallet, but it’s still important to set limits for what you can spend. I like to make it a fun challenge to see how much money I can save and get the most bang for my buck, while not cutting corners on the quality of food served for my guests.
3) Check out the weekly sales ads.
Don’t throw away those ads because right before Fourth of July, the mail will be filled with sales on foods for entertaining. Gather those ads up to look through what’s on sale for the week and map out your menu from those hot buys. If you have apps for your favorite stores, check those out too because I’ve seen in-app coupons that weren’t in the print ads that have saved me some money. Once you cross-reference the sales and build your shopping list, also plan out where you will shop from. If you have to travel from 2 different stores to save $15 dollars, I think it’s worth it to take the time to shop smart. Sure, it may take an extra 15 minutes, but I can bet that you’ll feel a lot better to have that extra money in your wallet.
4) Pick a dish that saves you money and time.
As the host of the party, you’ll be pretty busy with all the details of the day so your time on the day of the party will be limited. From cleaning up the house to setting up the grill, there’s plenty to do before guests show up. The last thing you want to do is prep a labor-intensive dish when there is so much more on that to-do list. To save money and time, I like to serve up a dessert dish that brings a wow-factor to the party, my Banana Boat S’mores. These delicious treats light up the eyes of all my guests, and if they knew how cost-effective they are, they’d light up even more!
To save money, I like to use fruit for dessert, especially in the summer season, because they’re more affordable, easier to prepare, and most importantly, they’re healthier! Bananas are only 19 cents each, so just make sure to have at least one banana per guest. I also know that marshmallows and Graham crackers are always on sale for $1 around this time of year, so already, this is a dish that costs less than 50 cents per serving.
To save time, I like this dish because you can have your guest prep their own Banana Boat. All you have to do is set up a station of the ingredients and let them make their creation as they please. When you get your guests involved in the food preparation, you’re saving some valuable time on your end, but also your guests are having fun! They’ll leave your party with another recipe under their belt as well, so it’s a win-win for everyone.
5) Buy your food in bulk bins.
Don’t pass up those bulk bins on your shopping trip, because buying from these can be 30-40% cheaper than packaged branded items. For the chocolate, I paid per ounce from the bin instead of buying packages. Since I’m setting up a station for my guests at my own home, I don’t need the packaging or extra chocolate so why should I pay extra for it? Half a pound only costs $2, whereas if I were to buy a bag or a bar it would cost me close to $5.
With these tips on how to have a cost-conscious Fourth of July spread, I hope you can spread out your budget and use some of that money you save on other fun activities this summer!
Your grocery bill can add up fast. From dinner entrées to snacks, the amount you spend directly affects your other financial goals. Luckily, there are some guidelines to ensure you’re not overspending.
Use the grocery calculator below to estimate your monthly and weekly food budget based on guidelines from the USDA’s monthly food plan. Input your family size and details below to calculate how much a nutritious grocery budget should cost you. Of course, every family is different. Some love coupons and leftovers, while others prefer fresh fish and aged cheese. Once you’ve established your budget, use the slider to adjust your estimate to your spending habits.
Getting your food budget on point takes practice. With this grocery calculator and the right spending habits, you’ll have enough for your living expenses and exciting financial goals like paying off loans or buying a house.
Grocery Budget Calculator
A moderate grocery budget will run you:
Weekly Grocery Cost Food costs per individual are based on USDA research regarding Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and follow MyPyramid nutrition guidelines.
Monthly Grocery Cost Food costs per individual are based on USDA research regarding Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and follow MyPyramid nutrition guidelines.
What kind of spender are you?
Does your estimate look right? If your spending habits don’t add up, explore these other budget options and choose what’s best for your lifestyle.
Thrifty This is the USDA’s estimated food budget for families that receive food assistance like WIC or SNAP.
Cost-Conscious This is an ideal budget for nutritious meals if you’re looking to save a little extra cash with leftovers and coupons.
Moderate This is the standard for affordable, nutritious, and balanced portions for most families.
Generous This budget gives you some spending wiggle room for finer foods or extra portions.
Monthly Grocery Budget
Ever wonder how much you should spend on groceries? The average cost of food per month for one person ranges from $150 to $300, depending on age. However, these national averages vary based on where you live and the quality of your food purchases.
Here’s a monthly grocery budget for the average family. This is based on the national average and likely varies by location and shop. For instance, New York City grocers are going to be far more expensive than Kansas City shops. Additionally, organic grocery stores like Whole Foods are pricier than places like Walmart or Aldi.
You’ll also want to consider dietary choices, like gluten-free or vegan diets. These can significantly affect your budget, so consider planning your grocery list online to compare prices and find your preferred alternatives.
SUGGESTED MONTHLY BUDGET
Finding a reasonable monthly grocery budget ensures you and your family have what you need, while not overspending. Look back at previous months using a budgeting app or credit card statements to see what you’ve spent at the grocery store. Decide if you want to maintain your current budget or cut back.
Purchasing Groceries vs. Dining Out
Don’t forget what you spend at restaurants when you consider your food budget. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans spend 11 percent of their take-home income on food. It doesn’t all go towards groceries, though. Approximately six percent is spent on groceries, while five percent is spent dining out — including dates, lunches with coworkers, and Sunday brunch.
With this framework in mind, you can calculate your total food budget based on your take-home income. For example, Rita makes $3,500 per month after taxes. She would budget six percent for groceries ($210) and five percent for restaurants ($175). So she’ll need a total of $385 for food each month. With a little practice, she’ll better learn her habits and be able to accurately adjust her budget.
Tips for Reducing Your Budget
There are several ways to cut back on what you spend without sacrificing the quality and taste of your food. Trimming your food budget can help you stow away more for your financial goals, such as building an emergency fund or saving for a dream vacation.
Coupons are easy to find in the mail, in store, in your inbox, and even in a Google search. Many popular grocery stores are rolling out apps that track your coupons and savings. Be sure to download and register your email for new updates and sales. These usually work in person or online, so you can shop when and how you like.
While a single coupon might not give you a large discount, you can save a lot with multiple coupons. It’s also important you make sure you actually need the item you’re purchasing instead of buying it for the sale. This can quickly get out of hand and push you over budget.
Freeze Your Food
Freezing your fresh food before it goes bad helps your wallet and the environment. You can plan ahead and freeze prepared produce to save time on weekday cooking, or chop and freeze last week’s produce before shopping for more. Frozen vegetables are great in soups and stews, and you can use frozen fruits for healthy breakfast smoothies.
Plan a Weekly Menu Ahead of Time
Plan your meals ahead of time to determine the food items and quantities you need before you head to the grocery store. This way you’re more likely to buy the exact items you need and can plan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Try to plan for recipes that use the same ingredients so there’s less to purchase. You can also make larger meals and plan leftovers for lunch so you have less to plan and purchase.
Bring Lunches to Work
A $13 lunch out might not seem like much, but it can blow your food budget fast if it becomes a habit. Push your monthly food budget further with delicious lunches from home. Salads, sandwiches, and leftovers are all easy, inexpensive, and nutritious.
Buy Store Brands
Many packaged products have a huge price disparity between brand name and generic items, and store brand items tend to be cheaper without sacrificing much quality. You can easily save 10 cents to a dollar per item, which adds up quickly over many trips.
Shop at a More Affordable Store
Your local farmers market, chain grocery, and organic store will all offer different specialties and sales. Check out the different shops in your area to find the best combination of quality and price. Some stores might even offer bulk items — great for your favorite products and those with a long shelf-life. Choosing cheaper staple items like milk and yogurt can also make a huge difference over time.
An accurate food budget that works for you helps you feel more confident and in control of your finances. Build a budget, learn your spending habits, and keep a grocery list to keep you on track and responsible so you can reach bigger goals, like a new vehicle or a down payment on a house.
Sources: USA Today | EurekAlert | Persistent Economic Burden of the Gluten-Free Diet