Next to rent and tuition, my biggest expense is definitely food. From late-night runs to Chicken Shack to buying groceries, my food bill creeps up on me. Fortunately, after four months of living completely on my own, I am starting to find out ways to save money. Here are my favorite tips for saving money on food:

On Groceries:

  • Buy the Sunday newspaper. While the paper may be nice to read, it also contains 75% of grocery coupons. So set aside an hour every Sunday to relax and clip out all of the relevant coupons.
  • Check out online deals. Most manufacturers offer great, printable coupons. So if you always buy a specific brand of toilet paper or bread, go to their website to see what they can give you. (Bonus: Usually manufacturers are anxious to give out samples as well, so while you are online, see what else you can wrestle up)
  • Make a list and stick with it. This is the hardest part for me, but the one that can save the most. Before you go to the store, write out what recipes you are planning for the week and the things you will need for those recipes. Remember to check your staple items too (flour, sugar, milk).
  • Avoid pre-packaged entrees. This tip is good for your wallet and your waist line. Pre-packaged entrees (like Stauffer’s Lasagna) are often more costly than the ingredients to make it from scratch. Even though packaged food may save you some time, they will certainly not help you save money.
  • Buy fruits and vegetables in season. Buying avocados in the middle of January doesn’t make sense. First, most fruits and vegetables taste noticeably different out of season, and secondly, the markup is spectacular. So keep an eye on what is seasonal in your area and plan recipes accordingly.

On Dining Out:

  • Use coupons where you can. Freshman year I discovered Restaurant.com. You can get gift cards for at local restaurants. Especially in Chicago, having this site saves a ton. Groupon and Redeemio also have daily deals that they deliver right to your email inbox.
  • Cut back where you can. Ask yourself if you really need a soda or juice with your meal, or if water would be fine. The markup on drinks is high, so if you can live without the Diet Coke, that would save about $2.50 on a normal restaurant bill. In addition, skipping dessert, or getting an ice cream cone from a vendor will save a couple dollars on the total bill.
  • Take advantage of lunch specials. Almost every restaurant offers some discounted specials for lunch. So if there is a restaurant that you are dying to try out, but it is a little out of your price range, go during lunch. Smaller portions and slight tweaks to the recipes make them more friendly for your pocket book.

How do you save money on groceries and dining out?

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