Easy tips to trim your food budget

If you want to start saving or stop overspending, your budget is a good place to start.

In discussing budgets in the past, we’ve talked about categorizing your spending, so that you understand where your money is going every month. You can divide your spending into categories like Food, Auto, Entertainment, Household, etc.

In these next few columns, we’re going to look at specific categories of spending, and come up with some ideas about how you can save money in each category.

Let’s start by looking at food expenses.

Know what you spend. Gather your receipts and statements, and study your food spending from the past few months. Where do you spend your money? Do you spend it at grocery stores, restaurants, coffee shops, or bars? What are your food habits? How often and when are you tempted to splurge? Simply reviewing your spending can give you some ideas for less expensive alternatives.

Set goals and continue tracking your spending.  Once you know how much you spend, set a new, reduced spending goal for the upcoming month. Try to be realistic about your goal: if you need a large overall budget cut, it’s important to pace yourself. Take the time to allow your family to adjust. You can start with a modest cut in spending, and increase the amount of the budget cut over several months.

Pay attention to grocery sales. Your daily newspaper can tell you which items are on sale, and you can plan your meals around sale items to make the most of your money.

Start packing your lunch. If you have developed the habit of eating out every day for lunch, your wallet could be taking a big hit. Try alternating days of dining out for lunch and taking pack lunches to the beach for your lunch hour. If you typically go to lunch with co-workers, invite them along. 

Learn to cook with local fruits and vegetables. Cooking at home can be a fun family activity, and it will help your budget to prepare meals at home. This is all the more true when you know how to cook using the fruits and vegetables that are plentiful on Guam. Mangoes, avocadoes, breadfruit, jackfruit, sweet potatoes, eggplant, bananas, coconut, taro, papaya, and others (some depending on the time of year) are widely available. Because these varieties are grown here, prices don’t include shipping costs, and you may have family members and neighbors who have plenty to share from their backyards.

Try talking to parents, grandparents, older relatives, other family members and friends about the different ways they prepare and cook local produce. The healthy diet of fruits and vegetables may also help you cut down on health-care costs over the long term.

Plant fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Like cooking, gardening on Guam is a skill that will help you save money on food expenses in the long term. By investing your time to learn the skill, you can save money on produce for a lifetime and also develop a hobby that you enjoy.

Think of dining out as a reward for saving. Rewards can reinforce good behavior, and when you meet goals on a periodic basis, it’s a great idea to give yourself and your family a pat on the back.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years experience in retail banking and with financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com.

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