When looking at my initial food expenses last year when I started to record my food expenses, I recorded record highs. The high point was in September 2019 when I recorded a total for food & drinks of 700 EUR. For one person!!
In my defense, I was travelling a lot for work, so home cooking is not always an option. But it was clear I had to change because the amount of money going to food and drinks was just insane.
Corona for sure has helped with that and made me realize there is a lot of different, cheap activities you can do. Bellow graph shows my own expenses until now.
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Here are some tips that helped me get my bills under control. Some sites quote some random methods they found online, well here is some tips I have tested myself, and I still use most of them on a regular basis.
1. Cut back on restaurants & bars
The most obvious one given my own experience is to cut your expenses in restaurants & bars. There is two ways to cut back. The first is obviously not to go. With the amount one restaurant night out is costing you, you can probably eat for half a week or more.
Not going is the easiest solution, but you might get into a situation where you do end up in restaurants. I recon when restaurants re-open post-corona it will be quite difficult to withstand going to restaurants with friends.
Here is a few tips to cut restaurant & bar expenses in case you do decide to go out anyway:
- Have some restaurant suggestions ready in case friends want to go, this way you can stay away from the high end restaurants
- Enjoy your restaurant visit, but keep in mind its not just about the food but also about the company. Avoid ordering the most expensive dishes.
- Non – alcoholic drinks are often much cheaper then alcoholic drinks
- Your perfectly fine to refuse to get a desert. Its not healthy and expensive for the food
- I prefer to pay just my own part, and so do most of my friends. Personally I suggest to pay separately, but if the group prefers to just split equally I won’t be difficult about it. The most important thing is still to enjoy with your friends right
- You can also try to limit the amount of drinks you order, especially in bars it can count up fast
- A classic rule is to avoid Starbucks all together. Personally I enjoy going to coffee bars, and its fine if you stay there and get the full experience, I would avoid take-away coffee.
In the end remember you go out to have fun, if one of these rules is stopping you to do that then its best to ignore the rule or not go out at all and do something cheaper instead.
2. Eat in social restaurants
A type of restaurant you might not have thought about is a social restaurant. I went here as a student in Belgium, but have also tried this abroad. If you are in need then you can get a special card that will give you a discount. Usually you then will only pay 5,5 EUR for a two course meal! Children can join at half price.
What people might not know is that you can also go there if you are not in need. It is actually encouraged because often in social restaurants the people that work there really benefit if there is more customers. Its also good for your wallet. How much it costs depends of the place, but usually its around 8-9 EUR for a two course meal! A lot cheaper then most restaurants so definitely worth to try it sometime!
3. Try out different supermarkets
Unfortunately the Belgian government decided in Spring last year discounts were no longer allowed!! This made sure there was a rise in food prices of up to 15% in some supermarkets! No wonder we are noticing an increase in costs on our bills and it pays more then ever to shop around.
Of course everyone knows by now that Aldi and Lidl are the cheapest and I actually do most of my shopping there, but not everything is cheaper there and because the stores usually stick to the basics you cannot find everything there.
As an example I noticed the portions of meat in the Aldi are always much bigger then what I really need. Another typical one is that bananas, which I eat a lot of, are actually cheaper at Albert Hein.
I made myself a trial member of Test Aankoop for 2 EUR, as there you can actually see what supermarkets are cheapest for your profile in your region.
If I would stick to just buying fruits, vegetables & meat according to test Aankoop, and focus on Housebrands, I would spend the following:
Lidl stands out with 90,52 EUR / month
Aldi follows closely at 92,73 EUR / month
Colruyt is quite a bit higher at 110,38 EUR / month
Albert Hein follows closely at 112,12 EUR / month
Collect & go follows at 113,68
Carrefour takes a bigger jump to 125,45 EUR / Month
Carrefour market is next with 134,07 EUR / month
Delhaize is known to be more expensive but who knew it would cost 137,56 EUR / month?
The most expensive is apparently the match wit a staggering h 154,10 EUR / month
When looking at this on a year basis it really puts things in perspective:
There is a difference of 762 EUR for just the basic food between the highest and lowest! If you would include other items like snacks and drinks it would probably go up even more. So it absolutely makes sense to focus more on the lower ends of the supermarkets. In my case I mainly go to the Aldi and Albert Hein.
4. Look at what you buy
Once you picked your supermarket inside the supermarket there can be a ton of traps. All supermarkets have house brands and more luxurious brands. You should at least try the housebrand before you move to the more expensive ones.
Also think about what you buy. Personally I try to avoid alcohol or any sort of drinks for that matter. I drink almost only water / coffee / milk and tea, so much cheaper then buying factory made sodas.
If you do decide to stock up on alcohol then avoid the high end wines for example. Most people cannot taste the difference, and even if they can, the highest priced bottle does not always come out on top.
Also be careful of snacks. Supermarkets almost always start with the healthy fruits and vegetables, stuff you really need and then try to tempt you with pie, biscuits and other sort of snacks.
Try to avoid to save on your health. Healthier food costs a bit more but health is not really something you can cut back on.
5. Use apps to get cheaper food
I like Apps that can save me on food. One app I like in particular is TooGoodToGo.
TooGoodToGo is an anti-food waist app, so it works together with stores and restaurants who would otherwise throw food away. TooGoodToGo helps restaurants to sell this food at a discount. The fun part is that you actually do not know in advance what you will get, so its useful to not be picky with food when using this app.
Most of the time when I use TooGoodToGo I get enough food for 2 meals.
Usually you pay around 4 EUR and you mostly get food valued at about 12 EUR that could expire the same day, but actually most of the time its still good the next day as well.
While normally what you buy is supposed to be worth 12 EUR, sometimes you even get more value for what they give you. I have tried it mostly with supermarkts and they always give you good value for your money.
I can especially recommend using it to get bread. For example this is what I got for a mere 3 EUR!!!
The bread alone was worth about 2 EUR and then I got another 10 biscuits such as croissants. Very good value for money! I managed to finish everything but it did take me a few days.
6. Use apps to get free food
What do I like more then cheap food? Free food of course!
A great app to scout for free food is spydeals. Spydeals is mostly used for deals on all sorts of things, but what it can also be used for is to look for totally free items. Including food!
One very popular type of free food is cashback deals.
I have come across some really nice ones, for example this vegetable box from the Aldi. It contained 1.1 kg of vegetables!
It also does help to discover great food tips. After I purchased that vegetable box I have bought it a few more times. It costs only 5 EUR and you get a really nice and healthy mix of vegetables. Often it includes sauce and sometimes couscous or pasta. Its so much better then Microwave food, and I save some time on selecting all the right vegetables and sauce I need for a dish usually.
I can really recommend to give it a try.
Tip: while some cashback deals stay for a few days or even weeks on the App, some are gone extremely fast. The cashback app on this vegetable box was gone within hours.
I usually check the App quickly when I get up in the morning, especially on weekends. If there is a cashback with a limited supply that’s of good enough value I will head to the store in the morning.
Just go to the app and search for cashback you will find both food and non-food items. One item they have right now for example is this yoghurt. This cashback action has already been running for a few weeks, so it might still be running when you read this. If you missed it: don’t worry there is plenty of others coming soon.
7. Accept invitations to eat at friends, family or with your work
Whenever you have the chance to eat a free meal somewhere with relatives or friends you should absolutely accept that. It doesn’t matter if its work related, for friends or with family, its probably a very underestimated way to save on food.
Especially if you are young your parents are usually happy to see you when you moved out but still drop by for dinner.
Keep in mind that you should invite them back from time to time, but of course nobody is expecting you to cook expensive meals, a spaghetti is always tasty and cheap!
Also for appetizers there is no need to go overboard. What about garlic bread for example? Its tasty and of course since its fresh from the oven it makes a good impression. Additionally its easy to make and costs almost nothing. Also a perfect fit with Italian food in general!
Dinners from work are of course the best. A lot of employers give Christmas parties or New Years receptions. Personally always have a great time there, but another benefit is of course the free
I hope you enjoyed these tips! Do you have some of your own? Let me know in the comment section and don’t forget to subscribe 😉