Living in New York is expensive. Some of you may not realize just how expensive it is. To give you an idea, to rent a studio in the city is easily $2,000 or more per month. Just to move in, generally a deposit of 1.5, sometimes 2.5, times rent is required.
Most young adults will get their dinners online, through nearby delis, and pizza shops. I don’t even want to know how expensive their eating habits get. I hardly ever go out for dinner these days. Usually only when it’s free, or my boyfriend and I are spending some quality time out.
I get along with a little over $25 per week on groceries. At the end of each month, my food costs usually end up around $100 – $125. In New York, that’s cheap!! $25 is enough to buy some veggies, staple foods like almonds and quinoa that last a while, and a few other items for creating a recipe. Anywhere else, I’d probably only be spending $50 – $70 a month for what I get!
Here’s the secret to saving on food (while eating healthy). Cook your own food, do not buy extra junk food in the middle isles (or only very rarely), and plan out your meals!
How do I plan my meals?
Well, it does help that I’m always thinking of food and what food I can throw together next. The way I meal plan is on a week to week basis, considering fruit and vegetables only last 1-2 weeks in the fridge.
Each week, I find recipes and decide what I will be eating for the entire week. I’ve been doing my meal planning this way long enough now that it comes pretty naturally to me. I itemize everything I need to buy for the recipes and I make sure I will have enough ingredients for a large batch. Usually I pick out one lunch and one dinner, with some spare veggies/snack food and backup food in case the recipes I make don’t last a week. However, usually they last longer.
So, find your recipes, decide what you need to tide you over for the week, and plan on a shopping trip.
Should I buy sale items?
Who doesn’t love a good food sale? Buy sale items when you can, but only when you need them. For example, I buy oatmeal for breakfast and go through a lot. Whenever I can find cheap oatmeal, I will stock up. Stocking up on sale items that you NEED and usually buy saves you money in the long run, even if you go over your budget for the week. It will even itself out in the following weeks.
Don’t be tempted to buy sale items that you wouldn’t normally buy, or that you don’t need. It’s a waste of money and a gimmick!
How do I plan with a specific budget?
As I said before, I spend around $25 per week on groceries. It’s not easy, though. I have to plan out this budget. With enough practice, you will begin to learn how much food a certain budget will get you and how much each food item you will normally be buying costs.
While I’m meal planning, I’m also considering the costs of each item I add to my grocery list. Higher priced items such as bulk food (rice), qunioa, and almonds add up quick so I try to buy only one or two of these per week. Remember, this is New York we’re talking about. The food here is very expensive, so I keep my personal food shopping very minimal.
At the store, I prioritize my grocery list. I grab what I really need first and I add up the exact prices on a calculator on my phone. That way, I know how close I am to meeting my budget. Once I have the items I really need, I start looking at items I can stock up on and fill the remaining money left over in my budget. Items I want to buy, to stock up on, or ingredients in a recipe that I was going to skimp out on.
Sometimes, if I need, I let my budget go slightly over, especially if it has been two or more weeks since food shopping.
Where do I find recipes to meal plan?
I find most of my meal-planning inspiration on Pintrest! The plethora of recipes there are endless and searching for a specific type of meal is so easy! Or, if I’m craving a particular food, I’ll search online the week before I go shopping and find a recipe I want. Then I just write down the ingredients I will need to buy for my shopping list.
Should I substitute ingredients with cheaper items?
When I can, I do substitute ingredients a lot. Often, I will also leave ingredients, such as uncommon spices, out unless I think it’s something I will use a lot of in the future. For example, if I were to make lasagna or a lasagna-type dish, I would use small curd cottage cheese instead of ricotta. I love ricotta, but it’s hard to afford items like this on a tight budget. Do note that I forgo taste more often than the healthfulness and cheapness of a dish. But even though I substitute and skip ingredients, my food tends to still turn out tasty!
Note that these answers are based on the opinions of a health-conscious young adult with no one else to support and a very small budget. I believe children/dependents would change the rules a bit, but you could modify them to fit your needs. Also, if I had more money to spend on food, I probably would buy nicer stuff and make fancier recipes. But I would still have a budget.
I hope you find these tips as useful as I do!
Briauna Mariah (: