Almost everyone likes to eat. If you are careful about how you spend your money, you can eat well and still have some money left over for other things. If you learn to cook, you will find a bunch of recipes you like and can adjust them to your tastes and budget.
Food & Nutrition
One of the Best Things in Life!
From my experience, I spend about $10 per day on food and household items (hygiene products, cleaning supplies, etc.). That’s about $300 per month. You may find that you spend more or less than this depending on how much you eat and what you eat, but this might be a good starting figure for you when planning your budget.
When you first go out on your own, there will be times when money is very tight. You should probably apply for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka "food stamps") as soon as possible after moving out on your own. You can apply for SNAP at the social services department of the county you live in or online at Colorado PEAK. The amount of money you get depends on your situation, but, you will probably get approximately $160 per month if you qualify for the program. Ask your Chafee worker or AmeriCorps member if you need help filling out the application.
If times are tough, you can go to food banks or other community resources to fill your cupboards. The best place to start would be 211. Just dial 211 and tell them you are in need of food. They will direct you to the nearest food bank or other appropriate resource. You can also search community resources for food online at the Colorado 211 website.
Some simple tips on how to save some money when shopping:
- Don’t shop when you’re hungry. They say if you go into the store when you’re hungry you are more likely to buy things on impulse -- basically, things you don’t really need.
- Have a rough idea of what you need to buy before you go into the store. This helps you stick to your budget. If you go in and “graze” you’re more likely to get things you don’t really need.
- Use coupons. Smartsource is a great website for coupons and money saving tips when grocery shopping. Don’t think coupons are a joke. If you only have $10 to spend on groceries, a coupon can help your money go much farther. Some stores will even double the face value (usually only up to $1).
- Shop the sales! I think this is the most important one. I usually save at least 20% off of my food bill by shopping for things that are on sale. I start my shopping in the meat section (meat is usually your most expensive food ingredient) and see what’s on sale. I’ll then plan my meal around whatever meat is on sale. If it is a great sale, like 50% off, then buy as much as you can store.
Learn to Cook
Eating out is one of the biggest budget breakers. I rarely eat out. If you don’t eat out much, it also makes it seem like more of a treat when you do. I’ve always said that food made at home tastes twice as good (you make it the way you like it) and costs half the price (you’re not paying a place to make it for you). Also, you know all of the ingredients that go into it, and you know whether the food is fresh or not. To me that’s a no-brainer. Twice as good for half the price!
Cooking can seem like a chore when you’re first learning, but once you get used to it, it’s no big deal. Like any new skill we learn, it usually takes a little while to get good at it. With a little practice you’ll be creating your favorite meals in no time. I learned a lot from watching cooking shows. It’s a good way to learn from the pros how to do it. If you don’t like cooking every day, cook enough food so that you will have leftovers. Leftovers are usually very tasty for at least a couple of days after you first cook them. Good food is good food. Just because it’s a little older doesn’t matter, and you don’t have to cook every day. Some foods actually taste better after they sit for awhile, as it gives all of the flavors a chance to blend together.
Some websites that have easy and cheap recipes:
- HillbillyHousewife.com: This website has tons of recipes on cooking from scratch, which is a great way to save money when on a budget. You can learn to make anything from homemade bread to tomato juice. There’s even an “emergency” menu, which outlines how to feed a family of four on $45 a week in a pinch.
- FoodNetwork.com: More cheap and easy recipes. It’s from the Food Network, so I’m guessing these are good.
- Food.com: If you type in "cheap and easy" in the recipe finder it will give you some results. They have over 350,000 recipes in over 450 different categories.
- epicurious.com: The site for people who love food (I’m guessing that’s you!) There are easy links on the page to search by category (e.g., fast, easy, etc.)
- allrecipes.com: Tons of recipes. Some of them have user ratings, so you’re less likely to waste your time making something that tastes bad.
In addition, we've put together some creative and delicious ideas for those on a budget in the Chafee Recipe Book (PDF).
You are what you eat? Everyone has heard this, but have you really thought about it? Your whole body is made up of things you have either eaten or drank in your lifetime. Kind of weird to think about, but true. The better things you put in your belly, the stronger, healthier and happier you will be. If you have specific questions about your diet you may want to talk to your physician, but there is a wealth of info out there in your local library and on the internet.
So, what are the basics of a healthy diet? A great resource for finding out more info can be found on Health.gov. It might be a long read for some of you, so here is a quick and easy reference guide for you that’s based on the food pyramids we all learned about in school.
Basically, you should balance the amount of food you eat in relation to how much activity you get in a day, choosing to eat foods lower in fat and high in vitamins and minerals. To maintain the same weight, you should eat enough fuel (food) to get you through the day, but not more than you need, or your body will store it as fat. We need some fat, but as we all know, too much can be a real health issue and is believed to lead to the development of many diseases.
Finally, you might want to consider taking a multivitamin. Doctors recommend eating a “rainbow of vegetables” to get your vitamins and minerals, but most of us don’t eat enough of them to get the recommended daily amount. A multivitamin may be a good choice for “covering the gaps” in your eating habits so your body has all of the necessary goodies to keep you healthy, happy and strong.