Food is a necessity; without it, we wouldn’t be able to function. The only problem? Food is expensive. One trip to the grocery store could easily cost you $100 or more, especially if you’re picking up cleaning supplies on the way. A jug of laundry detergent and a box of dishwasher pods can cost up to $15 each if you get the good stuff. Already, that’s $30 in the basket sans food!
Food is the third-largest expense next to housing and transportation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2018 Consumer Expenditure Survey, Americans spend $7,923 per year on food (this figure includes buying groceries and dining out). That’s around $660 per month, which is basically the equivalent of a brand new car payment. So how can you tell if you're overspending, and how do you solve it? Let's look at the subscriptions that can help.
How To Tell If You’re Paying Too Much For Dinner — And 3 Subscriptions That Solve It
The Issue: Overbuying
I cherish preparing and eating food with (and even without) the ones I love. I don’t mind dining out alone, and I’ve never had a problem messing up an entire kitchen only to make one meal for myself and another for my pups. (Doing the dishes, however, is another story.) For me, dinner time equals “me time.”
A few months ago, my grocery shopping habits were destroying my wallet. This is because, instead of just getting what I needed, I was shopping on a “what-if” basis (i.e. “what if I need this?” or “what if I want to make…” - you get the point.) I was making monthly trips to Trader Joe’s and The Fresh Market, filling my basket with whatever looked and/or sounded good along the way.
How To Fix It: Mindful Shopping
It didn’t take long for me to realize that this “what-if” way of life was going to put me in the poor house. To fix this, I did some research and adopted a few mindful shopping habits including planning ahead, pre-shopping my fridge and cabinets before heading to the store, and avoiding temptation while waiting in the checkout line.
On Sundays, I sit down and decide on what meals I want to eat for the week. To make sure there’s room for variety, I choose side dishes that can be mixed and matched (squash, potatoes, asparagus, etc.). Before I head out, I double-check my cabinets and the fridge to ensure that I have everything I need condiment-wise to make the meals on my list.
Then, when I actually get to the store, I block out the little voices (that are screaming at me to fill the basket with anything and everything that looks delicious), and avoid grabbing things in the checkout line, even though every fiber of my being is desperate to do so. During these shopping trips, I only grab what is absolutely necessary for the meals on my handwritten list and that’s it!
The Best Subscription Box for the Job: HelloFresh
If going to the grocery store isn’t your thing but cooking is, I recommend signing up for HelloFresh. Out of every meal kit service I’ve tried thus far (Freshly, Purple Carrot, Splendid Spoon, Green Chef, Martha & Marley Spoon, and Diet-to-Go among others), HelloFresh keeps me coming back for more.
Because I do enjoy going to The Fresh Market and Trader Joe’s, I don’t get HelloFresh every single week or month, but when I’m in a pinch for time, I order a box. HelloFresh provides fresh ingredients, clear and easy-to-follow cooking instructions, and the perfect portion sizes. You can pick and choose your meals or have the site auto-generate a menu for you. There’s also an option to set your meal preferences to “quick and easy” or “family-friendly,” so you can make sure your box fits your household needs. With HelloFresh, I stopped wasting food and started saving money.
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The Issue: Overpriced Goods
Not to be dramatic, but I’m kind of a food snob. Not like an overbearing, obnoxious one, but... I like food... a lot. So when it comes to dinner and apps, I like to get the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the crème de la crème! This is particularly true if I’m expecting company. My friends know when they’re coming to my apartment to come with an empty stomach.
I also love shopping in high-end grocery stores like Eataly. I will concoct any excuse just to go in there. I know, this all sounds super unnatural, but the grocery store is the only place where I can wander around daydreaming for an hour and a half without someone asking me if I’m lost. Plus, there’s food! Meandering the aisles of Eataly is a lovely Sunday afternoon spent, if you ask me. There’s just one, teeny problem: it’s super expensive. Specialty grocery stores tend to cost more than your average Trader Joe’s or Aldi because specialty foods often cost more to produce.
How To Fix It: Get Creative
Sure, going gourmet is fun, but it’s an added expense that most of us can’t afford. Instead of shopping gourmet on the reg, I now take to the internet to find new ways to transform the ingredients I already have into top-notch meals. It doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to make something that looks and tastes delicious! I also scour the net for coupons, discounts, and special deals. This way, if I absolutely need something, I can get it on the cheap.
The Best Subscription Box for the Job: Try the World
Going to a specialty food store is an experience. It’s not just about buying the “good” bread and “fancy” cheeses, it’s about smelling what the chefs are making behind the counter, trying new wines, and discovering products that you’ve never heard of before. Experiencing those things however, comes with a price. It’s nearly impossible to get dinner for the week at a specialty store without spending a fortune. Enter: Try the World.
Try the World is a gourmet food subscription box that consists of seven to eight items, including cooking ingredients, specialty drinks, and snacks from around the world for just $49 per month (what a steal, right?). Previous box items include Pistachio Cream from Italy, Dari Couscous from Morocco, and Roasted Chana from India.
The Issue: Restaurant Alcohol Prices
Dining out is one of my favorite things to do, even when I’m alone. I love finding new hole-in-the-wall restaurants and bistros to duck into after spending all day in front of my laptop. Plus, there’s no clean-up, someone else is cooking for me, and I can get whatever I want (depending on how much money I’m willing to spend). Yet still, dining out (just like buying groceries) can get pricey, especially if there’s alcohol involved. Booze adds up, particularly with a restaurant mark-up.
How To Fix It: BYOW
If you can’t make it to happy hour, buy your own wine and drink at home. Sure, I love an earthy cabernet just as much as the next wine aficionado, but at $12 per glass, I could have bought another meal or a whole bottle of wine to have at home. In fact, according to Randy Caparoso, a well-known wine consultant at Wine List Consulting Unlimited, a bottle of wine priced at $10 wholesale could be as much as $30 in a restaurant. So, instead of splurging at the restaurant, I stock up on wine at home.
The Best Subscription Box for the Job: Winc
I like to keep three to four bottles of red wine in my apartment at all times. Why? Because I love wine and I love to entertain my friends (who also love wine). Winc is a wine subscription box that sends out four bottles of wine each month. You can choose which wines you’d like to receive, or you can opt to take a six-question palate quiz to help the Winc algorithm choose your bottles for you.
I’m always interested in trying new wines and Winc makes it easy to do that. Instead of wandering around the wine shop, I can have four brand-new bottles sent to me each month.
How do you conquer dinner time without spending a fortune? What are your favorite meal kit or food subscriptions? Let us know in the comments!
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