Apr 3, 2019

7 ways to reduce expenses through healthy eating habits

Frugal living is a concept that I grew up with. It offers various benefits - to our pockets, our mental well-being and peace and of course, to our environment. Before I talk about ways to reduce expenses, let me share my views on why we should reduce consumption.

The less we buy/own, the less time we spend in managing them, organizing them, the less money we spend in buying organizers to manage them, the less energy we spend in maintaining them. This applies to all categories of purchases we make.

The bottom line is - The fewer expenses we have, the less complicated our lifestyle becomes. 

A few weeks back, I had attended a personal finance workshop, where the financial advisors spoke about increasing your income potential and increasing your investments. But none of them spoke about reducing expenses. In fact, some of them go on record and say, "Don't think about expenses. Don't calculate how much you are spending".

I completely disagree with such viewpoints. When these financial advisors talk about retirement corpus, the key input factor is your "monthly expenses", which is then extrapolated based on inflation to compute the corpus required. If the monthly expenses are less, then the retirement corpus required would obviously be less.

Yes, income and investments are important to think about, but it is also equally important to think about expenses. A penny saved is worth a penny earned. 

In this article, my focus is on food-related expenses. Here are 10 ways by which we can reduce expenses by embracing healthy eating habits for life.
1.Avoid processed/packaged/ready-to-eat foods

Duh, what else will be my first point? ;-) A decade ago, my family's weekly shopping cart used to be loaded with muesli, instant oats, act II popcorn, lays chips, cookies, biscuits, packaged tetra pack juices etc. Over the past 5 years, we have stopped buying packaged foods completely. They give an illusion of convenience but they add up to our expenses quite a lot. Breakfast cereals alone will cause a significant dent to your monthly grocery bills. There are additional costs linked to their consumption - healthcare costs that you'd eventually be spending on because of health issues. There is a cost to the environment as well, thanks to the huge amounts of plastic that we dispose off, after eating packets of junk.

2.Avoid food wastage
This is a topic that is extremely important to me. Many of us bring home loads of vegetables and fruits during our weekly grocery shopping and dump them into our fridge. During the busy weekdays, we hardly keep track of what's in there, which eventually ends up rotting and we had to throw them out. Similarly, we buy provisions/dry groceries in bulk and don't keep track of the half-opened/not-yet-opened packs, which also results in duplicate purchases and wastage. Over the past few years, I have put in place several processes at home that helps me to prevent food wastage. 
  • Whenever I go shopping, I prepare a list beforehand and avoid impulse purchases.
  • I ensure I keep myself aware of the dry groceries and fresh produce so that I don't end up stocking the same thing twice. Shared a few ideas in this blog post.
  • Making a list of veggies and striking them down after use has now become an ingrained habit. Wrote about it in detail in this blog post.
3.Plan your weekly meals
I wrote a post on meal prep and planning a couple of years back, where I had mentioned that weekly meal planning is a tedious process. How wrong was I! It has made my weekdays so much easier. For the past three months, I have been doing weekly meal planning that has really helped me to plan and use up groceries and veggies based on the purchase date. Because of the plan, I know exactly what to cook, there is no wastage and my grocery expenses have also reduced considerably. Will do a separate post on how meal planning has helped me in detail.

4.Do-It-Yourself (DIY) basic essentials
Convenience products cost quite a bit. For eg, roasted flaxseeds cost almost double than raw flaxseeds. Spice powders are expensive when brought from the store but they cost very little when made at home. I make most of the spice powders, batters, pickles etc. I prepare and stock up coriander powder, pepper powder, jeera powder, chai masala, sambhar powder, rasam powder, idli chutney podi etc for a month. The costs of buying such packs are quite high, compared to the tiny amounts of time spent in making them. Moreover, we are aware of the ingredients used. A few more ideas shared in this post.

5.Allocate a budget for eating out
As a family, we have set a monthly budget for eating out in restaurants and we try to stick to this limit. Keeping track of our expenses helps us to know our cash flows better. So if we are already nearing the limit towards the end of the month, we stick to eating homecooked food. 

6.Choose eating-out wisely
This is in continuation to point #5.  Identify what eating out means to you. Is it convenience, change of routine, social gathering, exploring different cuisines? Since I cook all meals at home, I would prefer to take a break 1-2 meals a week, which is usually lunch on a Saturday/Sunday. We go out to run errands or plan a casual family outing. We decide on the restaurant to visit in the locality where we are headed. This way, we eat all our meals at home on weekdays and go out during weekend afternoons.

We rarely order from Swiggy/Zomato etc. We would rather eat dosa with molagapodi at home on busy days than order food that comes packed in cheap, plastic containers. 

Both my husband and I love our tea and filter coffee. We don't like to have them at expensive cafes. I'd rather have a small tumbler of filter coffee at a Darshini/Sagar/A2B than a cream-loaded latte at CCD or Starbucks (seriously overhyped, not my kinda coffee). Why do we need such large "mugs" of coffee, I wonder?

Source: TownEss

7.Embrace local produce
It is really sad to see the line up of imported fruits and veggies on supermarket shelves. They are so damn expensive and on top of that, there are hardly any nutrients left, because of high food miles and chemicals being sprayed to extend their shelf lives. I'm a big believer of eating local fruits and vegetables. Since they are grown locally, the prices of such items are lower as compared to imported veggies like zucchini, kale, baby spinach, Washington apples, California grapes etc. For eg, 1 kg of violet brinjals cost around Rs.50 (Bigbasket) and 1 kg of cowpea beans cost around Rs.70. Compare that to broccoli (Rs.170 per kg), asparagus (Rs.372 per kg) and zucchini (Rs.110 per kg). Yes, they might be healthy but the question is do we need them when we have options that are equivalent or even superior in nutrition profile? Similar to fresh produce, I prefer to buy local grains and pulses - millets (that cost Rs.80-Rs.90 per kg) compared to quinoa (Rs.500 per kg). Elaborated more on this point in my article from 2015.

Hope these points were helpful. Do share your thoughts on how you cut down on food-related expenses. Would love to hear your perspectives.

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