Groceries have been a major topic for the Simple Steward because groceries tend to be a major “budget buster” for most households. In fact, a fellow Compass colleague and I have a difference of opinion about the food category because he categorizes “groceries” under household expenses and “eating out” as an entertainment expense. I lump them together and call it “food.” He happens to be single and doesn’t have children of his own so I’ve suggested that he take my three kiddos out for dinner sometime and see if he still considers it entertainment!
In all seriousness, though, food in general, whether we eat out or cook at home, is usually one of the larger line items in a typical budget, but thankfully, it is also one that can easily be adjusted when we need to slash spending.
It might be obvious by the number of articles I’ve written on preparing menus and grocery shopping where my opinion lies. My preference, both for our pocketbooks as well as for our health, is to stay home. Generally speaking, the food we make in our own kitchens will be healthier, fresher, and less expensive than any meal we eat at a restaurant. We also have the ability to tailor our meals to suit our own tastes and special dietary needs, such as watching our sodium or catering to a food sensitivity. Although I don’t have food allergies in my family, I know many people who do and, in my opinion, the risk of cross-contamination does not outweigh the convenience of having someone else prepare dinner. As one friend told me, it’s just asking to be sick.
There are other risks associated with dining out, too. We may not have an allergic reaction to the food that is prepared in a commercial kitchen, but no one in my family has gotten food poisoning from anything I’ve prepared at home. This is because I know when I bought chicken, for instance and therefore when I need to prepare it so it doesn’t go bad. Furthermore, sell-by-date or no sell-by-date, the nose knows!
An added benefit to having a menu plan is being able to look back at when I prepared a certain item. If there are leftovers in the refrigerator that didn’t get marked with a date, I can easily refer to my menu plan and know exactly when I made it. My husband likes to take certain leftovers for his lunch so it is good for him to know when it was prepared to make sure it is still safe to eat. I also try to incorporate a leftover night in our menu rotation to make sure good food doesn’t go to waste, an outrageous epidemic in our country.
Some may argue that they are able to eat as inexpensively at a restaurant as they would if they cooked at home along with the added benefit of saving on utilities such as electricity and water. By watching for deals such as “Buy one, get one free” or “Kids eat free with a paying adult,” they are able to drive the cost down quite a bit. This may be true occasionally. Also, there are situations that call for someone else to prepare dinner, period. Whether it’s an illness, a short or long-term disability, or simply a bad day, no one should beat themselves up for occasionally ordering take-out, especially when the cost difference can be marginal after taking advantage of these deals.
However, the point of the Back-to-Basics series is to identify the areas of our budgets that most easily get away from us, and “food” is definitely one of those areas, especially when we excuse and justify the services of restaurants or even the corner convenience store. Having a well-established menu plan and grocery budget will ensure that the trips to the restaurants or convenience stores are left to those true emergency situations that call for a back-up plan, not the “because-I-deserve-it” plan.
When it gets hard to stick to your food budget, look to scriptures on money management for inspiration: “For everything God made is good and we may eat it gladly if we are thankful for it.”~1 Timothy 4:4
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