3 Tips From 'Atomic Habits' to Cut Back on Food Spending

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  • James Clear, author of the bestseller Atomic Habits, outlines how to create and kill habits.
  • Keep your kitchen stocked with good food and create a personal rewards program to cut down on food spending.

Make it easy, obvious, and satisfying.

Inflation is making it harder to achieve my goals, so I'm cutting costs. First on the chopping block is food spending, a category occupied by groceries, dining out, and delivery orders.

Dining out is expensive. The average American spends $2,375 on food and takeout per year. Cutting down can save them thousands of dollars they can put toward a much-needed vacation or paying down debt.

Solution: Reduce dining out/delivery, and buy affordable groceries instead. But it's hard to stick to money-saving resolutions like "eat out less" and "cook more." How do you rethink food spending and avoid falling back into old, money-sucking routines?

James Clear, author of the New York Times bestseller Atomic Habits, outlines how to create good habits. Drawing from lessons taught in the book, here are three tips on how to cut back on food spending and save money.

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1. Change your environment

It's dinnertime. You're tempted to eat out, but that's costly. Instead, you decide to cook. Great! But upon opening the fridge, you are greeted with a blast of sub-arctic frost and a bare smattering of ingredients. Your motivation freezes over, and you fall back into your old routine.

Been there, done that.

James Clear says, "In the short run, you can choose to overpower temptation. In the long run, we become a product of the environment we live in." An empty kitchen makes cooking difficult. Cut down on spending by keeping your pantries stocked with your favorite meals.

Be smart about your renovations. If you want to avoid snacking on junk food, don't leave candy bars lying about the kitchenette. Place whatever you're comfortable eating front and center. Make saving money as simple as grabbing a banana en route to your car.

2. Create a personal rewards program

I'm addicted to ordering DoorDash; it's a problem. Restaurant food is delicious, but ordering delivery is expensive -- sometimes double the price of eating out. To combat this, I've taken James Clear's advice to create a personal rewards program for sticking to good financial habits.

It works like this: Whenever I'm tempted to order delivery, I give myself the option to send $20 to my brokerage account instead. It's far from foolproof, but it reduces the amount I order by around 10%, saving me hundreds of dollars a year.

Consider creating a personal rewards program for resisting your vices. Give yourself the immediate satisfaction of growing your long-term savings -- or paying off debt -- while cutting down on bad habits.

3. Track your food spending

In the words of Atomic Habits, we optimize for what we measure. You should know how much you're spending right now to cut down on food spending. That way, you can tell friends how much you're saving by changing your environment and starting a personal rewards program.

Know where your money flows. Easily track your food costs by opening up an account on a budgeting app to stay motivated.

Bonus: Automate grocery shopping

Atomic Habits suggests automating good habits so they stick. When ordering groceries online, take advantage of automation. For example, grocery delivery app Instacart saves prior orders. Click "Buy It Again" to save time and skip advertisements that encourage overspending.

Have a plan and stick to it. Stock your pantry with food you'll actually eat, and create a personal rewards program to keep up money-saving habits. Track food savings to stay motivated, and automate what you can. Take advantage of any grocery credit cards you own at checkout.

It's true; cutting down on food spending is easier said than done. Set yourself up for success by making it as easy, obvious, and satisfying as possible so you can achieve your financial goals.

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