Want to Save More Money on Food? Try This

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  • The most recent CPI report found that the cost of "food at home" was up 12.4% between October 2021 and October 2022.
  • An Oxford University study found in 2021 that eating less meat can save you money on food costs.
  • Meatless meals abound, but to maximize your savings, avoid meat substitutes.

Eating less meat can save you.

When it comes to grocery costs, 2022 has really been a year for the record books. The most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index Summary showed that the overall rate of inflation in October 2022 was 7.7% over that of October 2021. But for grocery costs (or "food at home," as the CPI designates it), the inflation rate stood at 12.4% over the same period. Ouch.

Thankfully, there are ways to save money on your grocery costs. You could try out a few food waste apps, which give consumers the chance to buy food that would otherwise be thrown away at a lower cost. You can look to the helpful folks at Reddit, who have provided many money-saving ideas. The best grocery credit cards will reward you with cash back or points on your grocery shopping. And if you're a college student, you could even save by taking advantage of free food on campus whenever possible. But here's one way to cut your grocery bills that you may not have seriously considered: eating less meat.

I'm not saying you should immediately go vegan or vegetarian, but consider the fact that cutting back on meat is better for your health, better for the planet, and better for your bank account.

A wallet win

An Oxford University study from last year (published in The Lancet Planetary Health) dug into dietary habits in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and Western Europe and their financial implications. The study found that following a vegan diet (meaning no animal products at all) reduced food bills by up to one-third. Fully vegetarian diets resulted in cost savings of slightly less than that. But the study also found that those who ate a "flexitarian" diet (meaning less meat and dairy) still would end up saving 14% on food costs. That 14% will beat the 12.4% grocery inflation number.

Maybe you've never considered thinking outside the box when it comes to your traditional Western diet. How do you start cutting back on meat consumption for the benefit of your finances? I recommend being strategic.

Be strategic

It's not as hard as you might be fearing to eat less meat. If you currently eat 21 meals a week (three per day), and 16 of them involve meat, try cutting that back to 12 or 14. It's likely that you already eat plenty of vegetarian meals without considering cost savings. Foods like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, bean salad, grilled cheese, and vegetable soup are all meatless and satisfying -- and inexpensive. These are all great starting places for meatless meals, and if you enjoy cooking, a whole world awaits you.

A quick Amazon.com search turned up more than 10,000 results for "vegetarian cookbooks," and in a wide variety of genres and cuisines. The internet also awaits you with open arms. My favorite recipe outlet, NYT Cooking, gave me 5,800 results in a search for vegetarian recipes. Don't forget that you can also make many classic favorite recipes sans meat. Chili with beans. Spaghetti sans meatballs or vegetable lasagna.

The best meatless proteins to pick up and find recipes for include:

  • Cheese
  • Beans (and there are so many delicious varieties, both canned and dried)
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Soybeans (edamame) and tofu

Beware! There is one potential pitfall you could encounter in your quest to eat less meat and save money: meat substitutes.

Steer clear of meat substitutes

If you peruse the refrigerated or frozen prepared food sections at your grocery store, you'll likely encounter products with names like "chick'n" or "soysage." Check out the fresh meat section and you could find "Impossible" meat substitute (many fast food restaurants have also been offering burgers and other dishes made from meat alternatives). These are a good buy, right? Not so fast. Fake meat is often more expensive than the actual meat it's replacing.

Let's say you want to make chili. For your protein source, you're trying to decide between ground beef, meat substitute, or beans. How do those prices stack up? I checked my local grocery store for some pretty simple protein options for a classic chili recipe:

Protein Price per ounce
85% lean ground beef $0.37
Impossible ground "meat" $0.72
Goya canned red kidney beans $0.11
Data source: Price Chopper.

The clear price winner is the kidney beans -- but if you simply cannot fathom chili with no meat, consider using a ratio of two parts beans to one part meat, and you'll still save. You'll spend a lot more if you opt for the meat substitute, however, as its price is nearly double that of the ground beef, and more than six times that of the beans. Shop wisely, and opt for the meatless proteins listed in the previous section to save the most money.

Ready to cut back your grocery bills? Many people are. Consider adding more meatless meals to your diet to save money and enjoy a wider variety of foods.

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