Are You Eating Your Paycheck?

Learn how to keep more of your paycheck in your pocket.

Between food delivery services, grocery bills and dining out, many of us feel like an increasing amount of our incomes are being devoured by food costs. It’s not our imaginations either. In 2017, food prices rose 8.2 percent, and they’re expected to increase another 1 percent to 2 percent this year.

Why are we spending more on food? There are a few factors that come into play, besides the general increase in the cost of the food itself. Schedules overflowing with work meetings, kids’ soccer matches and charity functions leave us pressed for time, so we’re spending less time planning, shopping for and cooking our meals. Analysts are forecasting a massive 79 percent surge in the total U.S. food home delivery market over the next five years to fill the gap.

Click to read more about survival tips when you’re living paycheck to paycheck.

Yes, but the delivery fee is only a few dollars for Uber Eats or Grubhub, right? The cost of convenience compounds quickly, though. It seems so much easier to have food delivered than to make dinner ourselves. I recently coached a client whose teenager racked up some serious charges on dad’s credit card through Uber Eats, to the tune of $700 in less than two months. It didn’t seem like she was spending that much in the moment. In fact, she said, “Dad, I just got Chipotle and Panera a few times a week. There’s no way it was that much.” Oh yes, it was that much.

Another reason it feels like we’re eating our paychecks is due to the lack of planning. Many families overstuff their refrigerators with healthy, organic food but allow a good portion of it to spoil before they can eat it. If you come home exhausted at the end of a stressful workday, the fridge full of food feels overwhelming if you don’t have a dinner plan. Americans throw away about 40 percent of the food they buy. Next time you’re scraping food from your plate into the garbage, imagine those are dollars falling into the trash can.

Here are my four ways to rein in your food spending without resorting to eating beans and rice:

1. Be Mindful of Your Spending

Most of my coaching clients truly have no clue what they are really spending on groceries and eating out when they first meet with me. I suggest they use one of two things to become mindful of their food spending: either a digital tracking tool, such as Mint, or cash. This allows you to see in real time what you’ve already spent in the food category and how much you have left for the month.

2. Dine Out Wisely

It’s true — the same meal made at home is almost always going to cost less than it will at a restaurant. However, it’s unrealistic to make a vow that you’re never going to dine out just to save money. My advice is to dine out strategically. Your favorite restaurants usually have one or two days per week when they offer incentives and discounts, such as half-price appetizers, kids eat free with an adult meal purchase or Free Pie Wednesdays.

Other ways to reduce your cost when dining out: skip the soda and drink water, eat out for lunch instead of dinner to save 25 percent to 30 percent on the same meal, split an entrée with your honey and take your leftovers home for lunch tomorrow.

More on Spending: 50 Mindless Ways You’re Burning Through Your Paycheck

3. Take Advantage of Grocery Curbside Pickup

The local grocery store is a landmine of impulse buy temptations, so pre-order your groceries and pick them up. My sister-in-law, Amber, admits that she falls prey to impulse buys like the organic goat cheese and premade sushi rolls that were nowhere on her grocery list. She claims she saves $100 or more monthly just by pre-ordering her groceries online and avoiding the temptations altogether.

4. Plan Your Meals

By planning at least some of your meals in advance, you’ll increase the likelihood of cooking at home. Just like managing your time and money, when you manage your food resources on purpose, you’ll waste less and save your dollars. There are meal planning websites that will do this for you for a small fee and even integrate with many of the grocery stores’ online ordering websites.

By using one or more of these tips, you’ll trim your food expenses so you don’t feel like you’re eating your paycheck anymore.

Click through to read more about tricks to keep more of your paycheck in your pocket.