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When you’re trying to save money, denying yourself those little luxuries can be painful. For many of us, food is something we look forward to each day, whether it’s an exotic tasting sandwich at lunch time while we’re at work or a fancy meal in the evening, eating is arguably one of life’s greatest pleasures. Unfortunately, eating in restaurants, convenient ready meals and premade sandwiches can all be a significant drain on your monthly budget. That’s why we created these five tips to help you enjoy the culinary world without jeopardizing your bank balance.

1. Learn to cook from scratch

So many people spend their lives heating things up in the microwave or relying on pre-packaged, readymade dishes they buy from supermarkets. Though this can be convenient at times, you can make tasty, healthy meals for a fraction of the price if you invest some time in your own culinary creativity. Learning the basics, such as how to make an omelette or how to use tinned tomatoes to create your own pasta sauce can be a good starting point and there literally thousands of recipes available for free online. When compared to a jar of store-bought sauce, the same amount will cost a tiny fraction of the price, meaning you will really the notice the difference when you come to check your balance at the end of the month. Though some things such as condiments, pastry and bread can be time consuming and less cost effective to make at home, most of your meals can be created simply and cheaply if you’re happy to invest a little time and effort in the kitchen.

2. Stop Buying Branded Products When You Shop

There may be a very small number of exceptions but in most cases, there isn’t much difference between a supermarket’s own brand of things like mayonnaise, lemonade or orange juice and the more expensive “big name” brands. Next time you do your weekly shopping, consider substituting your usual products with a cheaper alternative and look at how much you have saved. The difference in price is usually significant, despite the products you’re purchasing containing almost identical ingredients. Advertising is a powerful force and though we may have been conditioned to believed that certain names are the absolute best when it comes to taste and quality, many consumer reports show that this is rarely the case. Swapping your usual branded buys for the cheaper alternative is one of the simplest ways to make weekly savings when it comes to your food budget.

3. Plan Your Meals in Advance

For busy working families, young professionals and those who are just generally a little short on time, this might seem like a difficult task, but it can make a huge difference to how much you spend on food each month. Drawing up a simple table that includes days of the week and each of the three meals allows you to work out what you are going to eat in advance. Large batches of food such as curry, chili or soup can be frozen or refrigerated so you can use it more than once and things like meat, fish and poultry can be earmarked for days or recipes. This takes a little practice and the willpower to set aside the time to write your plan, however, after a few weeks, the chances are, you will notice considerable savings. As your food is all taken care of in advance, you shouldn’t be panic buying ingredients or worse, microwave meals, at the last minute.

4. Take Advantage of vouchers, happy hours and special offers

Nobody likes living without life’s little luxuries and eating out with a loved one or a group of friends is one of the most popular pass times. Unfortunately, quality food costs money and restaurants need to charge enough to cover all their costs. That means even a light lunch can get expensive, quickly. There is a solution, though. Many restaurants, cafes and bars run special happy hour promotions including things like two for one offer or buy one, get one free deal. If you choose carefully and make sure you time your visit to coincide with an establishment’s happy hour or discount period, you can still enjoy professional quality food, without having to worry about the impact it will have on the rest of the month’s finances.

5. Consider a plant-based diet (even just a few days a week)

This one might not be for everybody as there a lot of meat lovers out there who would find it extremely difficult to go without, but it has been proven that a plant-based diet is generally much cheaper than one that incorporates animal products. Substituting meat products for their vegan or vegetarian alternative can save you hundreds over the course of a year and the chances are, you will probably feel a lot better, too. Making the switch doesn’t have to drastic and many people choose to adopt a vegan(ish) approach to their food, which essentially means they do still eat meat, but much less than they perhaps used to. Instead of using chicken in a curry, you could opt for a cheaper but no less tasty alternative such as sweet potato. Minced beef can be replaced by Quorn or beans when making chili and things like “facon” can give you the taste and texture of meat, without the price or the calories. This approach can mean that not only are you saving money, you also learn to appreciate eating meat and animal products more when you do have them.

When it comes to saving money, adjusting what you eat may seem like a drastic measure but with the right amount of planning, preparation and a little bit of effort, you can reduce the amount you need to shell out each month, without compromising on the quality and flavour of the meals you enjoy each day.

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