Sometimes when it's hard to make ends meet, you can have difficulty finding out why. Sometimes, though, the answer is as plain as what is on your plate. Are your bad food habits the reason you can't pay your bills? Here's how you can determine if your food habits are starving your bank account and keeping you in debt.
Restaurants are extremely expensive, and frequently eating out will drain your accounts faster than you can say "check, please."
Not only does the food itself cost more - understandably, since someone else prepares it for you - but the taxes, gratuities and drinks add up to a staggering amount. It's fine to treat yourself once in a while, especially if you like to support local businesses, but try not to make it a regular habit. Get yourself excited and educated about cooking at home - whatever it takes.
Financial gurus refer to something called the "latte factor" - the tendency of a little habit to add up to a big expense over time. For example, if you have a latte once or twice a day, you're spending between four and eight dollars per day that you could easily be saving. That's $1460 and $2920 per year. If you were to invest that money or put it in a high-interest savings account, you could have an extra $20,000 after five years (calculate here, if you want: money calculator.)
You may have heard this from your parents already, but it's great advice: don't shop hungry. When you're hungry, you tend to be less patient, more irritable and far less rational in your choices. You will gravitate toward junk food much more easily, because you can't handle the prep time it would take to create a healthier meal. As prepared food is typically more expensive than raw food, you'll end up spending much more money than necessary. If you take a minute to have a filling snack before heading out to buy groceries, it could save you hundreds - even thousands - over the course of a year.
The word "want" in this famous old saying actually means "need" - the idea being that if you don't waste anything, you'll always have what you need. This applies quite strongly to food. Stock your kitchen with food storage supplies, so you always have an easy way to keep leftovers fresh. Try to use perishable foods first - whether it's in soups, salads or stews - so they don't spoil. All that spoilage in the crisper is just money down the drain. Clear out your fridge and freezer regularly, and keep tabs on what's coming and going.
Make sure your food dollars are going toward real food, not snacks that make you feel satisfied without actually feeding you. By taking the time to choose nutrient-rich food like fruit, veggies, grains and protein, you'll feel full longer - and the vitamins and minerals in the food will make you healthier, saving you even more money in the long run. A useful tip for choosing good food is to shop the perimeter of the grocery store, where fresh, healthy food is stocked, and avoid the aisles, which are full of processed, high fat items with little or no health benefits.
Food costs are rising, but that doesn't mean you can't save money at the grocery store. The simple act of eating doesn't have to ruin your finances. Tightening your belt in small ways - planned rather than impulse shopping, cutting down on the coffee purchases, cooking at home and using the food you have before it goes bad - can add up to big savings over time, and that will take a nice big bite out of your debt.