No matter what happens with the economy or your job, you still need to eat. During hard times this can be an overwhelming and sometimes burdensome fact.

You might find yourself wishing you didn’t have to eat, just so that you could save the money you spend on groceries and going out and put it toward something else, like your mortgage or car payment.

What remains, however: you must eat to survive.  But just because you have to eat doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune doing it.

By following these rules, you can easily cut down on your grocery spending and direct the money you save toward other important financial obligations.

1st Rule: Restrict your food expenses to groceries.

In other words, stop eating out.  Yes, it is more convenient to have a local chain restaurant do your cooking for you, but it can get extremely costly, and only feeds you for the one meal you buy.  Even fast food meals, while they are cheap, aren’t cost effective, because they don’t last.

If times are hard, don’t allow yourself to eat out, and do all your food shopping at the grocery store, where it should be done.  In addition to being less expensive, buying groceries also comes with the added bonus of making you a better cook.

2nd Rule:  Buy for the week, not for the day.

One of the easiest ways to spend more money than you have to is by going to the grocery store to shop for dinner that night.  This kind of shopping lends itself to purchasing too much food and often times leads to waste.

Instead, plan out a week’s worth of meals and buy exactly what you need to make those dishes.  What’s great about this is that you know what you’ll be eating all week, and can even plan for leftovers, so that you are paying even less per day for food.

3rd Rule: Keep your pantry full of staple foods.

Staple here means dry foods that are nonperishable, such as rice and beans.  It takes almost no effort at all to put together a very nutritious meal with these items when you don’t have quite enough to make a regular meal.

Rice and beans also go particularly well with almost anything (even each other) and are extremely inexpensive, so buy a lot and keep them on hand for those occasions when you feel like you need to go to the store and break rule number 2.

4th Rule:  Get in the habit of buying large quantities.

Something to remember: it is almost always cheaper to buy things in bulk and freeze portioned quantities than to be continually buying small amounts.  Granted, you probably don’t need 4lbs of mayonnaise lying around in your pantry, but things like rice, dry beans, toilet paper, meat (which can be portioned and frozen) are much cheaper when you buy a lot of them at once, and they also last a long time, which means fewer trips to the store (and less money spent on gas, too).

5th Rule:  Make your meals from scratch.

When you are buying groceries, it can be tempting to just buy the pre-made, pre-packaged meals that feed your family and take 15 minutes to make.   These will be cheaper than eating out for the most part, but it will be cheaper buying all the ingredients and making a dish from scratch, because the companies that make the pre-packaged meals are charging you for convenience.

Of course, sometimes it just isn’t possible to follow these rules, and there will be times when you want to have a special night out, but if you follow these rules as often and as closely as you can, you won’t have to constantly be worrying about what you’re going to do for dinner, and how you’re going to pay for it.

This guest post is contributed by Lauren Bailey, who regularly writes for best online colleges. S

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