Meals at home can be a social occasion as well

By Sophia Moll, University of Missouri

Everything costs money. That’s just the way life works. When people discuss saving money or you read articles on the internet for the best tips and tricks for spending less money, the usual suggestion is to cut back. Stop buying your daily coffee, don’t refresh your wardrobe every few months, forget about nights out with your friends. Although these things work, nobody wants to reduce their quality of life in order to save money.

As someone who grew up in a money-conscious family (see: stingy), how I’m spending money is never far from my mind. Over the past few years of living on my own and relying on myself to keep a budget, be able to afford the necessities and save for the future, I’ve noticed the biggest thing that breaks the bank. Food.

Food is an inescapable part of life. Not only is it necessary to eat to survive, we also eat as a social activity, to celebrate and even when we’re bored. Food will always be something we account for when budgeting, but it doesn’t always have to be so expensive. Rather than cutting out the things you enjoy about food, you can find a way to make them less expensive. The way I budget is not to cut out my indulgences, but to find a better (and cheaper) way to indulge.

When I left for my study abroad trip to Brussels, I knew it was going to be a semester riddled with the stress of spending money and the probability of missing out on experiences because of my need to keep costs low. I planned to do everything I could to prevent any excess money leaving my account. My first step? Grocery shopping.

How did a trip to the grocery store as the first thing upon arrival save me money? Well, because I grew up with such frugal parents, I learned that, although groceries cost more up front, eating in saves you an extreme amount of money in the long run. Once a week during my stay in Brussels, I would load up my backpack with reusable grocery bags and trek to the store for all necessary items, then head to the market on the square for all my fresh produce. Choosing to go to multiple places to find my food was also something that helped me spend less, as the produce at the market had a much smaller price tag than that at the grocery store.

For one person making three meals a day for seven days a week, I was only spending around €35. That is a little over one and a half Euros per meal. The average cost for a meal at an inexpensive restaurant in Brussels is around €15. That’s 10 times more than one of my meals cost.

You may be thinking, “Okay, that’s great for saving money, but what about all the reasons we go out to eat in the first place? Am I just supposed to forget about those?” No! Food is a social experience, which is something that I love and wasn’t willing to give up. My friends and I rotated hosting dinners for each other, bringing ingredients and all pitching in to cook big dinners in our apartments. We got to spend time with each other, at a fraction of the cost. I even think those memories are more special than any that I’d get while eating out. I would eat before I went out for the night, meeting people at the bar so that I only had to pay for drinks, not dinner. I even splurged on some nicer ingredients for my cooking, because although they may have been on the pricier side, I knew that buying and preparing them myself was still saving money.

I did all this for the first three months of my stay, and because of it, for the last month I had much more money left than I had planned. I was able to go on weekend trips and even grab meals with my friends without the worry that I was spending too much. I had already saved plenty with my consistence, and it paid off. Because of one simple switch, saving money while living abroad for a semester became much more attainable. Instead of cutting back, I now know that simply adapting my habit can help me save money to be able to spend on other things I enjoy.

Moll is a senior at the University of Missouri.

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