7 Surprising Facts about Food Prices

Cash-back credit cards can help earn money back when you spend at the grocery store.

Many people believe that Americans waste a bunch of money eating out — that avocado toast and lattes are budget wreckers, for example — and that’s sort of true. In 2014, an important line was crossed — for the first time since the government tracked this sort of thing, families spent more eating out than eating at home.  But when you really look into the numbers about the way Americans spend money on food, a far more complex picture emerges.  Like many other typical household purchases — such as refrigerators or clothes — many food items are actually much cheaper than they were a generation ago. And overall, food isn’t nearly the budget-busting line item it used to be.  In fact, according to government statistics, U.S. families are spending much LESS overall on food than they did a generation or two ago. Food now eats up about half as much of the family budget than it once did.

Even that fact is a good news/bad news story, however, according to Annemarie Kuhns, a food economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Part of the reason food consumers less of household spending is because housing costs and health care consumes so much more.

“It really depends on the food you are purchasing,” Kuhns said. “Processed food is less expensive, but fresh fruits and vegetables are much more expensive.”

To get a better picture of what’s really going on with your budget, here are 9 surprising facts about food spending. As you read them, remember, it’s always easy to find an anecdote or two that confirms a belief you might have — most of us have a friend who complains about not being able to afford a home, but does indeed indulge in avocado toast regularly. That’s just an anecdote, however, a narrow view of things.  To really understand the issue, you have to look at the broader picture.  Most of the data below comes from the Consumer Price Index maintained by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which follows food prices by pricing a representative market basket of goods periodically.

1.) Yes, food is generally getting more expensive

First off, you aren’t crazy. Your grocery bill keeps getting bigger — and the cost of food is rising faster than most things. From 2012-2016, food prices rose 6.1%, but the overall consumer price index rose only 4.5%.  NOTE:  That’s bad, but it’s less than the 9.5 percent rise in housing costs and 11.7 percent increase in medical care costs.   This is a long-term trend, too. The USDA says grocery store prices are up 4.5% faster than economy-wide prices during the past 30 years.

2.) Food is cheaper this year, though (Eggs are a HUGE bargain)

Last year, for the first time in nearly 50 years, so-called “food-at-home” prices dropped. The USDA says retail food fell 1.3 percent. Some items fell far more. The price of eggs, for example, dropped almost 20 percent in a year, thanks to lingering impacts of the avian flu. That’s good news for you, but bad news for grocery stores, and we’ve seen plenty of them punished on Wall Street as a result. Kroger, the nation’s largest supermarket chain, said in March that its same-store sales had fallen 0.7% during the end of 2016.

3.) Yes, we are eating out a lot more

Economists call eating out “food away from home” — as opposed to food-at-home — and it’s true that Americans are spending more while eating out than ever.  This has something to do with the state of the economy: During the 2007-2009 recession, food away from home share fell, for example.

Don’t be so quick to judge this consumer behavior, however. It’s true that many Americans don’t take the time to cook any more, but rising restaurant prices are partly to blame, also. Higher food-away-from-home prices mean more overall spending, whether or not people spend more nights at restaurants. And there’s some indication American’s love affair with certain kinds of restaurants has ended.  Back in 2014 — the same year Americans eating at home fell into second place in the BLS data – NPD Group said the average American dined at a restaurant 74 times annually, the lowest reading in more than 30 years.

Continued trouble at fast-casual chains seems to confirm that finding. Restaurant analyst TDn2K says that overall, restaurant same-store sales have now fallen for five straight quarters, and traffic fell more than 3% in the first quarter of this year, compared to the prior year.

4.) No, food isn’t the budget killer you might think

Overall, food consumes a lot less of a family’s earnings than it did back in the 1960s, or even the 1980s. Between 1960 and 2007, the share of disposable personal income spent on total food by Americans, on average, fell from 17.5 to 9.6 percent, driven by a declining share of income spent on food at home.

This seems hard to believe, but it’s true, says Kuhns.

“You have to think of it in terms of relative vs nominal terms,” she said.  “It’s one of those things were prices go up each year, but so does income.”

The share of income spent on total food began to flatten in 2000, however — partly because food prices began to rise, and partly because incomes have stagnated.

In the end, if you are still convinced that Americans eating out too much is the cause of many personal finance problems, consider this: The Agriculture Department says that in 2014, Americans spent 4.3 percent of their disposable personal incomes on food away from home. That’s not a budget buster.

5.) Food is a budget killer for the poor, however

The richer you are, the less you care about the price of food, for obvious reasons — but more critically, the less your monthly budget is subject to shocks from rising food prices.

In 2015, middle-income households spent 12.4 percent of their income on food, while families in the lowest one-fifth of income spent fully one-third of their money on food. That’s a stunning gap, and makes poorer families very sensitive to sudden increases in the price of essentials like milk or bread.

6.) We sound a bit like whiners

One might conclude that those who complain about rising food prices in the past decade or so have forgotten history. Even in a bad, recent year (2008), food rose about 6%. Back in the 1970s, double-digit increases were typical.  In 1973, food prices rose 16.4%, and then in 1974, another 14.9 percent. Those increases were blamed on food commodity and energy price shocks, and the larger economy saw shocking inflation, too.

7.) Historically, eggs are now the best bargain — Butter is cheaper, too

It can be hard to compare the price of items across the decades, but there are ways. For example, a look at a 1971 Sears catalog shows a basic refrigerator cost $399, or about $2,450 in today’s dollars. That would buy you a heck of a refrigerator today.

Another useful method is to compare the increase in costs over time, which the BLS does.  A fascinating chart compares the cost of items back in 1913 vs 2013.  Butter was once the most expensive item in a consumer’s grocery sack. Now, coffee, steak, and many other items are more expensive.  The price of potatoes has climbed 39-fold since 1913, but the price of eggs is up only 5-fold during the same span. Bread costs 25 times more; sugar costs 12 times more; coffee 20 times more, but rice only 8 times more.

If you’re looking for a more recent comparison, NPR crunched other BLS data comparing 1982 and 2012 (all in 2012 dollar) and found that most meats are much cheaper than they used to be (steak is down 30%!); but some vegetables are more expensive (peppers up 34%!).

How much do Americans spend on food anyway?

That’s not an easy question to answer, as circumstances vary so widely, but the USDA tries. A family of four with two children under 5 spent between $571 and $1,116 on food-at-home each month during 2015, the agency says. That same family with older kids spends between $657 and $1,305, proving it’s best to keep your kids from growing up.

On the other hand, a single male between 19-50 spends between $172 and $346 monthly.  That doesn’t include eating out, of course.

Don’t be so hard on food.

Finally, Kuhns stresses that inflation data on food is a very tricky calculation and government statistics can’t capture all the factors that really make up “price.”  When calculating inflation for items like computers, economists factor in that buyers get more for their money today than they did in the past — today’s PCs are far more powerful.  Those adjustments aren’t made for food, she noted, even though today’s supermarket shoppers get a lot more than they used to.

“When you go into a grocery store aisle, it’s nothing like 1985,” she said. “We have bagged lettuce. Imported vegetables.  We have access to a lot more fruits and vegetables,” she said. “In the 80s, most stuff was local and you could only get what was in season. Now you can get whatever you want any time of the year.”

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7 Kitchen Appliances That Can Save You Money

Spending a small amount of cash on a small kitchen appliance can help you save big bucks.

Buying kitchen appliances can be expensive and it can be hard to decide which ones are smart investments. A lot of it depends on your lifestyle. For some, a waffle maker might be a great investment because if you eat waffles on a daily basis. If your waffle habit is not as strong, a waffle maker won’t be worth it. Kitchen appliances can save you money, but only if you actually use them. If your lifestyle doesn’t necessitate the use of these appliances on a daily basis, they might just end up gathering dust.

There are plenty of ways to save money in the kitchen and investing in small appliances can lead to major future savings. Peruse the list and envision your daily life  — if you see these appliances as eventually paying for themselves and making your life easier, it might be a great money saver for you.

1. Single Serve Coffee Maker

A coffee maker adds major convenience to any morning, and it can also positively impact your wallet. If you don’t live with many people or are the only coffee drinker in the house, a single serve coffee maker can help you save major bucks. It can often be wasteful to make a huge pot of coffee for only one person — unless it’s a Monday, in which case, keep it coming.

Refillable single serve cups or pods can also be a bonus budget friendly option, allowing you to use your favorite ground coffee and save on disposable pods. Plus, they are multi-use, allowing you to use them to brew tea, hot cocoa or even soup.

You can also get cash back when you purchase coffee pods or K-Cups when using certain credit cards for coffee lovers. Before applying for any new credit, it’s best to make sure your credit score is high enough to qualify. You can check two of your scores free on Credit.com.

2. Rice Cooker

Perfectly cooking rice can be difficult and quick-cook rice pouches can be pricey. Uncooked bags of rice can be sold by the pound at an affordable price and using a rice cooker can be a huge money saver. Rice can also be a hassle to cook in a pan because you have to watch it carefully, so having a rice cooker frees up time for other tasks.

Though rice is a great pantry staple, rice cookers can be used for more than rice. Use it to cook quinoa, soups, porridge, cake and other meals. Plus, if your rice cooker has a steaming basket, it can be used to steam veggies. A quick internet search easily draws up plenty of results for rice cooker recipes.

3. Slow Cooker

If you dread cooking a meal after a long day of work and end up ordering out, a slow cooker can save you a lot of money. This saves money by cutting back on excuses when it comes to homemade meals. Add your ingredients to the cooker before going to work and come home to a tasty meal. Ordering food for dinner won’t be necessary if you’ve got it waiting for you. As you eat more home cooked meals and order out less, the savings can pile up.

The slow cooker can also be multipurpose. Use it to make cooking essentials, like chicken stock or vegetable broth. Slow cookers are also a way to turn cheaper cuts of meat into delicious meals. An inexpensive cut of pork can lead to tasty pulled pork.

4. Food Processor

For those who find their homes cluttered with blenders, graters and other appliances, this can also be a space saving option. One food processor can serve plenty of functions like pureeing, grinding, shredding, chopping and blending. It’s also great for making smoothies and milkshakes, no blender necessary.

A food processor can also be used to make affordable some pantry staples, like nut butters, hummus or pasta sauce. If you’re feeling bold, food processors can also be used to make laundry detergent.

5. Vacuum Sealer

This appliance is perfect for anyone with major freezer space who loves meal planning and keeping food fresh. If you’ve got plenty of freezer space, save major bucks by vacuum sealing everything from meats to peppers from your garden.

Freezer burn can lead to a lot of wasted food, and a vacuum sealer can prevent it. When there’s a great deal on chicken or fresh spices, buy in bulk and vacuum seal them to freeze for a later date. This appliance can also vacuum seal half-used refrigerated foods, like blocks of cheese, to extend their shelf life.

Keep in mind unless you’ve got freezer space or often buy or cook in bulk, this appliance may not be worth it.

6. Soda Maker

If you’re a big fan of flavored seltzer or sparkling water or soda, this can be a smart investment. Making your own version of soda and seltzer at home can lead to savings. If sparking water, soda and other carbonated beverages routinely eat up your grocery budget, this can be a great investment.

7. Toaster Oven

For quick tasks normally be done in an oven, toaster ovens are perfect. They take less time to preheat than ovens, making them a great money saving option for small meals or even side dishes. If you use your oven often, a toaster oven can be a wise investment.

Toaster ovens are also great for reviving leftovers. Plus, toaster ovens can be a substitute for toasters — a huge win for those who are trying to eliminate clutter or don’t want to buy more kitchen appliances.

Image: kupicoo

The post 7 Kitchen Appliances That Can Save You Money appeared first on Credit.com.

7 Kitchen Appliances That Can Save You Money

Spending a small amount of cash on a small kitchen appliance can help you save big bucks.

Buying kitchen appliances can be expensive and it can be hard to decide which ones are smart investments. A lot of it depends on your lifestyle. For some, a waffle maker might be a great investment because if you eat waffles on a daily basis. If your waffle habit is not as strong, a waffle maker won’t be worth it. Kitchen appliances can save you money, but only if you actually use them. If your lifestyle doesn’t necessitate the use of these appliances on a daily basis, they might just end up gathering dust.

There are plenty of ways to save money in the kitchen and investing in small appliances can lead to major future savings. Peruse the list and envision your daily life  — if you see these appliances as eventually paying for themselves and making your life easier, it might be a great money saver for you.

1. Single Serve Coffee Maker

A coffee maker adds major convenience to any morning, and it can also positively impact your wallet. If you don’t live with many people or are the only coffee drinker in the house, a single serve coffee maker can help you save major bucks. It can often be wasteful to make a huge pot of coffee for only one person — unless it’s a Monday, in which case, keep it coming.

Refillable single serve cups or pods can also be a bonus budget friendly option, allowing you to use your favorite ground coffee and save on disposable pods. Plus, they are multi-use, allowing you to use them to brew tea, hot cocoa or even soup.

You can also get cash back when you purchase coffee pods or K-Cups when using certain credit cards for coffee lovers. Before applying for any new credit, it’s best to make sure your credit score is high enough to qualify. You can check two of your scores free on Credit.com.

2. Rice Cooker

Perfectly cooking rice can be difficult and quick-cook rice pouches can be pricey. Uncooked bags of rice can be sold by the pound at an affordable price and using a rice cooker can be a huge money saver. Rice can also be a hassle to cook in a pan because you have to watch it carefully, so having a rice cooker frees up time for other tasks.

Though rice is a great pantry staple, rice cookers can be used for more than rice. Use it to cook quinoa, soups, porridge, cake and other meals. Plus, if your rice cooker has a steaming basket, it can be used to steam veggies. A quick internet search easily draws up plenty of results for rice cooker recipes.

3. Slow Cooker

If you dread cooking a meal after a long day of work and end up ordering out, a slow cooker can save you a lot of money. This saves money by cutting back on excuses when it comes to homemade meals. Add your ingredients to the cooker before going to work and come home to a tasty meal. Ordering food for dinner won’t be necessary if you’ve got it waiting for you. As you eat more home cooked meals and order out less, the savings can pile up.

The slow cooker can also be multipurpose. Use it to make cooking essentials, like chicken stock or vegetable broth. Slow cookers are also a way to turn cheaper cuts of meat into delicious meals. An inexpensive cut of pork can lead to tasty pulled pork.

4. Food Processor

For those who find their homes cluttered with blenders, graters and other appliances, this can also be a space saving option. One food processor can serve plenty of functions like pureeing, grinding, shredding, chopping and blending. It’s also great for making smoothies and milkshakes, no blender necessary.

A food processor can also be used to make affordable some pantry staples, like nut butters, hummus or pasta sauce. If you’re feeling bold, food processors can also be used to make laundry detergent.

5. Vacuum Sealer

This appliance is perfect for anyone with major freezer space who loves meal planning and keeping food fresh. If you’ve got plenty of freezer space, save major bucks by vacuum sealing everything from meats to peppers from your garden.

Freezer burn can lead to a lot of wasted food, and a vacuum sealer can prevent it. When there’s a great deal on chicken or fresh spices, buy in bulk and vacuum seal them to freeze for a later date. This appliance can also vacuum seal half-used refrigerated foods, like blocks of cheese, to extend their shelf life.

Keep in mind unless you’ve got freezer space or often buy or cook in bulk, this appliance may not be worth it.

6. Soda Maker

If you’re a big fan of flavored seltzer or sparkling water or soda, this can be a smart investment. Making your own version of soda and seltzer at home can lead to savings. If sparking water, soda and other carbonated beverages routinely eat up your grocery budget, this can be a great investment.

7. Toaster Oven

For quick tasks normally be done in an oven, toaster ovens are perfect. They take less time to preheat than ovens, making them a great money saving option for small meals or even side dishes. If you use your oven often, a toaster oven can be a wise investment.

Toaster ovens are also great for reviving leftovers. Plus, toaster ovens can be a substitute for toasters — a huge win for those who are trying to eliminate clutter or don’t want to buy more kitchen appliances.

Image: kupicoo

The post 7 Kitchen Appliances That Can Save You Money appeared first on Credit.com.

How to Save Money on Food When You Live Alone

No more wasting food or money! A few smart strategies can make meals for one affordable and simple.

If you’re cooking for one, you probably know the feeling of disappointment and frustration that comes with throwing away a lot of food before you’ve had the chance to finish it. You’ve probably also thrown items in your cart, knowing fully well that half of it will end up in the trash. Often food isn’t packaged in smaller portions and, when it is, the price might be too high. But have no fear. You can save money on food when you live alone.

1. Shop With a Friend or Family Member.

This works especially well in wholesale stores, because chances are you don’t have the space to store 20 cans of soup or a large box of granola bars. Shop with someone else to utilize savings that come with buying in bulk without hoarding excess food that will go to waste. Split the cost of items and then split the items themselves. This works well for multi-packs, large variety packs or non-perishable staples.

2. Meal Plan

This is one of the best ways to save money on food when you live alone. Having a meal plan helps ensure all the groceries you purchase are used. Center your meal plan around using items on sale at your grocery store and items that can be used in multiple recipes. For example, I’ll find two dinner recipes that require half of an onion each, ensuring the onion I purchase is totally used. Or, I’ll buy a package of chicken, divide it, freeze it and plan for three meals based around chicken for the week.

Making a meal plan can be simple, too — craft it while waiting for the bus or drinking your morning coffee. Having a meal plan and grocery shopping list to go with it will save you time at the grocery store. It also helps you save on groceries by preventing you from aimlessly and mindlessly spending.

3. Utilize Your Freezer

When it comes to food, cook what you want and freeze the rest. Wrap meats, chopped veggies and other foods in easy to thaw individual portions. If you can’t use something before it’s about to go bad, freeze it. When you cook, make several servings at a time and freeze what you don’t eat for future meals. Your freezer will quickly become your best friend.

4. Create a Budget

Setting a limit for spending on food each week can prevent overspending on groceries and food. Saving doesn’t always mean depriving yourself of all luxuries — adding a small budget for ordering in and eating out is also an option.

5. Learn From Past Purchases

After your next grocery shopping trip, stick your receipt on the fridge. Each time you finish something you bought, highlight it on the receipt. Before your next trip to the grocery store, check your list and reassess. Whatever ended up going in the trash, barely being touched or never being opened may not be worth repurchasing or should be bought in smaller quantities. This is a simple way to learn what’s a necessity and what’s a waste.

6. Host a Monthly Potluck

Don’t feel like halving or quartering another recipe? Have a potluck meal. This is a great way to try new foods and spend time with family and friends. Have each person bring a dish, side dish or dessert and enjoy a meal that doesn’t involve eating it leftover for lunch all week.

7. Revamp Leftovers

When trying to save, leftovers become a staple. Leftovers can easily be turned into sandwiches, quesadillas or even salad toppings. Toss the leftover grilled chicken from your salad with frozen veggies and teriyaki sauce for a last minute stir fry. Last night’s chicken parm? Make it into a sandwich. Leftovers don’t need to be boring or overly repetitive — all you need is creativity.

8. Double Check Deals

I learned this lesson in the cereal aisle, where I was grabbing two boxes of cereal when I only wanted one because the cereal was two for $4. “You know you can buy one and still get the sale price, right?” said older woman, who shared this wisdom as she threw one box in her cart and walked away. She was right. The originally $3 box of cereal was still $2, even when I only bought one.

Don’t let tempting deals that require buying multiple products to get the discount cajole you into buying more than you need. Many grocery stores honor the deal price if you purchase just one. Check your store’s policy or scan the item yourself to see if qualifies. If you’re buying more than you’ll actually use to save money, you’re not actually saving. If you do buy extras of a food to earn savings, freeze or figure out how to utilize the excess.

9. Buy Versatile Foods

Foods that can be used in many ways can prevent your meals from getting boring and repetitive, lowering the chances of ordering takeout. These foods can also be added to many recipes to make them more hearty and filling. An egg can be cooked in so many ways and used in so many dishes from fried rice to chocolate chip cookies. Some other affordable versatile options are pasta, poultry, rice, potatoes, and lentils.

10. Go Meatless

Meat is often one of the priciest parts of grocery shopping budgets. Plan for a few meatless meals per week. Pasta, quinoa and potatoes are some great focal points for meatless meals. (However, when you must use meat, utilize these butcher’s secrets for saving money on meat!)

11. Keep Track of Expiration Dates

This is the method I’ve found to be most effective when it comes to using groceries before they expire. Keep a dry erase board or notepad on your fridge with perishable items purchased that week (eggs, milk, cheese, sausage, etc.) and list them in order of which expires the soonest. Also track of when certain things are opened, like bags of shredded cheese, so you knew to use them as they could potentially expire sooner. Also list fresh fruits and veggies purchased that week as a reminder to use them before they rot.

This method adds incentive to cook certain meals before others and creates awareness of which foods are nearing their expiration date. This is also helpful for those of us who constantly ask ourselves, “What should I make for dinner?” When you you have an opened bag of shredded cheddar, half of a bell pepper and some chicken that’s set to expire tomorrow, you might be inspired to cook up some chicken fajitas. It’s almost like a game — can you use all of your groceries before they expire? The prize is getting the most bang for your buck and not wasting money on food.

12. Always Have Condiments & Spices

These have a long shelf life and can transform any dish. I always keep hot sauce, Dijon mustard, Teriyaki sauce, pasta sauce, soy sauce and pesto on hand for last-minute dishes.

13. Limit Ordering Takeout

This option is more tempting when you live alone. There’s no one to stop you from order pizza, sushi and Chinese at all hours. Learn what tempts you to order out. Do you tend to order out after a long day of work when you’re too tired to cook? Throw ingredients in your slow cooker in the morning so you have a meal waiting when you get home or store already made meals in your freezer. While not the healthiest option, keeping an emergency can of soup or frozen pizza on hand can be a quick fix that’s cheaper than ordering in.

If you do order food, try to maximize your savings. On websites like Seamless and Grubhub, check off “Coupons Available” or “Free Delivery” when searching for restaurants. You can also order for pick up versus paying a delivery fee and tip. You can save when you eat out at restaurants, too.

14. Buy Frozen or Canned 

While buying fresh is often the tastiest option, fresh fruits and vegetables expire quickly and can get expensive. If you’re looking to cut costs at the grocery store, opt for some frozen and canned foods. They have a long shelf life — no need to worry about them going bad before you can eat them.

15. Use Cash Back Credit Cards

If you typically charge your grocery store purchases, this is a great option. Many credit cards offer cash back on purchases, including the ones you make at the grocery store. To see if you qualify for these types of cards, you can check two free credit scores every month on Credit.com.

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The post How to Save Money on Food When You Live Alone appeared first on Credit.com.

How Much Should You Budget for Groceries?

Groceries are an essential, but going way over budget isn't. Learning how to properly budget for groceries will save you a lot of time and money.

When creating your budget, it’s important to include accurate numbers. After all, an accurate budget sets you up for financial success. It’s easy to know how much you need to include for utilities, loans, and even fuel. However, it can be difficult to figure out how much to budget for groceries. There is not a right or a wrong number, but you must find the right amount to include on your grocery budget so you don’t overspend.

Fortunately, there are some tricks you can try to help you figure out exactly how much to budget for groceries.

Average American Consumption

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans spend, on average, around 6% of their budget on food. However, the study also shows that they also spend 5% of their disposable income on dining out. That makes your food budget 11% of your overall income.

If you use this method, budget 6% for groceries each month and 5% for dining out. If your take-home income is $3,000 a month, you will budget around $180 for groceries and $150 for dining out. Of course, if $180 won’t cover your needs, you should cut back on dining out and use any additional money towards your grocery needs.

Actual Spending

A more efficient and realistic way to figure out how much to budget for groceries is to find what you’re currently spending. Do this by completing a spending form.

A spending form will help you to review all of your purchases over several pay periods. The result will show you the average you are spending on groceries each week. If you feel that is too much, you can try to reduce your spending, keeping in mind that you and your family will also have to adjust the way you eat.

US Average Plan

Another way to choose a grocery budget amount is to look at the plans created by the USDA. The most recent plans can be found on their website. They provide the weekly cost for a thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost and liberal plan on a weekly and monthly basis. The amounts are broken down by gender and age. You will need to total the amounts listed for the people in your family.

For example, let’s say you are a family of four. Your kids are a 12-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl. You decide to try to live on a low-cost plan. According to the report, the total monthly amount for your son will be $236.30 and for your daughter $190.10. Dad’s monthly amount is $238.30 and mom’s is $206.30. That makes the grand total grocery budget $871.00 per month or $217.75 per week.

Special Dietary Needs

If you have a family member who cannot eat gluten, or who has other dietary restrictions, these can affect your budget. Make sure you keep these specialty foods in mind when developing your budget as they can cost much more than average foods.

Reduce Your Grocery Budget Further

If you’ve calculated your grocery budget but still want to lower the cost, try some of these simple ideas:

Reduce your dining out budget. Eat at home more often and avoid restaurants and takeout. This is a simple way to find money to add to your budget.

Use coupons. While they are not for everyone, coupons are the simplest way to save money on the items you need. Even if the coupons aren’t available for the foods you need to eat, you can find them for household products you use, thereby reducing your spending and increasing the money you can spend on the foods you want.

Menu plan. Figure out your meals every single week before you shop. That way, you have a plan for the week. You’ll know what you will eat and you’ll have the ingredients on hand when it is time to cook.

Use a cash back credit card. There are a lot of great rewards cards that help you earn cash back and other perks while you shop. This can help lessen the stress of grocery costs. Remember, a lot of these cards require a decent credit score. Before applying, see where your credit stands. You can check two credit scores for free at Credit.com.

Take the time to create a grocery budget that is feasible. Don’t try to make it so low that it is unrealistic, or your budget will fail month after month. Personalize it to your family’s needs and find a way to make it work.

Image: AleksandarNakic

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5 No-Heat Meals That Will Save You Money This Summer

It’s hard to justify using heat to cook when it only makes you lose money, and time, so read on for some great no-heat meals to make now.

This summer, try preparing no-heat meals to save money on air conditioning and expensive foods that require heat. Using your stove and oven in the summer can release extra heat into your home — the last thing you want during the warmest months. This extra heat means turning up your air conditioning, resulting in extra expenses. Even when grilling, the cost of coals or fuel can quickly add up.

If you want to avoid using heat to cook because it cuts into your comfort or your budget, read on for some great no-heat meals to make now.

1. Barbecue Chicken Sandwich

If you can’t stay away from meat, opt for a previously cooked option like rotisserie chicken because it’s easy to pick up from your local store. You can slice, pull or shred it to add protein to any no-heat dish. Additionally, a rotisserie chicken can serve four to five people for only $5. You can make a barbecue chicken sandwich using rotisserie chicken, store-bought barbecue sauce and pickled vegetables, like cucumbers, to create a hearty meal perfect for a quick dinner or lunch in the summer. Even if barbecue isn’t your thing, food website Delish has plenty of sandwich recipes that use rotisserie chicken. Bonus: All the components can be prepared ahead of time, making them perfect for picnics or travel.

2. Tomato Gazpacho

Summer is tomato harvesting season, so take advantage of the cheaper produce offerings with a refreshing tomato gazpacho. This cold soup is perfect because it’s vegetarian, low-calorie and has 10 or fewer ingredients. RealSimple.com has a version of gazpacho that features corn and cucumbers, two more staple summer vegetables. If you like, you can serve the gazpacho with garlic-rubbed crostini to add an element with contrasting texture.

3. Vegetable Salad With Peanut Butter Dressing

Salads are a great healthy option and the slightly decadent peanut butter dressing adds just the right amount of sweetness and richness to the dish. The Kitchn has a recipe for tofu and broccoli salad that also uses peanut butter dressing. The salad is so fun and colorful it might help persuade your kids to eat their vegetables. Some recipes call for baked tofu, but for a no-heat version of this dish you can use raw tofu. Opting for vegetarian meals will also help you cut costs, as tofu is cheaper than meat and just as versatile.

4. Unicorn Summer Rolls

One of the hottest trends right now is rainbow, or unicorn, food. From bagels to sushi to cake, people are making all their favorite foods colorful. No-heat unicorn summer rolls are perfect to make to keep up with trends while maintaining a budget. Today.com has a great version of this easy recipe. Fresh, seasonal produce can be inexpensive, and it’s easy to chop and shred everything on your own. Plus, a key ingredient, rice paper wrappers, are only 10 cents each. With their color and veggies, these rolls are fun for everyone and filling enough for an affordable summer lunch.

5. Picnic in a Glass

One of the greatest summer pastimes is having a picnic. Nothing beats heading to the beach or park with friends to enjoy fresh air and a flavorful meal. A “Picnic in a Glass” is an ideal no-heat dish to bring to a real picnic, or enjoy from the comfort of your own home. Made in a mason jar, this dish is convenient and pre-portioned, which makes serving and cleanup a breeze. If you’re looking for a recipe, MyRecipes.com has an easy one. A tangy yogurt dressing adds dimension to leftover or store-bought shredded chicken. Load the jar up with vegetables to complete your no-heat meal.

While shopping for ingredients for these no-bake summer meals, consider using rewards cards for extra value. There are plenty of great grocery store rewards cards but they often require decent credit. Before applying, see where you stand. You can check two credit scores for free at Credit.com.

Image: Geber86

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15 Restaurant Mobile Apps That Can Save You Money

Going out to eat can be rewarding in more ways than one.

Food is best served with a side of savings and restaurants with apps (that’s applications, not appetizers) that make it even easier to spend less. If you’re planning to order in, eat out or grab a quick bite, you might as well be rewarded for it.

Even if you’re on a budget, there are a lot of ways to save at restaurants, but one of the most convenient is by using an app. Below are 15 you can get for popular restaurants. All these apps are free to download on both iOS and Android and are full of coupons, loyalty programs and rewards.

1. Buffalo Wild Wings

The Blazin’ Rewards app makes it easy to earn points. Earn 100 points for signing up and filling out a profile. For every $10 spent earn 100 more. Check in five times during lunch time and earn 300 more points. Also earn points by checking in at the restaurant and having friends check in. Like in many college classes, earn points just for showing up. The rewards include bottles of sauce, beverages, appetizers, desserts and entrees.

2. Chili’s

With the Chili’s app, you can rack up Plenti Points by dining at the restaurant. These can be redeemed at Chili’s for appetizers, desserts and more. As a member, you’ll also receive a free dessert on your birthday (here are 10 other places with birthday freebies). These Plenti points can also be earned or spent at other Plenti partners like Macy’s, Mobil and Rite Aid. The app also has bonus perks, like allowing you to add your name to a wait list or order to go.

3. Steak ‘n Shake

Earn a free milkshake with your first purchase using the Steak ‘n Shake Rewards app. The app requires setting up a payment method to redeem the milkshake. If you don’t want to add a credit or debit card, earn rewards by adding a gift card. For every $50 spent you earn $5 back to be spent on food of your choice at any Steak ‘n Shake location.

4. Moe’s Southwest Grill

The Moe’s Rockin’ Rewards app has plenty of perks. Receive a free cup of queso when you sign up and a free burrito on your birthday every year. Log in through Facebook to earn an additional 50 points. Earn 10 reward points per $1 spent and for every 1,000 points receive $10 credit to spend at any Moe’s location.

5. Chick-fil-A

The Chick-fil-A One app allows you to earn treats the more you spend. To earn treats, you must place your order using the mobile device or scan your personalized QR code within the app during each visit. This app also allows you to skip the line by ordering on your phone.

6. Burger King

While there is no point system, the BK app offers mobile-only coupons that are in constant rotation. This app is worth checking for deals before placing your order.

7. Cici’s

The MyCici’s app has a loyalty based rewards program. The app requires you to scan your receipts. After five visits with $7 (before tax) or more spent, you earn a free adult buffet or a free one topping pizza to go.

8. Whataburger

The Whataburger app encourages you to load a mobile payment like a debit card, PayPal, Apple Pay, or a Whataburger gift card. This isn’t required, however. All that’s required is for rewards is having the app. To track your visits, have the cashier scan the bar code on your phone. Every five visits are rewarded with free food and for a visit to count you only need to spend one cent.

9. Outback Steakhouse

The Outback app allows you to earn rewards and keep track of all Outback coupons in one place. It also gives 50% off of your fourth visit (up to $20). The app has additional perks, like allowing you to check in as soon as you’re close to the restaurant so you’re seated faster. You can also pay with your phone to avoid waiting for the bill and, for big groups, the app allows you to split the bill.

10. Duffy’s MVP Sports Grill

The Duffy’s MVP app allows those who use it to earn 20% to 50% off of their bill when they eat between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Tuesdays are double point days. Members also earn free birthday rewards. MVP app users earn one point per $1 spent and 100 points automatically becomes a $10 reward credit to be spent at any Duffy’s MVP Sports Grill location.

11. fresh&co

This app requires you to link a credit card to it, so unless you frequent fresh&co it may not be worth it. (You might want to check your credit score for free with Credit.com before doing so to see where your credit stands). You earn $3 for creating an account. By paying with your mobile app and the card connected to it, you earn $9 for every $100 spent with $1 is donated to a charity dedicated to ending childhood hunger. Plus, you earn a free meal on your birthday.

12. Schnippers

The Schnippers app allows you to earn $8 in rewards for every 10 visits. Scan your QR code and spend at least $8 at each visit for it to count toward your reward.

13. Hale & Hearty

The Hale & Hearty app gives you a $2 credit for downloading and $2 per friend you refer. You’ll also earn $5 for every $50 spent.

14. Krispy Kreme

Earn a free doughnut for signing up and downloading the Krispy Kreme app. Scan the bar code with every purchase to rack up points toward free drinks and doughnuts. Plus, earn a free gift on your birthday. Bonus perk? Be notified when doughnuts are hot and fresh out of the oven at nearby locations. Yes, please!

15. Panera Bread

While the app itself isn’t necessary for rewards, it works well with the MyPanera rewards system. Create a MyPanera account or log in using an existing one and use the app to easily keep track of rewards. You can also turn on push notifications to tell you when you have rewards expiring soon so you’ll never miss out on freebies.

Image: monkeybusinessimages

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