Here’s how to cut your food budget without clipping coupons

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Meat costs more. Produce is up, too. Up and down the grocery store aisles, consumers are paying almost 9% more for our food compared to the same time last year, and the USDA predicts prices will continue to rise.

“Most of the people who come to us initially, they’re saying things like, ‘I’m making more money than ever before, but I don’t know where it’s going,’” said Jill Emanuel, a certified professional financial coach with Fiscal Fitness Phoenix. 3 On Your Side went to her for some advice to manage the food budget.

“It can be this source of stress because it’s a constant place where we’re spending money,” Emanuel said. “I think one place that people go wrong is trying to keep track of every single penny.” Though you shouldn’t micromanage every purchase, according to Emanuel, you should gauge how much you’re spending. Start by evaluating the past few months. Figure out how much money is going toward groceries and the drive-through and dinner at restaurants. Then choose the amount you actually want to spend, and get a separate checking account for your day-to-day expenses.

“Every payday, transfer a set amount into that account,” Emanuel suggested. “You can spend however much you want eating out or on groceries. You simply need to look at that balance and say all right, ‘We have $200 left for the next four days. How do you want to spend this?’”

To stretch the dollars in that account, consider preparing vegetarian meals a couple days a week. Cutting out meat can make meals more affordable. You can also plan out your meals so you don’t end up tossing food that goes bad before you get a chance to eat it. And consider ordering your groceries online for pickup. “That way you’re not falling prey to temptations in the store or just adding random things to your cart,” Emanuel said. “So often we add things to the cart that we have two of at home already, so it can really help to keep things in check and you can see the dollar amount before you pay. You can make a choice of what do I actually want this week or what can we get by on until the next week.” Be aware of fees that may come with online grocery orders.