A few weeks ago, I was invited to one of those meal preparation parties where you hang out with friends and combine ingredients for frozen meals. It seemed like a fun way to spend a weekday night, as well as a smart way to build up a stash of frozen dinners ahead of time. For a package price of $90, I would get a selection of spices and oils along with recipes I could use to save myself from slaving over the stove for 10 separate evenings.
That sounds simple enough, but I soon found out that prepping for the party would take several hours on its own. Before you could show up to assemble your meals, you needed to head to the grocery store to buy the vegetables and proteins each recipe required. You were also instructed to clean your vegetables, prepare them or chop them up in the way each recipe required, and package them so you could easily transport them to the party. The gathering itself was supposed to be a fun way to measure out all your ingredients and piece together your meals in the company of friends.
Apparently, the party was also supposed to help you save money and time on meal prep each week. By having a selection of freezer meals on hand, you could avoid going out to eat and save money on your grocery budget. The problem is, the required ingredients for the 10 meals could easily come out to well over $100 based on my best guess. This begs the question: How is paying $200 for 10 frozen dinners — or $20 per frozen dinner — a good way to save money?
The reality is, this type of party isn’t a “good deal” at all. Considering my kids are happy eating spaghetti with toast or eggs with pancakes and fruit for dinner, the entire ordeal also sounded like a monumental waste of my time and energy.
And, saving money on food is not that hard if you live in an area with a few grocery stores to choose from, have a way to get there, and have some time to cook at home. Create a list before you head to the store, shop mostly from the sales flyer each week, and have a food emergency fund on hand for those nights when you’re short on time. Those three tips will go a long way toward helping you cut your food budget, and each one is easy to implement — no party required.
Simple Ways to Save More Money
When you really think about it, there are so many ways people try too hard to save money when the simple way is best. Maybe you download cash-back apps that dole out rewards while simultaneously encouraging you to spend more. Or, perhaps you use complicated budgeting software that costs money and doesn’t work nearly as well as a pen and paper budget would.
However you’re wasting your mental resources, it’s quite possible that the easiest route to saving money is also the most effective. Here are a few ways you can spend less and save more without any extra hoopla, hassle, or stress.
Use a Basic Written Budget
To heck with fancy budgeting software that requires a learning curve to get started and months to implement into your life. You can get started with a simple written budget right now — as in, today — by writing down your income and your expenses and tracking your last few months of spending to see where your money has been going.
Start next month anew with a spending plan that considers your income, your regular bills, and a set amount of money you can spend in discretionary categories like food and transportation. Then track your spending to make sure you stay within your spending limits throughout the month. It may take a few months to get used to your new limitations, but having a written budget and spending plan can change your finances forever.
Make Your Savings Automatic
Sure, you can save money with a cash-back app or a service like Acorns that rounds up your spending and invests it, but you can save even more by simply setting up automatic transfers to a high-interest savings account.
Once you’re using a written budget, you should be able to figure out how much you can sock away on payday or the first of the month. By making transfers to a bank account automatic, you can “set it and forget it,” and you never have to worry you’ll forget.
- Read more: The Magic Math of Paying Yourself First
Boost Your Retirement Savings
Another way to save more money for the future is by increasing your retirement savings through your employer. A simple can show you what a huge difference it can make if you boost your 401(k) contributions by even a single percentage point.
Compound interest is one of the wonders of the world, and taking advantage early on can make an enormous difference in your retirement nest egg. This step is also one you can make once and never have to think about again. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.
- Read more: A Complete Beginner’s Guide to 401(k) Plans
Stop Buying So Much
Here’s a novel idea. Instead of looking for deals or rewards on things you want to buy, save your energy and just don’t buy them in the first place. Use your winter coat from last year, stick with the sofa and chair set you still have from college, and keep driving the car you just paid off.
Too many people look for ways to save money on items they don’t really need to buy in the first place. Stop shopping and looking for ways to spend, and you will save money over time. It’s as simple as that.
The Bottom Line
If you do a simple internet search on the different ways you could be saving money, you’ll find a dizzying number of ideas that make no sense in the real world. Sometimes it’s a frozen dinner party with a $90 spice purchase required, and other times it’s a money-saving hobby that requires more effort than it’s worth.
It’s up to you to discern which tactics will save your finances — and which ones will waste your time. But keeping it simple is one of the best savings hacks there is.
Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of . Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at .
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