How to Optimize Your 2024 Budget As The Cost of Living and Food Rises

2023 was an expensive one.

A multitude of factors – from elevated energy and food prices to high interest rates, a tight labor market plus ongoing global supply chain bottlenecks have driven inflation up and substantially increased the cost of living.

There is much to look forward to in 2024 but also much uncertainty, particularly in how to balance our lifestyle and crucially our household budgets.

As a result of habits, developed during the Covid pandemic many of us have increased spending on food, and we must work towards tightening that spending to unlock funds for essentials such as work commutes as well as the fun stuff.

In 2024, food prices are likely to continue to increase. The forecasted dry weather will impact the cost of staple food items like wheat, corn, and soybean and ongoing geopolitical events are poised to contribute to the negative trend.

So it is clear that before we even consider booking any fun activities our budgets need to go further than ever to cover the cost of everyday living. We must focus on the things we can optimize in our monthly budget and how.

One of the biggest family expenses after mortgage or rent is our food budget – the average grocery family bill in 2023 was over £5,344(UK household) and $4,942(US household) and this goes way up when we include takeaway meals eaten at home.

We can cut this budget significantly if we adopt a more food-savvy approach that ensures that we are using all the food we buy, not wasting it due to a lack of planning or falling into the common food waste traps.

1. Say ‘no’ to takeout

Takeaway food has been on our menu more than ever

Firstly, let’s put a limit on those takeaways.  A bunch of billion-dollar food delivery companies has emerged, offering convenience at a serious cost. Moreover, there is an increase in the cost of delivery services which makes takeaway food pricier than ever, according to recent publications in FOOD&WINE and WSJ.

Cooking food at home will undoubtedly save you serious money and even more importantly, will ensure that your meal ingredients are healthy and fresh. For example, the average takeout meal is 700 – 1200 calories per person so keeping control of what you are eating will benefit your health, energy, and productivity.

Sometimes we resort to takeouts because we are stuck on ideas on what to cook, even though we have a fully-stocked fridge. If you are lacking inspiration we can suggest a new approach, enabled by our mobile app, CozZo. The digital cookbook feature of CozZo will help you avoid the urge to reach for the takeout menus by matching instantly all ingredients to products you have in stock and finding new recipe ideas for you to choose from.

2. Adapt for a normal or a hybrid work setup

Past the pandemic, many employers have allowed for a continuation of the at-home/hybrid approach and this work arrangement presents a tough challenge for many families. With all the many permutations of who is home and when the traditional way of meal planning could benefit from a 2024 update.

We’re in dire need of a more flexible approach that would ensure the food doesn’t end up in the bin and fits into our schedules, unpredictable change of plans, and fluctuation in cooking energy and enthusiasm.

So how does this flexible, zero-waste meal planning work?

Plan your meals with CozZo while in the office or on the go

By using a CozZo app to plan your family meals you can start the week with a basic plan – but have the flexibility to move that around as necessary. The plan is seamlessly shared with selected members of your household to encourage their participation in the shopping and cooking.

CozZo is designed to be the tool to assist you in planning your meals for those weeks when your routine is easy to anticipate and those weeks when you need more flexibility.

When you’re working in the office or you’re on the go, CozZo provides the ability to browse the food stocked in your fridge or pantry and see which recipes can be cooked with available ingredients. You can use the integrated messenger to discuss meal ideas with your partner and decide who will purchase any missing ingredients on the way home.

On weeks when your family routine is fixed the CozZo meal planner will assist you to get everyone’s wishes into a well-laid-out plan. Just remember when meal planning that it is best to be realistic about the number of meals you will need to prepare.

So that is our take on flexible meal planning. A less daunting and straightforward approach. And above all, one that accommodates your lifestyle and schedule instead of fighting against it.

3. Don’t lose sight of those leftovers

Many times when we cook in the evening we have leftovers, so let’s get into a habit of using these rather than packing them into Tupperware thrown in the freezer never to be seen again.

Could that extra chicken pasta make a nice packed lunch for later in the week? If so make sure you use it by making a note in the CozZo meal planner that will remind you to get it out of the fridge.

Returning to the office will be a sharp reminder of how much money it costs to commute and to eat out at lunchtime.  Leftovers and a bit of planning at the start of the week could save a lot on the cost of your lunches.  Homemade salads and sandwiches are far more cost-effective than a coffee and lunch from a shop each day.

If you do a weekend “batch cooking” like cooking 2 chickens in the oven you will save on electricity, plus you will be less occupied with dinners for the next few days.

All those savings soon add up

4. Once a month reset

Once a month it can be useful to have a week where you buy only minimal food and use up the items in your freezer and pantry. With this, ‘low spend week’ we bet you will be amazed how many meals you can create with items you already have in stock. As a family, you can have fun creating meals from what’s in the freezer, have a competition to create the best homemade pizzas using the bits in the fridge. Tacos are another great way to use up cold meats, rice and beans.

With CozZo food inventory you can immediately see what’s in stock and do a focused check on your cupboards and fridge if you are not sure about something.  You can make an ‘essentials’ shopping list for weeks ahead, which is particularly handy if you tend to do a larger shop on a monthly basis.

As part of this monthly shop make sure you stock up on items that do not perish quickly as this is a great way to save money and always have ingredients to create a meal during your low spend week. Tinned beans, frozen veg, herbs and spices are all inexpensive, last for years and add tonnes of flavour to meals.

Try this once and see how much you save in that week and if it’s a success you can make it a monthly habit.

Including just a few of these changes in your weekly shopping habits will help to ensure that you are prepared to cope with any financial stress that 2022 may bring. You can learn more about how to plan your meals and cut your food waste by taking our Food Management course.