Grocery shopping can cause a serious case of sticker shock. If you’ve noticed you’re spending more than you’d like buying food, there are several tactics you can use and combine to cut back while still being able to enjoy tasty meals.
Keep in mind that buying food is only half the battle. You need to properly store and cook the food you buy or you’ll just end up eating out last minute.
Tips to Cut Down
30 Ways to Stretch Your Food Budget: These tips range in difficulty from simple storage techniques to the long-term project of gardening.
Tips for Grocery Shopping on a Budget: There are some good saving tips here like using frozen juice concentrate and skipping bottled water.
8 Easiest Ways to Cut Food Costs: Take time to prep fruits and vegetables and try to cook several meals at once. Also try not to be a perfectionist.
Six Steps for Cheap Meals: Take the time each week to follow these six easy steps to planning a cheap grocery list based on grocery store sales.
25 Cheap Foods: These cheap foods are categorized by fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and protein.
How to Eat under $15 a Week: This plan aims to use cheap foods in combination with inexpensive healthy foods if you really need to eat on a minimal budget.
Making Foods Last Longer
37 Tips for Keeping Foods Fresh: Learn where to place foods in the fridge and how to properly store foods to keep them fresh longer.
Debbie Meyer Green Bags: These reusable storage bags are designed to keep fruits and vegetables in peak condition as long as possible.
Shelf Life Guide: Don’t throw foods out because the expiration date has passed. They may still be good to eat if you check this guide.
Keep Food Fresh Longer: Learn how to test foods for freshness and re-crisp wilted vegetables.
A Beginner’s Guide to Meal Planning: If you’re not sure where to start, review this lesson on planning a week’s worth of meals.
Using Leftovers: Use these tips to use leftover ingredients in future meals. This saves a lot and also reduces your prep and cooking time.
Stress-Free Weekly Menu Planning: This blogger uses an app available for iOS and Android devices to make her weekly grocery planning very easy.
Guide to Healthy Food at Costco: Take advantage of the great deals you can get on bulk items at Costco and similar stores.
Best and Worst Bulk Food Buys: These foods are both cheap and relatively healthy and include plenty of on-the-go snacks.
Bulk Foods Online: Here you can shop online for dried fruits, nuts, beans, grains, baking ingredients and other long shelf life items.
Money and Time-Saving Approaches
Make 50 Freezer Meals in One Day: Here’s a way to quickly stock up your freezer so you always have cheap, homemade meals on hand.
Choosing Freezer Containers: The last thing you want after prepping all those meals ahead is to find your food freezer burned. Here is help on picking the right freezer safe storage.
Cook Once, Eat Twice: This article helps give you an idea of how to divide cooked ingredients into two meals to avoid waste and save time and money.
Cook Week’s Meals in 3 Hours: Use this general guideline to organize cooking for the week no matter what your recipes are.
Tips for Buying Food on a Budget
Save Outside the Grocery Store
If your end goal is only to buy food cheaply, you may miss a lot of ways to save. You need to focus on food storage and meal prep at home, too. This helps prevent waste from rotten food and last minute take-out to avoid going home to cook.
So while you want to start by saving on food at the market, at least half of your savings will come from the time and planning you put in at home.
Buying in Bulk
Foods like dry grains, spices, flour, sugar, peanut butter, etc., are great to buy in bulk. Invest in a membership with a bulk box store like Costco or Sam’s Club. You can stock up and with proper storage, you’ll have the basics for many meals for just pennies per serving. Just make sure you follow proper storage protocol to avoid waste.
Finding Cheap Staple Foods
Meat can really add to the cost per serving of your meals, so you may want to think of other protein sources and fiber-filled foods to round out your inexpensive meals.
Some things you may want to look into are dry beans, lentils, rice, canned vegetables, broths (chicken, beef and vegetable), etc. You may even consider using processed foods like Ramen, which can bulk up a meal for pennies while still allowing you to throw in some healthy stir-fry veggies.
Be careful when couponing. It can be tempting to buy foods because you have the coupons for them, but are you really going to eat all of it? Try to come up with your shopping list first and then look for coupons. Coupons are also geared toward processed foods, so if you’re looking to keep it healthy you’ll want to stick with weekly sales instead.
Coupons do work very well for household items like paper towels, cleaning supplies, personal care items, and over-the-counter medicine.
Meal Plan around Flyers
Check your local grocery stores’ flyers. You can almost always find these online, so bookmark the local stores web pages that link to the flyers. From there, pick one store that has the best deals or the foods you like most, and then meal plan. That way you’ll be finding recipes based on ingredients that are on sale rather than shopping for a bunch more ingredients to fit 5 completely different recipes.
Try to pick recipes that have common ingredients. For instance, you can pick cucumbers that go on lunch sandwiches and dinner salads. If you want to make pasta two times in a week, make pasta for dinner then store some separately without sauce to make pasta salads for lunch. You may also want to cook chicken in two ways at once so one recipe can be eaten for dinner and the other sliced for sandwiches the next day.
This approach might take a little longer in the planning process but it prevents waste and keeps your grocery bill low.
Rotate Meal Plans
If you can’t spend a few hours every week coming up with a meal plan, that’s okay. Set up food group days that can help keep things similar enough to make planning easier.
For example, you can have “Mexican food Tuesday” and “Leftover Thursday.” Keeping these the same every week will help narrow down potential recipes faster. You’ll still want to keep those weekly sales in mind as you set up your shopping list.
Prep & Store Food Properly
You can save time and money by prepping foods one or two days per week.
For example, baby carrots usually cost more per pound than regular, whole carrots with greens on tops. Buy the less expensive whole carrots and then peel and cut them up at home. You may also want to dice onions for the week or slice blocks of cheese instead of buying individually wrapped slices. It takes a few more minutes, but it’s worth the savings if you’re on a budget.
Also take the time to transfer food into proper storage containers. Specially designed “green bags” and “green boxes” absorb the ethylene gas that causes foods to go bad faster. Bags and boxes meant for freezer storage can help prolong the life of fresh meats without the risk of finding freezer burned food that has to be thrown out.
Even choosing where to store foods within the fridge is important. The bottom of the fridge is cooler, and the door shelves are warmer. Crisper drawers can help keep produce fresher, especially with paper towels inside to help absorb excess moisture.
Consider setting aside one day per week for cooking and prepping meals ahead of time.
For example, you can layer dry salad ingredients in mason jars to have easy servings for lunch or dinner. (Store a homemade dressing separately.) You can grill several pounds of chicken to use in a variety of recipes from tacos to pastas and sandwiches. You may also want to roast a whole turkey or other large cut of meat.
You can also make soups in advance and freeze them in portion-sized containers to reheat throughout the month.
Dry beans can take a few hours, especially if you choose to soak them overnight, so having those cooked ahead of time and portioned out can save time.
Baking your own bread can save money and tastes much better and fresher than store-bought.
If you feel inclined to skip these steps, remember that time truly is money. For all the time you can dedicate to these home cooking steps, you are saving on buying processed foods or take-out.