Confession time: I used to spend a lot of money on groceries. I like to eat well, I don’t have a lot of time because I’m always working, and even though I was shopping for just me and my husband, I could spend close to $300 a month just on food. No longer. Now, I’m spending closer to $100 a month, and we’re eating just as well. The best part? I still don’t spend my weekends clipping coupons, scanning the grocery store circulars and spending hours putting together food menus and planning my meals around what’s on sale (and then watching it go to waste because I didn’t really want it to begin with). So how do I save money on groceries? I follow the eight tips below.
How To Save Money On Groceries Tip #1: Eat what you’ve got
This was my first step in saving money on groceries. I started designating weeks where I only ate what was already in the house. And guess what? I didn’t starve. I did have to get creative, though. I started making those grains that I’d bought (like quinoa and couscous) but hadn’t yet tried. I tried new things, ate good food, and didn’t spend a cent.
How To Save Money On Groceries Tip #2: Shop fresh, then frozen
Eventually, though, you will run out of pantry supplies and you’ll need to start shopping again. I used to make a huge list with two or three meals to cook during the week — but by the time I got to meal three, the veggies I’d bought for it had wilted or molded. When you’re busy, you can’t always predict when you’re going to get around to making a meal. Now I shop for one “fresh” meal at a time–getting all the produce I want, then I buy frozen for the rest of my meals. I also buy a few “easy” meals. This does not mean pre-packaged (read: expensive and not really healthy) foods. Frozen foods include vegetables for a quick stir fry or curry, and “easy” means baked potatoes for work lunches (add some salsa, and you’ve got a delicious, healthy lunch that will keep you full until you get home).
How To Save Money On Groceries Tip #3: Make it yourself
I have expensive taste when it comes to food. I don’t like cheapo store bread. I like the artisan bread boules and loaves. I can’t stand condensed soups, but enjoy a french mushroom made with a base of wild mushrooms soaked in brandy and reduced with Chianti. If I were to buy these things straight up, I could easy spend $4 a loaf and $6 for a cup of soup. However, if I make them myself, I spend less than if I had bought the cheap bread and soup.
So, identify your splurges. Is it gourmet ice cream? Those fancy coffee drinks? Pizzas from the best shop in town? Once you know what you love, spend some time on the internet until you find a recipe that looks like what you’re into. I found a recipe for no-knead bread dough that I can plop into my cast iron dutch oven, and in a half hour have a bread boule that is art as well as food. My french mushroom soup addiction is also sated with a twist on a french onion soup recipe I found. The brandy and wine cost a bit at first, but they will make dozens of servings (if I don’t just drink them). I freeze what I can’t eat right away, and now I can have the soup I would dream about whenever I want without the guilt of spending $6 per bowl.
How To Save Money On Groceries Tip #4: Eat less meat (but still scan the section for deals)
One of the biggest game changers was cutting out meat. My husband and I are not vegetarians and don’t plan on converting, but since we do like vegetables, we’ve tried to center our meals around foods that don’t require so much meat. Think tacos with cilantro, avocados, tomato salsa and seasoned beans. Delicious and meat-free. Artichoke pate roll-ups (artichokes blended with seasonings to create a thick spread for lettuce wraps), hearty corn chowder, savory dips with crudites, and my personal favorite quick-and-easy lunch: some of my homemade bread, an amazing dilled cheese (any kind: cheddar to havarti, it’s all good), with fresh tomato slices on top. I toast the bread with the cheese, layer on the tomato slices, and then crack fresh pepper and a dash of sea salt on top, and I could eat that, well, right now.
How To Save Money On Groceries Tip #5: Think seasonally
This is critical for saving money. If you buy cucumbers or ears of corn during the summer, you can leave the store with your arms full–the store is practically giving them away. During the winter time, you’d have to leave an arm and a leg at the store if you want to stock up.
Even better, utilize your local farmers’ market. By cutting out the middle man, you’ll save price-wise, and the food could not be fresher. Even in climates with a long, cold winter like where I live, there’s often an indoor market where vendors bring what they’ve canned, cured or otherwise preserved.
During the warmer months, find a local farm where you could work for food (you can look online, but it may be easier just visiting a co-op or natural foods store and asking around). For a few hours a week, you’ll get the seasonal produce in exchange for picking weeds or harvesting. The baskets are a cornucopia filled with more than you can imagine. If you don’t have time to get your hands dirty, some of these places will also sell an assorted basket for a flat fee. Eating locally and seasonally is exciting — and healthy!
How To Save Money On Groceries Tip #6: Find your local dent-and-bent
My mom opened my eyes to this truly amazing option: a store where I can find the most exotic ingredients, and the most I’ve ever spent for any one item is $1.50. Mom goes there to buy Caribou and Starbucks coffee for $4 or less a bag (next time you go to the supermarket, look at these coffee brands. They cost twice as much, or more). I can find specialty bags of grains, curry pastes, and other ethnic or otherwise strange items stacked right next to cans of beans, soy sauce and salsa. The store is a bit disorganized, and you can’t really go with a list because the inventory is always changing, but the selection blows my mind every time. If you like to cook gourmet, but don’t want to spend $5 for candied ginger, find the dent and bent store in your area — and you’ll likely spend around $.50.
How To Save Money On Groceries Tip #7: Invite others over
I include my eating out in my food budget, and it was sinking me. So, instead of eating out, I invite friends over. I may spend as much as an evening out (but very often, it’s much less), but there’s always days of leftovers afterwards, and my friends bring delicious side dishes and drinks, which they often leave as a thank you for hosting. It’s a way to eat, socialize, have fun, and save money.
How To Save Money On Groceries Tip #8: Create routines
For breakfast, I always have sauteed veggies with an egg cracked on top. If I’m in a hurry, I switch it to homemade bread with a homemade spread (apple butter, gingered pears, or peach preserves) with a little strained yogurt (it turns into a sort of tangy cream cheese). I never have to think about what I’m going to eat, which makes my mornings run smoother. For my meal at work, I have container with soup or salsa (depending on my mood). Soup and bread one day, salsa with a potato the next. Keeping it simple and organized when I’m moving fast helps me to eat well without spending a ton on fast food, processed meals, and other junk that would just make me lethargic or leave me hungry, not to mention leave a dent in my budget.
How do you save money on groceries? Share your secrets in the comments!