Ten Ways to Save Money on Food

Whether it’s the general state of the economy, post-holiday spender’s remorse, or you are saving for a big vacation, there are excellent reasons to trim your grocery bill this year.  Here are some suggestions to help you do just that.  It is possible to eat wholesome, whole foods without fiscal ruin.

1. Prioritize.  What matters most to you?  Figure that out first, then spend your money where it counts.  Organic produce?  Free range meat?  Wine?  Chocolate?   We all have different needs and desires.  For example, I buy very little meat, but I am willing to pay as much as necessary to get humanely raised products.  On the other hand, I eat a lot of vegetables and other than certain specialty and seasonal items, I don’t always buy organic and I pay relatively little for produce.  Good cheese is a necessity for me, so it goes to the top of the list.

2. Don’t go to the grocery store.  Every time I stop at the grocery store to pick up “just one thing” on the way home, I seem to spend $30.  Somehow that one item turns into several.   Be flexible.  Can you do without that one item for now?  How about a substitution or a different meal all together?  Don’t have chestnuts?  Maybe pecans would do.

3. Pay attention to the seasons.  Not only does food taste better when it’s in season, it is often much less expensive.  Walk around a farmer’s market and see what’s happening right now.  When the local harvest is plentiful, the prices go down.  Buying tomatoes in mid-winter will cost you dearly, as they have been shipped from far away.  And just as an aside, they will taste terrible.  Go with the flow and fill your basket with root vegetables instead–enjoy asparagus in the spring, and berries in the summertime.

4. Check out the ethnic stores.  If you live in an area with ethnic groceries, you can save a considerable amount of money.  The price for saffron threads at the Indian store up the street makes me want to do a victory dance.  I buy most of my produce at a small, neighborhood Asian store.  The produce is not always perfect, but most of it is pretty good, and the prices can’t be beat.  I can buy a large grocery tote full of fruits and vegetables for around $12.00.  If you use tofu, soy sauce, Sriracha, rice noodles, or any other Asian staples regularly, you will be able to get them for a fraction of the price you would pay at the regular store.  Plus, in the bigger stores the variety is amazing, and it’s just a lot of fun to explore.

5. Buy spices in bulk.  Not only will you get your spices for a fraction of what you would pay for a jar of the same product, you can buy just what you will use within a short time, thus avoiding a cupboard full of stale spices.  I often buy what seems like a large quantity of herbs, spices, or seasonings at the co-op, only to find that the bag weighs so little that the cashier rings it up at the ten cent “minimum” charge.

6. Don’t waste food.  Estimates vary, but by many accounts Americans waste somewhere around 30-40% of the food they buy.  Therefore, just by eliminating food waste, it may be possible to trim your grocery budget by a third.  Buy and cook only what you think you will eat within a reasonable time.  Remember your leftovers and eat them for lunch, freeze them, or repurpose them as part of a new recipe.  Consider the waste potential before trying a new recipe.  Will it require only half a can of beans?  If so, what can you do with the other half?  Or could the recipe be doubled?

7. Make soup.  This is really another way of saying don’t waste food.  A pot of soup is the ideal way to use up small bits and pieces of meat or fish, leftover rice or beans, whatever vegetables are on hand, and even the broccoli stems.

8. Spread some love. If you can’t finish it yourself, could you share it?   Granted, this won’t save you money directly, but  may help someone else save a few pennies.    Keep an eye on the pantry and donate staple items before they expire.  When the garden is burgeoning or your CSA box is out of control, bring your extras to work.  Or invite a friend to dinner.

9. Grow your own.  You have to be careful with this one, as the equipment and supplies associated with gardening can easily cancel out any savings.  But the quality of your own fresh-picked produce can hardly be overstated, and gardening can be a way to save money.  I get the most bang for my gardening buck from greens, as I eat so much kale and chard.

10.  Forage.  What grows wild and free in your area?  Watercress?  Truffles?  Clams?  My sister and I picked gallons of blackberries last fall, which then became jam–enough for both of us and a whole lot to give away, too.  I’m contemplating trying my hand at dandelion wine this year, so if you live in the Seattle area and are expecting a fine, chemical-free crop of dandelions in your yard this spring, let’s talk.

What are some of your tried and true ways of saving money on groceries?

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11 thoughts on “Ten Ways to Save Money on Food

  1. Tami

    I love this! Whether you need to stay on budget or not, there are great points. I especially like the don’t go to the grocery store point. I find it a challenge to cook a great meal with what I have on hand. Learning to cook that way is I think the most rewarding way. You learn more about cooking instincts and you are less likely to waste as much food. I also love your point about priorities. They are so personal and often when there’s information about how to be a better cook or shopper they are very one sided “buy the best of….buy only…etc”. What’s important to one person is not important to others. Knowing yourself is important.

    Reply
  2. Cristina

    Great post and some good reminders. I especially identify with
    #2. Grocery store visits
    #3. Pay attention to the seasons
    #6. Don’t waste
    #7. Make Soup
    #9. Grow your own

    Along with #2 is not visiting Costco but maybe once a month. I can’t get out of there without more than I originally intended.

    Reply
  3. Stella

    Hey Rowdy! This is such a great post. All of your points are really wonderful, but I especially love #2, 4, 6, b/c they really are things people can just immediately begin to try and apply to their life/routine. I’m especially bad about going to the store for black pepper and leaving with a $32 dollar ticket. I’m going to stop! Yes.
    Oh, and a garden is a great idea, but what you said is true. People really need to only grow varieties of food that really take off and go crazy in their area. Then, money is saved along with health benefits:)
    Awesome post!!!

    Reply
  4. SMITH BITES

    see here’s the thing – i knew i liked you even before i can here and read this post. we are like twins separated at birth . . . although i’m sure i have a more than a few years on you! but you’re right, don’t shop in groceries, shop small or farmers’ markets when possible, don’t waste food, repurpose what you’re tired of . . . all those things add up! we’re much bigger veg eaters than meat but the few times we do, it must be high quality, organic, etc. great post!!

    Reply
  5. Monet

    Smile. Thank you for linking to my muffins. This made me feel thrifty and cool :-) But in all seriousness, what a great post! We all need to be more aware of how we are spending our money. I loved your first point. I know that organic dairy and humanely treated meat is VERY IMPORTANT to me. Subsequently, I buy less but it is always good quality. Ryan and I started a vegetable garden this fall, and we can hardly wait to harvest some of our produce. We found a wonderful co-op in Austin that provides seeds and starter plants at cost. Such a great investment. Thank you for sharing with me. Stay warm and safe during the rest of the week!

    Reply
    1. The Rowdy Chowgirl Post author

      Starter plants at cost? Wow! I always end up in shock at how much I spend at the nursery every spring.

      Reply
  6. Pam

    This is so timely as today I have been cleaning my pantry, specifically the spices and other expired goodies. A good activity for a snowy day! I confess to not being much of a bargain shopper in the grocery department. Now that we are retired less money is spent on other things–i.e. clothes, dining out–so shopping for good food is a priority. We do have a large garden which feeds us for several months. I shop at the Food Co-Op quite a bit, especially for fruit, produce, meat and poultry. Trader Joe’s comes in handy for some things, and I bought some lovely brussels sprouts there the other day–very inexpensive. I like the Asian Market, too, and agree with you in that I find good, less expensive items there. I hate to admit it, but I do hit Cost Co for a few things–not much and not often! But. . .good prices, and the container of 100 Meyer lemons was too good to pass! I hate wasting food–seldom happens around here. Today I noticed that I had duplicates of certain long-expired spices. I am buying spices more in the specialty shop these days. Buying in bulk is a money saver, too, esp. for beans. So much better and less expensive than canned. Thank you for some good suggestions and reminders!

    Reply

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