There are blogs devoted to saving money, couponing, and getting the best deal on everything you buy. Unfortunately, I just can’t get excited about that stuff. I really dislike grocery shopping, so I’ve always gone for about speed and convenience over getting the best price on every item. However… Now that I’m paying for two kids in daycare, it is becoming clear that I have to start paying more attention to our budget. After tracking our spending for a couple of weeks, our grocery and household budget is an area that can definitely use some trimming. I’ll write more about our budgeting (or lack thereof) later, but for now I want to talk about some ways to save money by cooking meals with inexpensive ingredients and stretching your more expensive ingredients to last longer.
Go meatless or meat-light. Meat and dairy are some of the “spendier” items on my weekly grocery bill. Many families have incorporated a meatless Monday or another vegetarian night each week for the health benefits as well as cost savings. My husband usually doesn’t enjoy vegetarian meals unless they’re fairly elaborate, like Indian meals with lots of side dishes (which I love but rarely have time to prepare). So instead of going completely meatless, I’ve been trying to cut the meat in some of our dinners down by as much as half, by mixing it with grains, beans or other vegetables. (Here’s a whole post devoted to hiding veggies in plain sight!) This sneaky trick works great in casseroles, enchiladas, chili, and soup. I can also usually get away with a meatless meal as long as it has a significant helping of eggs in it, like a veggie quiche. (Lentil sloppy joes are pretty good, too!)
Shop in season. I don’t always follow this advice these days, since my son loves grapes even in the winter when they’re ridiculously overpriced. But when you can, buying fruits and vegetables that are in season is so much more affordable than those that have to be flown in from the southern hemisphere. (Also — nothing beats good in-season produce for taste. I’ve pretty much stopped eating fresh tomatoes except for during the summer.) For family favorites that aren’t in season, try the freezer section. I can almost guarantee it will be cheaper, and they still taste pretty good.
Buy in bulk. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the produce that I have found that our local Sam’s Club lately (we don’t have Costco but I suspect it is similar). With a little bit of planning, even our family of four (two adults and two small children) can usually use the larger quantity packages that are sold at the warehouse clubs. Here are my use-it-up strategies:
- plan meals that use a lot of whatever you’ve bought (like fajitas for a large pack of bell peppers)
- wash and chop the fruits and veggies as soon as you get home from the store to encourage healthy snacking
- use them in freezer meals
- buy vegetables that can be frozen (did you know you can even freeze spinach to use it in smoothies or cook it in the future?)
Go exploring. Two of my best bargain grocery shopping tips (especially if you like to cook ethnic foods) are buying spices from the bulk bins at the local health food store, and buying sauces and and other speciality ingredients at ethnic markets. I don’t have time to run down every sale in town at a zillion different grocery stores, but these are staple items that you can stock up on, and it’s really worth the extra trip — we’re talking prices that are half or a third of what you would pay at the grocery store.
Rubber chicken. Yeah, it’s cliche, but it’s true — you really can s t r e t c h a single chicken into a lot of meals. First, buying a fryer is cheaper per pound than buying the pieces cut up. You can cook the breasts for one meal, then throw the thighs and drumsticks in the crockpot for another meal. (Mmm…chicken pot pie.) Use the backbone and other random bits to make stock for soup. (Don’t be scared of cutting up the chicken yourself! Get yourself a sharp knife and watch this YouTube video to learn how.) You might even be able to pick off the last bits of meat from the carcass to use in enchiladas or a casserole.
What are your best budget-friendly cooking tips or recipes?