5 Basic Rules for Saving Money on Food

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 Looking to cut your food costs? Consider these “rules” for saving money on food.

5 Basic Rules for Saving Money on Food

So, you wanna save some money on groceries, do ya? Well, lucky for you, it’s really not that difficult. You don’t need to clip coupons — though they can help the right situation — and you don’t need to worry that you’ll be subsisting on boxed mac and cheese or hot dogs.

(Good quality hot dogs are expensive, so just cross them off your list.)

As I was thinking about the steps we’ve taken over the years to get our grocery budget in check, I realized that it comes down to five simple steps, rules, if you will for good cheap eats.

1. Remember simple meals can be delicious.

Don’t be worried about making a six-course feast. Great food can be simple. Even humble beans and rice can be doctored up with homemade salsa and guacamole to present a delicious meal that has folks going back for seconds.

Focus on preparing things well and maybe with a touch of fresh herb garnish and you’ll never know it was a budget meal.

2. Cook at home whenever possible.

Homemade is almost always less expensive — and better tasting — than the commercial version of the same thing — whether it’s from a restaurant or the grocery store. Packing a lunch — a good, tasty one — is better than anything the sandwich shop can provide.

You’ll save money by cooking at home and, most likely, eat healthier, too.

5 Basic Rules for Saving Money on Food

Recipe for Taco Soup

3. Use what you have.

Most of us overbuy or forget to make the recipe that we bought all the ingredients for. In our stressful, hungry, on-the-way-home-at-dinnertime moments, we stop at the store to buy things that we might already have or don’t really need. Duplicates collect and we have a pantry of food and seemingly “nothing to eat”. Consider a pantry challenge if you’ve got lots of excess or need to save a chunk of change.

Focus on what you have before you go shopping for more.

4. Make do when you don’t have.

One of the hardest things for me to change when we got serious about paying off our debts was not to go to the store for the one thing I needed for dinner. Instead of dashing off for that one thing — and coming home with ten others — I’ve learned to make do or go without. If we don’t have sour cream for enchiladas, so be it. We’ll live. Yogurt can sub for buttermilk. Meals can be meatless.

By learning to live without something, we’re better stewards of our money yet we still eat well.

5. Find short cuts that help you keep to your goals.

If paper plates help you get a home cooked meal on the table and relieve you of dishes, so be it. If a precut package of meat is a bit more expensive but keeps you out of the restaurant and eating at home, go for it.Each of us has a threshold for recycling and pricier convenience items; go with your gut.

Feel free to take a short cut if it keeps you on the path to savings.

Do you have a guiding principal for saving money on food?

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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  1. Pamela says

    How timely! I was just totaling up my grocery spending for the month of February.

    I miss Grocery Geek! That is my favorite feature of GCE. Also, I’ve been wondering how the Whole 30 has been going for you. Have you posted on that and I missed it?

    • GG is coming back. My last final details on Cookbook 4 are getting taken care of this week, so I feel like life can go back to normal. It’s been crazy these last few months. In light of that, my husband and I decided to stop at Whole 14. We had a host of reasons but I didn’t blog about it because I didn’t want to discourage my dad. He has lost 13 pounds and is feeling really good. He and my mom have kept with it.

      • Pamela says

        I did not realize you were working on another book! Congratulations! I just received your cookbook (the first, I believe) featuring Freezer meals. So excited to read through that and try some of your recipes.

        Also, congratulations on your Whole 14. I really admire that. I don’t think I’ve ever even done a Whole 1 (except maybe when I’ve been sick and haven’t eaten at all for a day!).

        Many blessing on your work, Jessica!

  2. june says

    I use what you taught me to organize &, streamline to afford the healthy food I choose for my family, which involves mostly reading my emails from the grocery stores for Meat ~ if you have an Earthfare their prices for organic meat is great. I don’t spend the extra for grass fed yet? I found the least expensive way to get organic milk. Use the local farmers weekly happy box and freeze freeze freeze. Flour is cheaper than bread at the store. When butter is on sale I stock up or buy it at Sam’s? Shopping became much easier when I do meal plans and new exactly what our family eats?

    • I have heard good things about Earth Fare. We don’t have one. But, I just found organic butter for $3/pound at Grocery Outlet, so I’ve some good spots to go. I’m so honored that I’m part of your money saving experience. YAY!

  3. Elaine says

    Great tips, as usual, Jessica. I would include eating produce that is in season. Not only is it likely less expensive, but fresher and healthier.
    We currently have an abundance of citrus from our own trees and shared by neighbors. There are also listings of people with citrus to share. So, this is the time for juice, lemonade, lemon desserts, etc., and freezing some for later.
    If you have space for a container or two, growing your own herbs, green onions, tomatoes and such is fun and a good, fairly cheap source.
    Know the prices of things you usually buy so you can take advantage of sales, clearances and manager markdowns to stretch your dollars. These sales can be seasonal, too—hams, turkeys, baking supplies around winter holidays and so on.
    The last one is something Jessica has shares. Make your own spice blends—fresher and less expensive than packets. They also can be personalized to your family’s tastes.

    • You know, produce was on my list, but then I took it off. When we lived in Kansas, it was really hard to find good, affordable produce. I bought lots of canned and frozen stuff then. Here is CA, I can buy everything all the time at good prices, but I wasn’t sure how that was for folks in other parts of the country. Where do you live?

      • Elaine says

        We live in AZ. We can get fresh produce almost year-round, as well, but I still do things like having lots of citrus now and eating canned or frozen peaches until summer. I went to a farmer’s market and a seed swap yesterday, while having watched a video of granddaughter sledding in Tennessee and family in Dallas snowstorm earlier in the week.

  4. Janet says

    I have lots of small plastic containers. With the one set, I portion out snacks for the kids to grab after school (crackers, cereal, pretzels, nuts, raisins, etc.). With the second set, I prep fresh fruits and vegetables for sack lunches. With a third set, I portion out proteins for sack lunches – sliced cheese, nuts, peanut butter, leftover meat, etc. With a fourth set, I portion out treats. We get the full 24 servings out of a $1.00 bag of candy. This helps us stay on budget by ensuring that portion sizes are appropriate; making certain that once packages are open the food stays fresh (no more stale cereal); and using up leftovers. Additionally, it makes it so much easier to get lunches organized in the morning when everything is already portioned and packaged. MUCH cheaper and MUCH healthier than the lunchables you buy at the grocery store. All the prep rarely takes more than a couple of hours on Saturday afternoon, most of which is spent cleaning the produce.

    • I want to be as organized as you are when I grow up! Love it!

    • SC Susie says

      Great idea! I am definitely going to try this out. My teenagers can “snack” me out of house and home and purchasing indiviudally wrapped items is so expensive.

  5. Stephanie M. says

    My guiding principal was learned by doing the pantry challenges with you. I now make up a weekly meal plan and buy only what I need to make those meals. I try very hard to stick to my list and not cave in when I see something in the store that looks good but it’s not on my list. Too many times, I go to the store, see something that’s not on my list and buy it with the intention of cooking it that week and then I do it again next time I go shopping and the next time. Before you know it, I have all of these things that were never on my list and now I have an overfilled freezer and none of those things ever got cooked. So by sticking to my list, I save a lot of money. Sometimes I have to “bite the bullet” but I’m always so happy when I leave that I stayed strong and saved myself some money. By doing this the whole month of January during the pantry challenge and the whole month of February, I have saved 50% of what I normally spend and that is no exaggeration! I also look away when I see something on sale and it’s not on my list. Normally, I would grab everything I saw on sale. Sales come and go and whatever is on sale today, if I don’t need it, I can be sure it will go on sale again. Nothing is ever a bargain if it gets wasted or you don’t use it.

    • I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. That our pantry challenges have helped you so much is just wonderful!

  6. Patricia says

    I’ve been trying to keep my menus to simple, basic foods that I love to eat. Being a single senior citizen living on a social security budget, I try my best to stick to some type of menu. I don’t trust myself in supermarkets since I always, read that ALWAYS, give in to impulse purchases, which sometimes, double my checkout bill. So once a month I use the internet order and delivery from my favorite large supermarket. The week that I do my monhly order I use the weekly sales brochure is stuffed in my mailbox to tweek what I order. For the week previous I make my list of what I absolutely need, the staples I’m running out of, cat food and litter ordering, cleaning and laundry supplies. Then with the 10 page sale brochure I find sale meats, veggies, frozen veggies & fruits, milk and dairy products. I then make my loose menu plan – a list of 45 meals (since there are left overs that will cover al my lunch and dinner meals). I choose a day for delivery and pay online. All that will be needed for the next four weeks will be milk, fruits and vegetables for the second half of the month, anything I’ve forgotten. I went from shopping in markets about 8-10 times a month to shopping in markets maybe 3 times a month. Saving a lot of money, eating much healthier, making more from scratch, enjoying more free, non-stressed time. I used to spend about $250 a month in my groceries (not counting paper and cat products) and am now spending about $135 a month.

    • This sounds like a great system and one that doesn’t require you to shop all over town. Love it!

  7. I use all of these tips, Jessica. I found that my meals were so much work that I didn’t want to cook at home. Once I simplified the menu, life was better for me and my family didn’t even notice.

    Buying food on sale, in season, and in bulk are other ways I save.

    Thanks for your encouragment!

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