A friend of mine asked me recently how we save money on food, so I decided to compile a list of some easy ways to save a few dollars here and there. If you’ve been reading this for awhile, you know that we try to eat healthy food. We buy local eggs from pastured hens, and when we buy meat, it’s also from local, pastured animals. I buy raw honey, which is more expensive than pasteurized honey, and we use a lot of coconut oil. Our goal isn’t to eat as cheaply as possible. Our goal is to eat well and simply. Often it means spending a little more to pay farmers who are treating their animals well. But I think overall we save a lot of money, and below are some of the ways we do that.
Also, in writing this I don’t want to sound holier-than-thou or anything like that. Pretty often, I go over budget. Sometimes we go out to eat. Sometimes I buy some random fancy supplements or some expensive cheese or olives or chocolate. And I’ve been incredibly lucky to be married to a man who still raves about a bowl of beans after over 3 years of eating like this. (Thank you, sweetie! I love you!) So anyway, here are some tips to save on the grocery budget:
1. Eat Simple Suppers I wrote a post on this awhile back, and I think this is the biggest way we save. We eat simple meals of beans or eggs or pasta probably 5 times (or more) each week. Sometimes dinner is just scrambled eggs with corn tortillas. Or a salad with chickpeas. Sometimes it’s a can of baked beans and toast or corn tortillas. More often it’s just beans I cooked on the stove with corn tortillas. We eat a lot of corn tortillas, folks. Sometimes if I’m feeling really energetic I’ll make refried beans or some kind of frittata. These meals are almost never accompanied by side dishes or many condiments. Simple. (For me, a lot of this also has to do with the fact that there are a lot of people who don’t have any food. At all. I think it’s important to eat somewhat modestly, as much as possible, and give as much as possible to people who are hungry.)
2. Reduce meat consumption. This is kind of a corollary of the above. Stop thinking of meat as a necessity, and start seeing it for what it is, a treat. A garnish, even. Find some great ways to cook beans, tempeh, eggs, and you you will be fine. I usually buy one chicken per month, plus beef bones for making soup. (Eating less meat is actually better for the environment in a lot of ways… Read Jonathan Foer’s GENIUS book Eating Animals to learn more.)
3. Drink water from the tap. You can save a lot by cutting needless drinks out of your budget. Sodas, fruit juices, bottled water, alcohol. Whatever comes out of the tap is seriously fine. Plus, you’re not consuming all those plastic bottles– recycling is worse than just not using the plastic in the first place.
4. Make a grocery budget, and stick to it. It is incredibly hard for me to stick to our budget. In all honesty, I go over it almost every week. But I think that food is super connected with health, and it’s probably better to spend a little more on food and a little less on going out to movies and things like that. But try to have a weekly number in mind, and try to stick to it.
5. Buy in bulk. Depending on where you live, this is easier said than done. In Ithaca, it’s easy. When we lived in Beaufort, it was hard. But most health food stores have bulk bins full of things like rice, beans, grains, spices, etc., and the prices will be MUCH lower (typically) than buying, for instance, bags of dry beans, bags of rice, or plastic containers of spices at the cheapest grocery store or Walmart. Another thing I buy in bulk is coconut oil, which is insanely expensive in tiny jars at the grocery, but much more economical bought in large quantities from Amazon.
6. Buy fewer snacks/desserts/junk food. Most snack foods are really, really expensive, and we just don’t buy them. I do buy popcorn kernels which we pop on the stove for a treat sometimes. I also buy almonds and cashews, or other nuts for snacks (they are relatively expensive, but just a small amount is more satisfying than a whole bag of chips, and they contain tons of B vitamins, minerals, protein, etc).
7. Eat out of the pantry during the last week of each month. That is, don’t go to the grocery at all when it’s time for the weekly trip. Just go without and make do. Eat random things in the freezer or pb&j, cook up odds and ends of pasta, get creative. It’s possible.
8. Eat in. This one is hard. There’s no easy way around it. It might help to go back and look at your bank statement to see how much you spend on eating out (or drinking) per month, just to get an idea. It might be worth pulling out a certain amount of cash each month just for eating out, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. Since moving to Ithaca we’ve been going to restaurants more often than we used to. But we’re trying to work on this.
9. Make as much from scratch as you feasibly have time for. Buy a big jar of oats instead of breakfast cereal or oatmeal packets, make your own pancake mix rather than buying boxes, etc. Roast a whole chicken and use the bones to make chicken stock (both of which you can do in a crock pot). Learn how to make your own hummus, salsa, etc. This will also cut down a ton of packaging. This is a lot harder if you’re working full time or have 5 kids, etc. But baby steps. Learn how to cook beans in the crock pot. Learn how to make oatmeal.
So anyway, those are some of my ideas for saving money on groceries. I’d love to hear if anyone has any other ideas or super frugal recipes!