Is it just me, or has the food bill gone up? Personally, my groceries have gone up 100% ever since our 2020 Plague. It has been an adjustment reevaluating how much to actually spend when wages have failed to keep up with inflation. So, I did a deep dive on how to weather the storm.
The effects of inflation have changed the way we food shop so we can keep up with other living necessities. As prices remain uncertain, I developed fifteen ways to save money on groceries as a way to help shoulder some of the financial burdens of inflation. These strategies not only help save money, but they also reduce waste and promote healthy eating.
1. Plan meals a week ahead and repurpose ingredients
Meal prepping is HUGE at my house. We plan our breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks for the week, and leave some wiggle room for a single night of Chinese Food or some other takeout when we get too busy or too tired to cook. Planning what we eat allows us to do three things: we can repurpose leftovers for other meals, we can save money by cooking in bulk, and we can cut down on the amount of time spent in the kitchen.
Repurposing leftovers and ingredients for other meals might sound gross, but the reality is that food as we know it is often short-dated at the supermarket—this means that the “sell by” and “expiration” dates are often made to be far shorter than they actually are. I have seen perfectly good food go to waste because of its short dated label.
Cooked vegetables and legumes can last for 7-10 days, while cooked meats are good for 3-4 days, and sometimes longer. Since cooked vegetables last for such a long time, I often repurpose those and turn them into a different dish toward the end of the week. For example, after cooking an All Veggie Burrito Bowl and enjoying it for three days, I can cook the leftovers inside flour tortillas with cheese to create quesadillas. Or, I might cook the leftovers for breakfast and make enough Sausalito Over Easy for another three days. Considering I cook for two, that is twelve meals taken care of.
Planning meals allows us to cook items in bulk for use throughout the week or for later use. But, the best part about planning meals is that it SAVES TIME. My husband and I designate Thursdays and Sundays for meal planning and prepping, which involves deciding what to make, chopping vegetables and aromatics, pre-cooking rice, beans, or meats, and finally assembling everything into food storage containers. Sometimes we get a fully cooked meal out of this process. Other times, it makes preparing dinner super easy because all we have to do is throw the ingredients in a pan with hot oil, and stir until cooked.
Planning meals also allows you to use similar ingredients for all sorts of dishes. For example, I can plan a chicken stir-fry dish that requires chicken, broccoli, peppers, and rice for three days; then, I can use the same ingredients in a casserole. I can also plan a French toast breakfast for three days, then use any stale or leftover French toast to make croutons or bread pudding.
2. Find an easy 3-week meal-prep rotation
Can’t decide what to make? Choose a set of meals you can always count on for the week to be easy and tasty. Personally, our typical rotations look like this:
WEEK 1 ROTATION
|Breakfast||Eggs in Purgatory||Eggs in Purgatory||Eggs in Purgatory||Eggs with Toast||Eggs with Toast||Eggs with Toast||Blueberry Pancakes with Eggs and Chicken Sausage|
|Lunch||Chicken Caesar Salad with Fresh Fruit||Chicken Caesar Salad with Fresh Fruit||Chicken Caesar Saladwith Fresh Fruit||Chicken, Broccoli, and Rice Casserole with Fresh Fruit||Chinese Food Leftovers with Fresh Fruit||Salad or Sandwich||None|
|Dinner||Chicken, Broccoli, and Rice Casserole||Chicken, Broccoli, and Rice Casserole||Chicken, Broccoli, and Rice Casserole||(Food Shopping Day)|
|Pesto and Broccoli Pizza||Pesto and Broccoli Pizza||Salmon Teriyaki with Steamed Broccoli and Rice|
WEEK 2 ROTATION
|Breakfast||Blueberry Pancakes with Eggs and Chicken Sausage||Eggs in Purgatory||Eggs in Purgatory||Eggs in Purgatory||Omelette with Chicken Sausage and Toast||Omelette with Chicken Sausage and Toast||Blueberry Pancakes with Eggs and Chicken Sausage|
|Lunch||Chicken and Broccoli Stir Fry with Fresh Fruit||Chicken and Broccoli Stir Fry with Fresh Fruit||Chicken and Broccoli Stir Fry with Fresh Fruit||Chicken Caesar Salad with Fresh Fruit||Chicken Caesar Salad with Fresh Fruit||Pesto and Broccoli Pizza||None|
|Dinner||Salmon Teriyaki with Steamed Broccoli and Rice||Salmon Teriyaki with Steamed Broccoli and Rice||Fried Chicken Sandwich||(Food Shopping Day)|
Fried Chicken Sandwich
|Fried Chicken Sandwich||Chicken and Wild Rice Stew||Chicken and Wild Rice Stew|
WEEK 3 ROTATION
|Breakfast||Blueberry Pancakes with Eggs and Chicken Sausage||Omelette with Turkey Sausage and Toast||Omelette with Turkey Sausage and Toast||Eggs in Purgatory||Eggs in Purgatory||Eggs in Purgatory||Blueberry Pancakes with Eggs and Chicken Sausage|
|Lunch||Cold Cut Sandwich with Yogurt||Cold Cut Sandwich with Yogurt||Cold Cut Sandwich with Yogurt||Chicken Caesar Salad with Fresh Fruit||Chicken Caesar Salad with Fresh Fruit||Chicken Caesar Salad with Fresh Fruit||None|
|Dinner||Chicken and Wild Rice Stew||Salmon with Roasted Cauliflower and Potatoes||Salmon with Roasted Cauliflower and Potatoes||(Food Shopping Day) |
Salmon with Roasted Cauliflower and Potatoes
|Pepperoni Pizza||Pepperoni Pizza||Chicken, Broccoli, and Rice Casserole|
Of course, our household’s diet is not limited to the dishes listed. These are just the dishes we typically eat. Of course we will substitute a dinner or lunch for something different when we are in the mood. As a side note, we do not typically eat lunch on Sundays because we tend to sleep in and have a huge breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and sausage that keeps us full until dinnertime.
3. Eat Leftovers
After reading methods #1 and #2, it is quite clear that leftovers are a huge factor in saving money and time. I empathize with those who fear that some food is unsafe after a certain period of time, and this is true depending on the circumstances and the food. There is also a group that claim that food textures are strange after reheating a meal. However, eating leftovers limits food and time waste—nearly nothing is so precious as time.
To keep your food safe AND still taste good after hitting the fridge as leftovers, I highly recommend reheating the food over stovetop or in the oven. Items such as soups, stews, and stir fries can be reheated over stovetop and retain the same texture. Fried food can be reheated fairly well without much of a texture difference if done so in the oven. If you have an air fryer, reheating fried food is easy and reliable.
The microwave, however, is not ideal for reheating food. The food is essentially boiled from the outside, leaving it mushy or too dry. The microwave also does not get as hot as a stove or oven. Next time you might recoil at the idea of leftovers, try reheating them without a microwave. You might also find that some dishes taste better as they age. One of my favorite dishes that require leftovers is my Sausalito Over Easy. I often make it with leftover beans, corn, and salsa.
4. Freeze unused ingredients and uneaten leftovers
If you feel like you won’t get through that massive batch of food you created, then load them up in 16 ounce containers and freeze them! This also goes for any leftover cake, cookies, vegetables, and more. Whenever I make too much of something (such as a soup, stew, or a dessert), I freeze the rest for consumption later. I will also make and prepare ingredients for later use, freeze them, then thaw them out until I need them.
The freezer is my best friend. I learned how invaluable it was while working in the food industry. I hate to break it to you, but most supermarkets and restaurants are not using “fresh” ingredients per se. In fact, to keep up with production demands, it is absolutely necessary to make batches of food, baked goods, sauces, and other items, and freeze them immediately after. They are then taken out of the freezer on demand, thawed out, and finished and assembled before selling to the public. Most meats and seafoods come into supermarkets frozen, then thawed on displays. Most cakes and breads come into supermarkets frozen, then also thawed on displays. The exception is fresh produce.
My Leftover Roast Bird and Dumpling Stew often uses leftovers (fresh or frozen).
5. Cook casseroles and stews
As the price of meat soars, the reality is that the amount of meat we can reasonably consume will eventually need to come down. But, do not let this terrify you. Casseroles and stews are a great way to stretch expensive products such as meat and fresh vegetables.
Casseroles and stews allow you to use less meat while also filling up on essential carbs, vegetables, and seasonings. A 10×10 casserole dish can be filled with rice, cheese, three chicken breasts, and vegetables, baked, and serve six to eight people. A four quart pot can be filled with three chicken breasts, noodles, vegetables, broth, and wild rice, cooked, and serve six to eight people. Getting eight servings out of three chicken breasts is rather economical. The fillers for the casseroles and stews can include inexpensive ingredients such as rice and potatoes, both of which are available in bulk at many supermarkets.
6. Purchase Alternative Cuts of Meat
I get it. Some cuts of meats taste better. Absolutely! When times get rough, however, it is better to make reasonable substitutions so that you can stay above water. The fancier cuts of meat not only come from the good parts of an animal, but are also cut in a particular way. The less work a butcher has to do, the cheaper the cut of meat.
The cheapest cuts of chicken include the whole chicken, chicken thighs, drumsticks, and leg quarters. Chicken thighs are highly economical, and their added fat make them a great ingredient to use in making an inexpensive chicken soup or stew.
The cheapest cuts of pork come from pork shoulder and ham. Pork shoulder makes an easy and delicious pulled pork dish, while ham works well for breakfasts, sandwiches, beans, and even stews and casseroles.
The cheapest cuts of beef are ground beef, chuck roasts, and London broil. Ground beef is obviously super popular for burgers and meatballs, but it also works for subs, salads, and (my personal favorite) chili. Chuck is incredible in slow cooked stews. London broil is also delicious; it can be marinated, roasted, then sliced for sandwiches.
Fish can get super expensive. The most economical types are tuna and sardines (which are often available canned), but tilapia, cod, and mackerel are also economical fish.
7. Ditch Premade Meals for Fresh and Dry Ingredients
It is often touted that eating processed or ready-made foods is cheaper than eating healthy, but when you actually weigh the amount of ready made foods against freshly cooked, healthier foods, the price quickly shows that eating at home is cheaper. I’ve seen single serving salads that cost $11 to $14!
Healthy food does not need to be expensive; a bulk bag of rice or potatoes can serve as your carbs, inexpensive meat cuts and beans can serve as protein, frozen vegetables can serve as fiber, and butter or inexpensive olive oil can serve as your fat. I have compared how much I spend on healthy ingredients compared to prepared versions of the dish, and the savings are incredible over time.
|Ready-made Food||Ready-Made Cost||Homemade Dry/|
|Canned Beans||$0.50 per serving||Dry Beans||$0.20 per serving|
|Bread Loaf||$3.50 per loaf||Homemade Bread Loaf||$1.50 per loaf|
|Hamburgers||$1.75 per burger||Homemade Burgers||$1.67 per burger|
|Oatmeal||$0.99 per serving||Homemade Oatmeal||$0.75 per serving|
|Rice||$0.29 per serving||Homemade Rice||$0.08 per serving|
It is worth nothing, however, that brands, varieties, and local prices can make a difference with any food. Experiment with the foods available in your area for the best cost savings.
8. Ditch Cold Cereals for Hot Cereals
The cost of cold cereal versus hot cereal can vary depending on the brand, cereal type, quantity, and local prices. However, in general, cold cereal tends to be more expensive (and less nutritious) than hot cereal.
Cold cereal often comes in pre-packaged boxes or bags, which can be convenient but typically cost more due to packaging and marketing expenses. Cold cereal also often contains added flavors, sweeteners, and other ingredients that contribute to the overall cost.
Hot cereal such as oatmeal, cream of wheat, or grits, typically consists of basic ingredients like grains, which are usually more affordable than processed cold cereal. Hot cereal can be purchased in bulk or in larger quantities, reducing the cost per serving. In addition to this, making hot cereal from scratch allows for customization, such as adding fruits, nuts, or sweeteners, which can be more cost-effective compared to pre-packaged options.
9. Buy Generic or Store Brand
Buying generic or store brand groceries is often a cost-effective option compared to purchasing brand name products. Brand name products often invest more in packaging and marketing, which is what typically contributes to their higher price. Generic products may have simpler packaging without elaborate designs or branding, but this does not necessarily affect the quality or taste of the product.
Generic products are typically priced lower than their brand name counterparts. The cost difference can vary, but in many cases, generic products can save you a significant amount of money, especially when buying staple items such as cereal, canned goods, pasta and rice, dairy, frozen fruits and vegetables, bread and bakery items, and even cleaning products.
While brand name products are often associated with higher quality, generic products can still provide good quality. Many store brands adhere to similar standards and regulations as brand name products. Try different generic options to see if they meet your expectations. Taste is subjective and can vary from person to person. Some people may prefer the taste of brand name products, while others find generic options equally enjoyable. It is a matter of personal preference and trying different options to find what suits your taste buds.
Generic and brand name products often have similar or identical ingredients. The main difference lies in the branding and marketing. Reading the labels and comparing the ingredients can help you make an informed decision.
10. Shop Sales and Use Coupons
Plan ahead. Before you start shopping, create a list of items you need. Keep an eye out for upcoming sales events, such as holiday sales, back-to-school promotions, or seasonal clearances. By planning your purchases around these events, you can maximize your savings.
Sign up for newsletters and alerts. Subscribe to newsletters and notifications from your favorite stores or brands. Many retailers send out exclusive deals, promo codes, and advance notice of upcoming sales to their subscribers. This can give you a heads-up on discounts and coupons that others might not be aware of.
Use comparison shopping websites or apps to compare prices across different retailers. This helps you identify which store offers the best deal for a particular item. Some apps even allow you to scan barcodes to quickly compare prices while you’re in-store.
Stack coupons and cash back offers. Look for opportunities to stack coupons and cash back offers. Some stores allow you to use manufacturer coupons along with store coupons for the same item. Additionally, use cash back apps or credit cards that offer cash back rewards for your purchases. Combining these strategies can lead to significant savings.
Utilize online resources. Online platforms and communities often share information about ongoing sales and discounts. Websites, forums, and social media groups dedicated to deal hunting can provide insights into the best current offers. Also, use coupon websites and apps that aggregate various coupons and promo codes in one place.
Remember, while using coupons and shopping sales can save you money, it is important to avoid buying things you don’t actually need just because they are on sale. Stick to your budget and focus on items that align with your needs and priorities.
11. Compare Product Weights Against Their Prices
Comparing grocery weights against their prices is a useful strategy for getting the best value when shopping.
Understand unit prices. Unit price is the cost of a product per unit of weight or volume. It’s usually listed on the price tag or shelf label and helps you compare different sizes and brands of the same product. Unit prices are typically given in terms of cost per ounce, pound, liter, or other relevant measurement.
Check labels and shelf tags. When shopping, pay attention to the labels and shelf tags of products. They provide information about the total weight or volume of the product and its corresponding price. Look for unit prices, as they allow you to compare different package sizes and brands directly.
Calculate unit Prices. If the unit price is not already displayed, you can calculate it yourself. Divide the total price of the item by its weight or volume. For example, if a 16-ounce jar of peanut butter costs $2.99, the unit price would be $2.99 / 16 ounces = $0.1875 per ounce.
Compare similar items. When comparing unit prices, focus on similar items. For example, if you’re comparing two brands of pasta, calculate the unit price for both to see which offers better value. Keep in mind that some products might have different packaging materials or additional features that could affect their value.
Account for quality and preferences. While unit prices are important, also consider the quality and your personal preferences. Sometimes, paying slightly more for a higher quality product may be worth it. Additionally, consider any specific dietary or brand preferences you have when making your decision. My parents give me the side eye because my husband and I spent more on meat than they do, but it is because we prefer how grass fed and free range meat tastes.
12. Buy Dry Instead of Canned
Canned groceries do have their advantages. They offer convenience, a long shelf life, and easier preparation. I will not shy away from some canned beans if I am dreadfully short on time. However, buying dry groceries (such as grains, legumes, and pasta) can save you a lot of money.
Dry groceries are often more cost-effective than their canned counterparts. When you buy in bulk, such as purchasing a bag of rice or beans, you are paying primarily for the product itself rather than the packaging and processing.
Dry groceries also typically generate less packaging waste compared to canned goods, which come in metal cans or jars. Buying items like rice, pasta, or lentils in bulk using reusable containers can reduce your environmental impact.
When you buy dry groceries in bulk, you also have the flexibility to portion out exactly how much you need. This can help reduce food waste, as you can measure out quantities that match your recipes or meal plans.
Many dry groceries also have a long shelf life, especially when stored properly in airtight containers in a cool, dry place. This makes them a good option for stocking up and having staple items on hand.
13. Buy Basics and Necessities in Bulk
Much like buying dry goods over canned goods, buying basic groceries in bulk can offer several benefits, ranging from cost savings to convenience.
Basic groceries include the following:
- Rice (white, brown, basmati, etc.)
- Pasta (various shapes and types)
- Oats (rolled or steel-cut)
- Dried beans (black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, etc.)
- Lentils (green, brown, red)
- Split peas
- Flour and Baking Essentials:
- All-purpose flour
- Whole wheat flour
- Baking powder
- Baking soda
- Sugar (white, brown)
- Cooking Oils:
- Olive oil
- Vegetable oil
- Coconut oil
- Canned Goods:
- Canned tomatoes (diced, crushed, sauce)
- Canned beans (black beans, kidney beans, etc.)
- Canned vegetables (corn, peas, green beans)
- Spices and Seasonings:
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Chili powder
- Dairy and Dairy Alternatives:
- Milk (dairy or non-dairy)
- Butter or margarine
- Cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, etc.)
- Eggs are a versatile ingredient used in various dishes and baked goods.
- Nuts and Seeds:
- Sunflower seeds
- Chia seeds
- Maple syrup
- Soy sauce
- Vinegar (balsamic, white, apple cider)
- Fresh or dried herbs like parsley, cilantro, rosemary, and thyme can add flavor to dishes.
- Frozen Vegetables:
- Frozen vegetables like peas, corn, spinach, and mixed vegetables can be convenient for adding nutrients to meals.
- Cereals and Breakfast Items:
- Breakfast cereals
- Sliced bread or rolls for sandwiches and quick meals.
One of the primary reasons people choose to buy in bulk is the potential for significant cost savings. When you purchase larger quantities of staple items, the cost per unit typically decreases. This can result in lower overall expenses on groceries over time.
Buying in bulk often involves using your own reusable containers or bags, which can help reduce the amount of packaging waste generated. This is an environmentally friendly choice that aligns with efforts to minimize single-use plastic and other packaging materials.
Shopping in bulk also means you will have a larger supply of essentials on hand, reducing the frequency of shopping trips. This can save you time, especially for items you use regularly and do not need to replenish as frequently. For example, I love to purchase rice in bulk, and typically only need to replenish it every three months.
Having a well-stocked pantry with bulk basics can also be beneficial during emergencies or unexpected situations. It ensures you have essential items on hand even if you are unable to go grocery shopping for a while. Buying in bulk helps ensure that you always have a steady supply of essential ingredients. This can be particularly important for items that you use frequently or that are part of your regular cooking routine.
It is important to note that while buying in bulk has numerous advantages, it might not be suitable for all types of groceries or for every individual’s needs. Perishable items or those with shorter shelf lives might not be ideal for bulk purchasing unless you have a clear plan for consumption. Always consider your storage space, consumption habits, and budget before opting to buy in bulk.
14. Shop at International Markets
Whenever I wanted a set of unique ingredients for an ethnic inspired dish, I used to go to these high end specialty stores that certainly had the ingredients I needed, but the cost involved sacrificing my arm. Fancy ingredients are often cheaper and readily available at international markets.
International markets specialize in products from specific countries or regions, offering a wide range of authentic ingredients, spices, and foods that might be hard to find in mainstream supermarkets. This is particularly appealing if you enjoy cooking international cuisine.
Some basic ingredients and products might be more affordable at international markets due to their specialization and direct sourcing from suppliers. For example, I can find a 5 lbs sack of Japanese short grain rice at an international market for nearly the same price as a 1 lbs bag of it at a typical American grocery store.
15. Shop at Farmer’s Markets
Some food at farmer’s markets is cheaper because it comes straight from the source instead of going through a distributer. Farmers markets typically feature locally grown and seasonal produce. Since the produce is sourced directly from local farmers, there might be fewer transportation and storage costs, which can lead to lower prices.
Farmers markets often connect consumers directly with growers, eliminating the need for intermediaries and distribution networks. This can reduce the markup associated with various stages of supply chain distribution. In addition to this, farmers markets tend to have less packaging and processing involved in their products. This can lead to lower costs compared to pre-packaged, pre-cut, and pre-washed produce found in grocery stores.
When you buy from farmers at a market, you might have the opportunity to negotiate prices or discuss deals directly with the sellers. Some farmers markets offer deals on bulk purchases or sell slightly blemished produce at lower prices. This can provide cost-effective options for shoppers who are willing to buy larger quantities or don’t mind minor imperfections.