10 Tips to Save Money on Food

by Tracy · 20 comments

The rising prices of food and fuel will make it harder to make ends meet and save for future goals. We all know the obvious things like eat at home, use coupons and shop the sales flyers so here are some little tweaks that will help you spend less on food.

1. Watch portion sizes, especially for young children. It’s easy to dish out more food than we want to (or need to) eat. Many times we will automatically eat everything on our plate, regardless of hunger so try serving a bit less. Sticking to the suggested serving sizes of pricey foods like meat and cheese can save money and keep us healthy and trim.

In the case of small children, their eating habits can be maddeningly unpredictable. During a growth spurt, they might out eat the adults and then turn around and spend the next 3 weeks living on air and crackers. Give them small portions to start so if they aren’t hungry, you won’t have to throw away much food. This also applies to beverages like milk and juice.

2. Keep your fridge clean and organized. It’s too easy to forget about food and let it go bad when you can’t see at a glance what you have. Dirty crisper baskets with rotting produce can contaminate your fresh fruit and vegetables.

Make it a habit to clean out your fridge at least once a week. I clean mine before I go grocery shopping so that I have a clear picture of what I have and so that there is plenty of room for incoming food.

Keep leftovers front and center so you are reminded to eat them sooner rather than later. I prefer having all of mine in clear glass storage containers so they are easy to stack and I can tell at a glance what is inside, but it’s not completely necessary.

3. Frozen produce can be a healthy choice and can be very convenient on busy nights. Read labels and look for varieties than contain just vegetables and no added fat, sugar or salt.  Frozen stir fry blends can be turned into a fairly healthy, simple weeknight dinner by adding a bit of meat or tofu.

Frozen fruits and vegetables aren’t always cheaper than their fresh counterparts, so shop around.

4. Herbs and spices can add a lot to a grocery bill. Check to see if any of your stores offer bulk bins for spices. For example, at the Whole Foods I shop at, you can spoon out just a tablespoon or so of a particular spice into a small bag and pay just pennies instead of buying an entire jar for several dollars. This is the way to go if you’re not sure that you’ll ever use that spice again.

5. Learn to cook at least 2 or 3 meals that can be prepared quickly using pantry staples. This can help you avoid the temptation to eat out or having to make a run to the store while you’re tired and hungry (or worse, having to drag your tired and hungry children to the store with you during the after work rush!)

6. Try Google recipes for ways to use inexpensive new-to-you ingredients.  It lets you refine and filter results based on what other ingredients you have on hand, cook time and calories. It’s a great way to find uses for leftover ingredients that you have from other recipes.

7.  Use cash at the grocery store. This will force you to keep a more careful running tally of what you have in your cart and cut down on impulse buys if that is a problem for you.

8. If it’s at all possible, try to shop during less busy times of the day. A crowded grocery store can add to your stress levels which makes it harder to make good decisions. I know I’m not the only one who has just thrown anything into my cart just to get out of there and go home when it’s a zoo inside the supermarket!

A well stocked pantry and freezer can eliminate the need for last minute runs to the store during the most hectic times of the day.

9. If you need or want to do your shopping with your children, be proactive in keeping them busy and happy. Go when they are well rested and have recently been fed to avoid tantrums and melt-downs and a raging case of the gimmes.

Talk to them about what you are buying and why you are making the choices that you are. Even small babies will like hearing your voice even if they have no idea what you are saying! You can let older children help you figure out the best bargains and even let them choose their lunchbox fruit or after school snack themselves (be sure to give them reasonable limits). You might be surprised at how careful they are with money when you give them a challenge!

Keeping the children occupied will make shopping pleasant and let you keep a clear mind to shop smart.

10. Be grateful. It can be so easy to get wrapped up and anxious about the rising costs of food and gas and start feeling deprived and stressed out. These are very valid concerns and it is necessary to worry about these rising costs and do what we can to stay within our budgets.

However most of us reading this are not living in a situation where we are having to fight off crowds to get a day’s ration of porridge for our families or helplessly watching our children suffer the effects of malnutrition. Feeling grateful for what we do have makes it much easier to make these changes to keep our food costs manageable. The right attitude makes a world of difference when it comes to frugal living. Who knows, you might get so good at it that you have extra to share with those who are going through tough times.

Are you feeling the pinch of rising food prices? How are you dealing with it?

Photo Credit: teejayhanton

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Jilly says:

    One biggie is, don’t shop at Whole Foods if you can help it. There’s a reason we call it “Whole Paycheck Market”! If there’s a food co-op, a farmer’s market, or even a locally owned grocery, or a grocery that sells items such as flours, grains, and nuts in bulk, you’re a lot better off there. Another tip is to shop on Monday and Thursday evenings, or VERY early on Tuesdays or Fridays. Most stores get their fresh stock on Tuesdays and Fridays and you can often find perfectly good stuff, especially meats and produce, marked down, at the times I suggest. Great for stocking up your freezer. Keep a whiteboard on your freezer door and list everything; erase as you use it. If your area has a large Hispanic population, check out the “Hispanic” aisle in the local supermarket; frequently the spices there are cheaper.

  • subhorup dasgupta says:

    It has been some time since we adopted a frugal approach to food, and one of the biggest challenges is having a complex kitchen in place. If you have a lot of stuff in the kitchen, you feel tempted to spend more and do more. Like you pointed out in the post, having more in the pantry leads to wasting more over time, as things go stale, or just clutter up your cupboard with a little bit left at the bottom of a big jar. For those re-locating to a new home, or starting out making home, the expenses of setting up a kitchen can also be very high.

  • Miroslav Plachy says:

    I find that the bigger the packaging the lover the price is. So we often buy a big bag of flour for example and bake some bread. Bread is extremely simple to make once you have a good recepie. It takes about 40 min in the oven and it will least you all week. I don’t know what they do to bread in the factories nowadays but it is all air with hardly any substance. There are a few recepies for bread that you don’t even have to kneed.

  • DC says:

    My husband and I found we can make homemade bread very cheaply. Visit Motherearthnews.com and look up Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. We purchased bulk yeast at Sam’s Club, and now make delicious, nutritious bread for a fraction of what it costs in the store. It’s more filling too.

    Eggs are a great source of inexpensive protein. At $1.20 per dozen, two eggs cooked any way you like cost about 20 cents. Add homemade bread or toast and you have a meal for pennies.

  • Iliana says:

    I have noticed that when I go shopping and I am hungry I spend twice as much money as usual. I buy many useless things. So, for me a tip is always go shopping after lunch.

  • Edwin @ Save The Bills says:

    Those are some good tips, thanks for sharing. What I’m noticing is that not only are food prices going up, but product sizes are shrinking at the same time.

  • Joe says:

    Great points, Tracy. Another thing my wife and I have found useful is to plan out what meals we will make over the course of a week or two. This allows us to only buy what we will need — lowering our shopping bill and reducing the amount of food we throw out.

    Joe McCulloch, CFP(R)

  • Olivia says:

    You had asked how we’re handling the rise in food prices. 1) I’m buying meats in bulk and dividing them up. Some I prep even further, like ready to bake meatloaves and already made and cooked meat balls, chicken breasts cut into stir fry and soup/stew slivers (using scissors), then packaging and freezing them. Makes for really quick and less expensive meal planning. 2) I’m planning to expand our garden to include more perennials (asparagus and rhubarb) and am experimenting with heirloom tomatoes.

  • Shannon says:

    Regarding spices, if your store doesn’t have a bulk bin, check out the “ethnic” aisle. I buy all of my spices there (no bulk bin in the area) – they come in smaller packages and cost considerably less (per lb).

  • SavvyYoungMoney says:

    I especially agree with #1. Restaurants give so much food that once I started reducing to the suggested amounts, I found portions to be tiny.

    I’d like to add shopping at farmers markets or ethnic food markets. A lot of times you can find great deals on produce and interesting items to spice up your meals.

  • Togi says:

    Buy stuff from the 1/2 price bin that may be bruised. Bring it home, chop it up and freeze it. I get cheap fruit and veggies for juicing this way too. I often buy half priced bags of spinach & throw it in the freezer to add to meals. Shop discount grocery stores. High end stores you are paying for the atmosphere. Don’t be a diva about where you shop. If you have a yard, plan for a veggie garden this year. When stuff you like is on sale, stock up. Bulk buy (Costco etc.) and share with family and friends. Don’t buy premade meals like pasta. How lazy are you?

  • retirebyforty says:

    Good tips overall, but here is one from me to you.
    Don’t shop at Whole Food. It’s ridiculously expensive.

    I agree with Chef Todd up above. Learning how to cook is the biggest difference anyone can make.

  • Jenna says:

    You can also grow your own herbs – they don’t require much and look pretty in any house or apartment. They also make good house warming gifts.

  • Emily says:

    Great tips. I would add that if you have a dehydrator and there’s a special on frozen veggies, buy as many as you legally and fiscally can and dehydrate the veggies (just open the bags, put veggies on dehydrator trays and start drying).

    In general, if you’re stocking up on staples now, you will save a lot of money in the long run.

  • Jenny @ exconsumer says:

    These are great tips. We eat a lot of frozen vegetables, but prefer fresh fruit. Luckily, with two young sons, the fresh fruit never goes bad around here. I’ve also noticed that if I buy the whole romaine lettuce leaves rather than the already torn up pieces, they last twice as long.

    Another easy way to make extra food that can be used for more than one meal is to cook an entire chicken or roast in the slowcooker. Just throw in some potatoes, carrots and onions and enjoy the meal. Then keep the leftover chicken and juices to make chicken (or beef) and noodles another night.

  • Jennifer says:

    When I was a kid, frozen veggies were bland and mushy (didn’t help that back then, all my parents knew to do was to boil the heck out of everything). These days, frozen vegetables have basically the same nutrition as their fresh counterparts, and we know about stir-frying and other ways to make them more palatable.

    One thing I wonder, though; if the veggies come from other countries that use harsher pesticides than the US, are they rinsed thoroughly before freezing? Just a thought.

  • Randy Addison says:

    Actually, these are the simplest things that might help us save money with food. Cleaning the freezer or fridge is a big thing, since clean refrigerator means better cooling.

  • Beth says:

    I would recomend if you often find yourself to tired to cook, to try making double portions (or more.) on slow days and freezing the extra. Not everything fares well in the freezer, but many meals do. I often have homemade spaghetti sauce, split pea soup, and more ready to be warmed up and served.

  • Determined says:

    Wonderful article. The one thing that helps me is writing out a menu calendar. (Ideally you would take a look at the weekly sales and coupons then write your menus based on that) Then you can get everything you need for the week in one trip. I find that when I make multiple quick trips to the grocery store for the one or two items I need for dinner, I always end up buying more things than I need.

  • Chef Todd Mohr says:

    Using the excellent tips above can help you save money on food without resorting to cheap fast food and empty calories.

    Learn to cook and you gain ultimate control over the food you prepare. I have seen the change made in thousands of people’s lives when they learn to cook. I’m not talking about following recipes and spending a lot of money on cookbooks. I mean there is great freedom in understanding the basic methods that go into cooking. When you learn HOW to saute’, you can then use chicken, shrimp, tofu, beef, vegetables, it’s all the same.

    Being able to cook by method means you can estimate portions better, purchase ONLY what you’ll cook, and never have the stress of trying to figure out “what’s for dinner” every night. You can cook with the ingredients you already have on-hand. You’ll never have the frustration of written recipes not working, you’ll save money on take-out food, improve your nutrition, gain a new hobby, reunite your family, entertain for friends, gain confidence, eat a greater variety of foods, and have a skill for a lifetime.

    Learn how to cook and you not only save money, but also open a whole new lifestyle for yourself.

    Chef Todd Mohr

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