While living simply (a.k.a. cheaply) I aim to still live a healthy lifestyle. I prefer to buy organic and local products, which is not always cheap. This preference holds a high priority, so I make it happen. It not only makes me feel better about the food I’m consuming for my health but also for the overall health of our environment. Here is a quick and dirty round-up of the resources and techniques I use to help cut the cost of food.
Zero Waste Kitchen
I let very little go to waste in my kitchen. It’s all the small things that add up to big waste. I will eat the weirdest combinations of foods if necessary to use up ingredients before they expire. At a later date, I will post a compilation of the little things I do around the kitchen to shave the cost of food. I make a lot of one pot meals like stir fry and casserole dishes when all the ingredients can just be thrown together and cooked. They are super easy, convenient, and delicious.
Work at a Restaurant
Since the beginning of July, my grocery bills have plummeted! That’s because I started working at a restaurant. Not just any restaurant – the very first restaurant that I waited tables at as a young, pre-college teenager. A month in and there are still nostalgic warm and fuzzies floating all around me.
Utilizing the discount given its employees, 50 percent off a meal for one shift or a free meal for a double shift, has saved me oodles on food costs. At the 50 percent off rate, a meal will cost me anywhere from $4-$10, conveniently taken out of my tips for the day. I generally can only eat half of a restaurant’s dinner portion, so I automatically box up the other half to eat later or the next day for lunch. Two meals for the price (or half the price!) of one! It’s even better when the two meals are free (after working a double shift)!
So, combine this $0-$5 per meal cost with the fact that I generally only consume coffee, water, and random snacks throughout the day before work (I don’t have much of an appetite before 4pm), I’m spending next to nothing at the grocery store these days.
Grocery Store Cards
I sign up for store discount cards, as long as they are free. Here in New England, I frequent Stop & Shop because of their gas rewards program attached to their store card in addition to the discounts. This isn’t exactly saving cash on food, but saving money on fuel is a good thing, too! Racking up points by shopping here often, you can get 10-30 cents off per gallon of gas at participating gas stations. Sometimes coupons and combinations of products afford you extra points. I’ve seen a “buy any 5 of these products and earn 400 points” deals that’s 40 cents off per gallon! With the summer time hike in gas prices, every penny counts.
While I do prefer Stop & Shop because of their store card gas rewards and proximity to my house, I also shop around for specific products or prices. About a half hour from me is a Market Basket which always has cheap prices, and products not available at other stores. Although, I often have to sacrifice buying organic when shopping there so I stick to buying shelf stable products like cans of coconut milk and diced tomatoes.
I peruse the food shelves of stores like Ocean State Job Lot and Christmas Tree Shop for useful products, like Santa Cruz Organics Apricot Jam I found the other day for $3, or Sriracha and Cholula hot sauces are always cheaper. Trader Joe’s and BJ’s Wholesale Club are the places I go to for specific products, namely coffee, pineapple juice, and Greek yogurt.
I’m sure someone has told you this before, but always go grocery shopping on a full stomach! It’s easy to justify buying that bag of Smartfood if you’re belly is telling you that you need something to snack on in the car. On the way home. To cook dinner…
I’ve followed this food blog for a couple of years. The author, Beth, breaks down the costs by recipe, serving, even by ingredient. She recently published a step-by-step post on how to calculate the cost of recipes you use at home. Read all about it HERE. It’s a great way to learn how to cook easy, healthy meals and learn how to stretch ingredients and servings over a couple of days. Her recipes are delicious and nutritious, and best of all affordable. One of my go-to, never fail to satisfy recipes is Dragon Noodles. Delish!
This app is a fantastic, fast way to decide whether to buy a product based on its parent company’s affiliation with social campaigns, like the fight to label products using GMO’s for instance. There are several campaigns you can join and an easy scanner which tells you if there are conflicts in supporting the brand. By supporting or avoiding certain brands you as a consumer can make a big impact on the issues you find important. I mention this toward the end because it is not a necessity in saving money, but a way to stay true to my beliefs and values.
In order to save you need a certain level of creativity in the kitchen that allows you to use your ingredients to their full potential. For instance, when I make the above mentioned Dragon Noodles from Budget Bytes I use a package of Ramen Noodles instead of lo mein noodles which the recipe calls for. Leftovers are always reheated or magically re-imagined into something equally as yummy. This is where all those stir fry and casserole dishes come into play. See also: burritos, quesadillas, and pasta salads.
I irregularly check grocery store circulars and websites, mainly the few stores mentioned above. For certain products I go straight to the brand website to see if they offer coupons and sign up for email updates which often include coupons or sale announcements. I also head to their Facebook page and click like to receive updates or coupons as well. I have yet to do it, but I know a couple of people who have successfully emailed or called customer service representatives providing raving reviews of the products and stating their wish to buy more of it at a discount.