Simple Ways to Save Money on Food

Are you looking for some simple ways to save money on food? If you’re like me, you’re experiencing the feeling of sticker shock when you go to the grocery store these days. It’s starting to seem a bit unreal. Every time I go shopping, I’m hoping to see food prices starting to come down, but instead, it seems like they just keep going up and up. And I fear that the reality is that the increases in grocery prices may be our new normal. And for more helpful, money-saving tips, check out 25 Tips from Grandma’s Kitchen

But while there may or may not be relief on food prices coming anytime soon, I’ve lived long enough now, and been through enough to believe that hope is not lost. Life will always have its struggles, but we can learn to be resilient. And there are things we can do on our end to save money on groceries and ease the financial strain a bit. 

So I’m sharing with you some of the things I’ve been doing to fight inflation and save money on our groceries. Some of these are things I’ve been doing for years, and some are new ways of saving money that I’ve incorporated into my money-saving habits. But, very importantly, these tips are straightforward and will help you slash your grocery bill. 

So the big question is…

How can I save money on food?

These money-saving tips I’m sharing are simple ways to cut your grocery bill. Most of these ideas are old-fashioned tips that our grandparents probably used but are still relevant today (with a few more modern tips thrown in). But keep in mind that not every tip is going to work for everyone. We all have different dietary needs and preferences. We live in different places and have different access to stores, farmer’s markets, grocery outlets, and the like. So take the ideas that fit into your life and will work for you and disregard the rest. Now onto the tips!

Frugal Tips for Food and Groceries

1. Don’t waste food. This is probably my favorite way, and the easiest way, to save money on food. Wasting food is literally just throwing money away. And I know that cutting down on food waste is easier said than done. We all lead busy lives and it’s inevitable that sometimes food will get forgotten and left to wither in the back of the fridge. Or something comes up and you end up stopping for fast food instead of eating those leftovers. But to save money, try and minimize food waste as much as possible. And here are a few ways that I minimize our food waste:

    • We eat leftovers. I know that leftovers don’t appeal to everyone, but I love them. If I can cook once and feed the family twice, then it’s a win for me. And leftovers also make great lunches. But for those who don’t enjoy eating leftovers, there is a workaround for this. And that is to repurpose your leftovers.

Get creative. For example, if you have leftover chili, make it into a casserole with a cornbread topping. Or make tortilla rollups with chili and shredded cheese and pan-fry them. Leftover chicken can be made into chicken salad for lunch. Leftover roast beef can be diced up and made into a breakfast hash.

I also sometimes freeze my leftovers so that we can enjoy them at a later date. Waiting a few weeks before eating the leftovers is a way to avoid creating leftover fatigue. 

    • I prep my produce and other perishable items when I bring them home. I find that with fresh fruits and vegetables, it’s best to have a plan for them, and then immediately prepare them for the upcoming week. When I come home with fresh produce or meat, I immediately prepare it for storage. I will leave things like my tomatoes in a basket on the counter, but mostly everything else gets washed and readied for use during the week.

To give you some examples, I know that my family is much more likely to eat those fresh grapes if they are washed and ready to go. And I’m less likely to let my lettuce wilt in the produce drawer of my fridge if it is washed, dried, and stored in a mason jar or produce keeper (and it will last longer, too). Things like peppers get washed, then chopped or sliced, and stored until I’m ready to use them in a recipe.

And don’t forget the meat. If you know you aren’t going to be using it for at least a few days, go ahead and wrap it and pop it in the freezer right away. 

    • Save your scraps. I like to save up vegetable scraps like peelings from carrots, celery leaves, and onion skins, and store them in the freezer. When I have a good amount saved up, I throw them all into the slow cooker, along with some dried herbs and seasonings, and make a vegetable stock to use in soup. I also save chicken bones in the freezer to use to make homemade chicken stock. And ham bones can be used to season soup and beans. 

Simple Ways to Save Money on Food

2. Simplify your meals. I love to cook, and I find the grocery is a huge source of temptation for me. The sheer number of fancy ingredients and specialty products is mind-boggling. I love to try new things, and it can be hard to resist the temptation to splurge.

But I also grew up in the 70s and 80s, and I can remember a time when grocery stores did not have the overwhelming variety of products that we have now. The offerings at the supermarket were much more basic. Even treats were limited to a small variety. I mean, do we need 100+ varieties of potato chips to choose from?

And yet we survived and thrived. My mom still managed to make delicious homemade meals every day from simple, basic ingredients. The reality is that we don’t need a huge variety of products to make good meals.

So to save money, I try to keep it simple. Things like rice, egg noodles, canned tomatoes, a sack of potatoes, canned tuna, Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, and olive oil. You get the idea. Common, everyday ingredients.

I also tend to stick to simple recipes that keep ingredients to a minimum. Long lists of ingredients in a recipe typically amount to a costlier meal. Of course, I do prepare more elaborate meals from time to time. But for most of the week, our meals are simple.

Here are a few of my favorite simple, money-saving recipes that I make regularly:

3. Simplify the snacks. This is along the lines of relying on the basics from the previous tip, but I feel like snacks are a big subject and need a paragraph or two of their own. 

Now some folks are big snackers and some folks never snack. In our family, we were previously big snackers and tended to graze all day between meals. But in recent years, my husband and I have made it a point to limit snacks between meals and focus on eating a full meal at mealtime.

We save money by buying fewer snacks, but we waste less food in the long run because we tend to be hungry at dinnertime and we tuck into our dinner with gusto. We still have leftovers to contend with, but it’s a manageable amount. I’ve heard it said that hunger is the best sauce and I find that to be true. Food just tastes better when you’re feeling a little big hungry. 

This is not to say that our family doesn’t still enjoy a good snack from time to time. But these days, I try to keep snacks simple. Just take a glance at the prices, and you’ll see that the cost of buying a lot of packaged snacks and treats every week can really put a huge dent in the food budget. So I try and keep the snacks basic and (mostly) homemade. 

One thing I try and fit into the weekly budget is fruit. I find that most adults and children enjoy a piece of fresh fruit. I buy whatever is on sale on my shopping day, provided it’s something my family will enjoy and eat. Usually, I have grapes, apples, and bananas on hand for snacks.

And because I rarely buy packaged snacks like potato chips, I like to pop a batch of popcorn in my Dutch oven once or twice a week. Popcorn drizzled with melted butter is a family favorite, especially on movie night. And for sweet treats, I usually make one or two batches of banana bread, pumpkin bread, or banana muffins.

Granola, raisins, oatmeal, yogurt, and jam on a biscuit are all inexpensive snacks. And if you want to save some money on yogurt, buy it in a large tub or make your own (get my recipe here.)

I have found that simple snacks like these are more than sufficient for the family. It saves money and I feel good about providing healthful treats. 

4. Change the way you meal plan. This one is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. I repeatedly see the advice that you need to meal plan to save money. That meal planning is the only way to save money and failing to plan is planning to fail. In my experience, this may or may not be true. It depends on how you go about it. 

Firstly, not everyone is a planner. Some people do better with having their staple ingredients on hand and making their meals on the fly. This has often been my method. I keep meat and vegetables in my freezer, and my pantry is stocked with the items I use regularly (like canned foods, flour, noodles, etc.). When you are accustomed to doing it this way, you can whip up a meal at a moment’s notice. 

For some folks, however, meal planning ahead is essential. And this can be for various reasons like time, or having a large family, or maybe that’s just how they function best. And I do find myself meal planning more often these days, especially while I am finding myself in a very busy season of life. 

However, the conventional wisdom regarding meal planning seems backward to me. Much of the advice I read tells us that we should search Pinterest, recipe blogs, or cookbooks for recipes that we would like to make. Then we’re told to write it all in a planner (or use an online planner), make a grocery list, and go shopping. I’ve tried this and, in my experience, this isn’t the most efficient, money-saving way to go about meal planning. 

The most effective way that I’ve found to meal plan is by planning your meals according to what you already have on hand and by what is on sale. Start by taking inventory of your pantry, fridge, and freezer. Also, take a look at your local grocery sales. Put your money towards purchasing those things that are on sale and that you know you will use.

Of course, it’s important to indulge your cravings and plan special meals occasionally, but by and large, you can save a significant amount of money by planning your meals based on what you already have on hand and what you can buy on sale.

Save money on food at the farmer's market

5. For fresh food, consider local and/or seasonal. When it comes to buying fresh produce, you can often save money by buying fruits and vegetables that are in season. A fresh tomato in December is going to be much more expensive than a tomato purchased in July. (And it’s going to be less tastier than a ripe summer tomato, too). And check out your local farmers’ markets, too. It’s not only a great way to support local farmers, but you may also find some good deals. 

And this strategy isn’t limited to produce. Meat, eggs, honey, and milk are often on my local shopping list. My husband and I buy our meat in bulk from a local farm. It actually saves us a few dollars compared to what we would pay at the supermarket. (Plus, I like knowing where our meat comes from and how it was raised.) And lately, eggs have been cheaper from our local farmers compared to grocery store prices.  

6. Buy frozen and canned vegetables and fruits. Buying canned and frozen vegetables and fruit can be a great way to save money on groceries without sacrificing nutrition. While fresh produce is always a good option, it can be more expensive and may not always be available year-round. By purchasing frozen and canned produce, you can have access to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables at an affordable price.

And I get that there is a concern that canned or frozen produce is not as nutritious as fresh produce. However, that’s not always the case. In fact, canned and frozen produce can be just as nutritious as fresh produce, if not more so. Some canned vegetables and fruits, such as tomatoes and pumpkin, have higher levels of certain vitamins and antioxidants than their fresh counterparts. And both canned and frozen produce are usually packed at the peak of ripeness, which preserves nutrients and flavor.

However, there are a few nutritional concerns with canned vegetables and fruits. If you’re following a salt or sugar-restricted diet, it’s important to read the label and choose canned produce that is low in added sugars, and sodium. And when buying canned fruits, I prefer to buy fruit canned in water or natural juice, rather than heavy syrup. 

Frozen produce is also a good option, and it’s often less expensive than fresh produce. Frozen fruits and vegetables can be used in smoothies, stir-fries, and other dishes just as you would use fresh produce.

7. Cook from scratch more often. This can be a great way to save money on your food budget. Packaged and convenience foods often come at a premium price, and preparing meals from actual ingredients allows you to avoid those extra costs. But I know that cooking from scratch every day isn’t possible for everyone. So don’t think of it as all-or-nothing. Even cooking a few meals from scratch as time allows will save money in the budget.

If you aren’t already an experienced scratch cook, you can start small by making simple meals, snacks, or treats. You will be surprised how easy it becomes with practice to forgo the pricey prepackaged foods. 

Additionally, cooking from scratch allows you to make use of ingredients that may have otherwise gone to waste, such as leftover vegetables, grains, or meat. By using what you have on hand, you can stretch your food budget even further.

But let me also say, even though I know I am contradicting myself here, that it’s worth it to keep a few premade meals on hand in your freezer. Sometimes having a convenience meal on hand will save you from getting expensive takeout meals when you are tired or running late. Whether you premake some meals for your freezer, or a buy couple of bags of chicken nuggets and fries to keep on hand, be prepared for those days that you can’t cook up a meal from scratch.

8. Cut back on bottled and can drinks. Cutting back on bottled and canned drinks can have significant money-saving benefits. Beverages like soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, and bottled water are expensive. And the costs add up quickly, especially if you consume these beverages regularly. By switching to water, you can save a considerable amount of money over time.

Also, if you aren’t a fan of plain water, you can add flavor with a squeeze of lemon or orange, or a few sprigs of mint. And drinks like coffee, tea, iced tea, herbal tea, and lemonade are also very inexpensive. 

And if you have worries about the taste or quality of the water that comes from your tap, a water filter is a good investment. Water filters range from relatively cheap water filter pitchers to more expensive countertop water filters (like the one that we use at our house).  And even though the water filters cost you up front, they soon pay for themselves quickly when you don’t have to buy bottled water anymore. 

And if you are a soda drinker, I know it can be a hard habit to kick. But soda gets expensive and can really put a big dent in the grocery budget. Even if you don’t give up drinking soda entirely, cutting down on the sodas will still help (your wallet and your health!) And did you know that you can make your own fermented sodas that are cheaper and healthier than store-bought sodas? I like these recipes for whey soda and ginger beer.

9. Stretch the meat. This tip is straight from Grandma’s bag of tricks.  Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers knew how to save money by adding fillers to meat dishes to make the meat go further.  Meatloaf and meatballs are classic examples of this. 

This tip works especially well with ground meat dishes. Try adding oats, rice, quinoa, beans, lentils, chopped mushrooms, breadcrumbs, or cracker crumbs to ground beef, ground turkey, or other ground meat. Saute it and use it in tacos, spaghetti, lasagna, chili, or casseroles. A good rule of thumb is to add about 1 cup of filler for every pound of ground meat.

10. Coupons and cashback apps. These are 2 ways to save money on groceries that I don’t actually use myself, but they might work for you. 

I don’t find coupons useful for the way I shop, because I mostly shop for fresh food, bulk pantry items, and store-brand products. I don’t buy a lot of brand-name items or packaged foods, which are the main types of grocery items that you can buy with coupons. Sometimes I find coupons helpful for things like paper products or cleaning items. 

But many folks find coupons to be helpful and you can definitely save some money with them. I think that the key is to only use coupons to purchase things that you will actually use. It’s not a bargain when you use coupons to buy products that you don’t need and will never use. Also, find out if your local stores will double your coupons and take advantage of that if they do. 

And as far as using cash-back apps, like Ibotta, I prefer easy, low-tech ways to save money on our groceries. But, again, this may be something that will work for you. (You can find a list of pros and cons here, and decide if using this type of app is right for you.) 

11. Check out alternative sources of food. I’ve already mentioned farmer’s markets and going directly to the farmers as a way to save some grocery dollars. But there are other places to look, too. Discount grocery outlets, discount bread outlets, Amish and Mennonite markets, Asian grocers, and bulk grocery outlets may also save you some money. Not everyone will have these resources nearby, but if you do, they are worth checking out. 

12. Get help if you need it. If you find that you just can’t stretch your budget enough to feed yourself or your family, please seek out assistance. Please don’t go hungry. Many churches and local community organizations have food pantries that can help you get by. There is no shame in getting some help. And when you get back on your feet, you will be able to give back and help others. A quick Google search will help you find food pantries in your area. 

So that’s my list of tips to save money on groceries and ease the grocery budget a bit. I hope you find these tips helpful. Please share your tips and ideas for saving money in the comments below! And follow me on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram so you don’t miss a post. 

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Simple Ways to Save Money on Food

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