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Groceries are always a challenging part of the budget. You need to eat, but you want steak. Usually food takes up a large portion of our income, especially if you’re feeding a family. It’s also a variable expense, meaning you can make changes with substitutions and hacks to save cash on groceries. Hopefully these ideas will help slash your food budget.
It seems like there’s information everywhere on how to cut down food costs, but most aren’t realistic. Extreme couponing doesn’t happen for most people and takes a lot more planning and preparation than people let on. Discount shopping sometimes just comes down to lucking out on great markdowns. For people already on a budget, advice like not eating out or avoiding expensive cuts of meat are useless; you’re probably already doing that.
These are practical hacks and ways you can make substitutions to save cash on groceries regardless of where you live or your family size. Whether you need some more breathing to get by these days, or are looking to free up cash for a holiday celebration like a birthday gift.
People used to add ingredients like sawdust (gross) to stews and sauces to make them thicker. Hopefully your budget allows for actual food, but there are still ways to stretch your expensive ingredients so you have more to eat. Plus it’s healthy, too!
Grating vegetables are a great way to add extra nutrients and substance to thicken sauces, especially spaghetti sauce. In fact, traditional Italian sauces often have carrot included for the extra sweetness.
Other ingredients like leftover mashed potatoes, celery, cauliflower, and even squash can thicken up your sauces and stews without affecting the flavor too much.
Lentils and beans are super healthy for you but most people don’t eat them on a regular basis. They’re especially handy when combined with ground beef or pork. If you’re just starting out, making soups and stews with lentils is really easy (chili is a great option!).
You can also use lentils in your pasta sauce alongside (or instead of) meat to make it feel heartier. Tacos and burritos are also naturally delicious with some beans mixed in. Or give the British meal of beans on toast a try!
For most families, meat is the most expensive part of the food budget. Lentis, of course, are a great source of protein that doesn’t cost a lot. But if you want more variety in your diet and are already buying cheap cuts of meat like chicken legs and pork then you’ll have to get creative.
One of the best, healthy, easy, and cheap ways to get protein is from eggs. There’s so many ways you can prepare them outside of breakfast. Crustless quiche, egg fried rice, or even a dinner omelet are some ways to serve eggs as your main protein.
Logically speaking, buying in bulk makes sense. You usually pay less for more, which of course will save you money. But in practice it doesn’t always work out that way. First of all, sometimes the large quantities of products aren’t cheaper. Especially if you can’t get bulk versions of store or discount brands.
Second, buying in bulk often leads to waste. This happens if your family is small and you’re buying more than you can reasonably use. There’s also a psychological phenomenon where people use more because they ‘have lots’ rather than conserving from a smaller package.
This is an important skill that everyone who does the grocery shopping should know. To compare the cost of two products, figure out the price per 100 grams or ounce by dividing the price by the volume. This will help you compare price when the package size is different on two products.
Some stores help with this by displaying the price per unit under the product price. If not, definitely bring your calculator or phone calculator app with you to the store.
Fruit is so expensive for several reasons. In most of North America, a large portion of our fruit is imported rather than grown locally. That transportation cost is included in the price you pay, especially if the fruit is out of season. Fruit is also not very stable compared to other foods (especially root vegetables) and spoils easily.
Frozen fruit eliminates a lot of these problems and usually ends up a lot cheaper than fresh fruit. Depending on how you enjoy your fruit (like if you add it to oatmeal or a smoothie) you might not even notice the difference. Also, you can often find ‘imperfect’ frozen fruit packages for a lower price, too.
This seems like a no brainer, but even the most frugal people are guilty of this sometimes. How often do you feel like you’re running out of food and do a big grocery trip, only to waste the leftovers in the fridge? Or maybe you shop several times a week and always grab something you don’t really need?
Space out your grocery trips as far as you can. When you start to run low, plan a leftover day or eat up something from the freezer you probably wouldn’t have gotten to otherwise. As for the frequent trips: this is where meal planning comes in.
Meal plans are one of the easiest ways to save cash on groceries, hands down. But a meal plan that’s full of prime rib and delicious, expensive things you found on Pinterest isn’t going to do any good. You need to plan what you eat around what’s available cheap.
First of all, look in your freezer, fridge, and pantry and add what needs using up to the meal plan first. That way you’re not letting things go to waste. Next, go over the grocery store flyer and come up with meal ideas using ingredients that are on sale.
Breakfast cereals are not only expensive, most are nutritionally void. If you haven’t already, it’s time to cut these out. Yes, even if you have kids at home. Oats, especially steel cut oats, are a lot cheaper than cereal and are better for you, too. You can add some of your frozen fruit to them, homemade jam, peanut butter, or a bit of milk and sugar if you need some variety in your life.
If you often turn to convenience foods for breakfast, it’s really not that expensive to prep and freeze homemade breakfast sandwiches or wraps, too. They’re handy for busy mornings and will pay off by keeping you away from fast food or vending machine snacks. The same goes for muffins – they’re way cheaper homemade.
No, not like those meal delivery kits. Many retailers (like Amazon) have subscription services that offer a discount on products that are delivered monthly. If you can find retailers that offer the stuff you had planned to buy, and it’s the same price or cheaper than your grocery store, this might be a good way to shave another 10% off your grocery bill.
Another option is coops or community shared garden baskets. Getting food right from the farm is often less expensive than the grocery store.
A quick warning: Gardens aren’t instant ways to save money on groceries, especially if you have to get one set up. If things don’t come up you’re out the cost of the seeds. And sometimes gardening ends up more expensive than just buying the produce at the grocery story depending on how much your time is worth. You’ll have to weigh your costs vs savings for this one.
Mini gardens, on the other hand, almost always pay off. If you regularly cook with costly herbs, a small herb garden can be set up almost anywhere. Growing pricey produce like peppers, green onions, or lettuce in containers or flower pots will also usually save money.
When you’re trying to save cash on groceries with substitutions and hacks a small slip up can have a big impact. What’s the point of watering down the soup broth if you grab take out on the way home the next day? It’s still cheaper to have a few convenience foods on hand than eating out, so keep that in mind when doing your grocery shopping. Don’t give up!
Tags: food substitutions, hacks, meal plan