Finding ways to save money on food is on every budget conscious person’s mind, and rightfully so. Eating and drinking is something we have to budget for on a daily basis, and it can significantly add up if you’re not thinking about it. The first tip people generally give to save money on food is start cooking at home instead of going out to eat. I can agree with that statement since dining at fast food places and eating at restaurants often add up pretty quick and break the budget. But what happens when you’ve cut back significantly on swinging through drive-thrus, going out to restaurants, and grabbing a quick snack or impulse food purchase while out and about, but you’re still spending more than you’d like on food?
Just because you are going to the grocery store and cooking at home, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re saving a ton of money. You need to know how to shop and how to cook in the most efficient way or else you’ll overspend as well. While I was working on my cookbook, Mac n’ Cheese to the Rescue, I was inspired by not only my passion for cooking, but also for finding the best bargain and saving money on food. In the book which features 101 budget-friendly recipes for spicing up ordinary boxed mac n’ cheese, I learned how to save money at the grocery store, get creative and use up leftovers, use ingredients that are on sale or cheaper whenever I can, and ultimately, to significantly reduce my grocery bill every month.
How to Be a Budget Friendly Cook
Here are my top three ways that I’ve learned to save money on food while cooking at home and lower my grocery bill:
- Have an organized plan.
Have you ever walked through the grocery store with no list, no plan, and not really thought about what you were buying? If yes, don’t feel guilty because I have done this many times. For me, it always seems to end up in a massive bill with a lot of unneeded purchases. And on top of that, a few days later I’m running back to the store because I’m lacking a specific ingredient to cook a meal. This is why it’s so much better to be prepared before loading up your cart. First, check out what’s on sale at your local grocery store. Second, search for coupons Third, take inventory of what you have. This step is often overlooked and results in unnecessary purchases and items you have on-hand going bad because they are about to expire. Finally, take a look at your schedule for the next week or two, plan your meals, and create a list accordingly.
- Use leftovers.
Many times it’s cheaper to buy in bulk and cook larger quantities. It’s also beneficial to cook large portions so that you can save time with tomorrow’s lunch and dinner. But if you aren’t using these leftovers, you aren’t saving money at all. Growing up, we always wasted leftovers, and it wasn’t until I was on a tight budget through college, that I really learned the value of those leftovers. Get creative with it! In my cookbook, I use leftover grilled chicken to make a zesty chicken enchilada mac n’ cheese and leftover pot roast for a hearty stroganoff mac n’ cheese.
- Don’t be afraid to swap out ingredients.
If you’re following a recipe, you don’t necessarily have to follow every item exactly. Or even if you’re not following a recipe but usually make something in a specific way, dare to use another ingredient to save money. For example, for my French Onion Mac in my cookbook, I often use gruyere cheese, but I list an alternative for swiss cheese in the directions, since swiss is similar but generally a lot less expensive. The same is true for many other recipes, like my Spinach Artichoke Mac which allows for either fresh or frozen spinach.
What is your favorite trick for using up leftovers? How do you save money on cooking at home? What are the best ingredient swaps you use to save money?