The high cost of eating out and buying pre-made meals can add up quickly, leaving you with a hefty food bill at the end of the month. Luckily, cooking at home can be a cost-effective way to enjoy delicious meals while also saving money.
Instead of spending the average of ten to twenty bucks on food per meal when dining out, you can save money by learning to cook at home using fresh products. One bonus to eating at home is that not only can it help you save money, but a side benefit is that you will be healthier overall!
In this article, we’ll explore some tips and strategies for budget-conscious home cooks to help you save money on groceries and make the most of your home-cooked meals.
We have prepared some money-saving shopping strategies that will not require you to spend hours clipping coupons or making repeated trips to the supermarket in search of a better price on the same item.
How can you save money by cooking at home?
One of the most effective ways to save money on groceries is to plan your meals in advance. By creating a meal plan for the week, you can avoid impulse purchases and reduce food waste.
Start by taking an inventory of what you already have in your pantry and fridge, then plan your meals around those ingredients. Make a grocery list based on your meal plan and stick to it when you go shopping. Shopping in bulk and taking advantage of sales can also help you save money in the long run.
In order to save money on food, it is helpful to plan out your meals for the week ahead of time. This includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Meal preparation has the additional benefit of removing the need to make last-minute decisions about what to have for supper or order takeout.
It takes some time and effort to get into the routine of planning meals and making the most of your meal planning in order to save time and money in the kitchen. Here are some pointers to help you become an expert meal planner quickly:
The fridge and the pantry need checking. Before planning meals and groceries for the week ahead, take stock of what you already have on hand. It is possible that you have enough food to last a week without making any additional grocery store runs.
Create a rotation of reliable meals. Do not feel like you need to search for and cook whole different meals every week just to keep up with your meal plan. Make an effort to prepare meals that everyone in the family enjoys and that can be quickly prepared even on hectic weeknights. Finding what to eat each day might be a challenge, but once you have a list of “go-to’s,” you may find it much easier.
Set goals that are feasible given your time constraints. You should not plan complicated, time-consuming meals for the times when you have a lot on your plate. Make your meal plan work for you, rather than the other way around.
Take cues from the ads posted in supermarkets. You might find meal planning ideas in the grocery store’s weekly flyers. Examine the meats and veggies that are discounted this week, and construct a few meals around them.
Be well prepared. Preparing as much of your meals as you can ahead of time can help you keep to your plan and reduce the amount of food you waste.
Incorporate meal planning into your weekly trip to the supermarket. Prepare the meal by chopping veggies, browning meat, and boiling grains or beans as soon as you come home from the market.
Prepare lunches for the week. Make the entire week’s worth of lunches in one go if you and your family members take them to work or school. In the long run, you will save time and avoid the hassle of having to quickly find somewhere to get lunch.
Do not worry if there are any leftovers. Leftovers can be a lifesaver when it comes to cutting back on food costs.
When planning your meals for the week, it is a good idea to make a double batch and store the extra in the freezer for use later in the month. The next day’s lunch might be made from whatever was eaten for dinner the night before.
Create a list regularly
This may appear to be an unnecessary formality during the shopping process due to its apparent simplicity. However, the significance of this cannot be overstated.
Every shopper has experienced the frustration of returning home from the supermarket with extra items and perishables they did not plan to buy. You can save time and energy at the grocery store by simply picking up the things you need for the week, as indicated by your shopping list.
If you go shopping prepared with a list, you are less likely to waste money on unnecessary items. Making a list before going shopping can help you avoid running back for forgotten necessities. Less frequent trips to the grocery shop mean less time spent in the store and less money spent on impulse buys.
You can prevent wasting money on buying duplicates of what you already have by checking your pantry, fridge, and freezer as you build your list. Making and sticking to a list can ensure that you only buy what you need. A smaller monthly shopping expense is the result of less wasted food and fewer duplicate purchases.
Check the ethnic markets in your area
You may easily find a Latin American, Asian, African, or Eastern European market near you by doing a simple online search. Since these stores focus solely on serving the needs of their community’s cooks, they have a large variety of affordable ethnic ingredients.
Is garam masala on the menu? Visit an Indian supermarket, and you will likely find it at a much lower price. In need of more cumin? Looking for affordable chili peppers? A Latino market is the place to go.
You can learn a lot about your neighborhood and its residents by paying a visit to the ethnic market in your area.
Additionally, since fresh herbs can be pricy and we often only need a small amount, dried herbs and pre-ground spices should not be avoided.
Proper storage will allow dried herbs and spices to keep for years, especially ones that are rarer and more costly. Always follow this easy guideline if a recipe asks for fresh ingredients and you want to substitute dried ones: Because of dried ingredients’ concentrated potency, use only one-third as many dried herbs as fresh herbs in the same recipe.
Get a year’s supply of your favorite seasonings. And if you do not have one and a recipe calls for it, consider whether or not you really need it. Does something else exist? Not even some crushed red pepper? Pepper or a dash of spicy sauce can be a nice touch.
If you have access to fresh herbs, whether from a garden or a store, consider preparing a simple herb sauce to drizzle over eggs, salads, or grain bowls, or chopping them up and freezing them in individual servings.
Split Big Purchases with a Friend
There are many great prices to be had at warehouse clubs like Costco, but not all households can benefit from purchasing in such big amounts.
While it is true that buying in bulk can help you save money in the long term, dropping $15 on peanut butter all at once may be impractical if you will not use it up before it goes bad.
Having a friend along is a terrific alternative. When you and a friend go shopping together, you can divide the total cost of your purchases between the two of you. It is convenient to bring along a Tupperware container for things that arrive in a single package or jar. Visiting a pal while stocking up on bargains without breaking the bank? Everything works out for the best!
Do not Overcharge for Markdowns
Whenever we shop for groceries without a list, or when we are hungry, or because of an enticing sale, we can waste a lot of money.
There is no need to rush into anything just because it is cheap. It is common to find a larger size on sale while the smaller one remains at full price. Do not buy the gallon container of sour cream because “it is a better deal” unless you are planning on cooking a massive 7-layer dip for a party.
It is a waste of money every time food is wasted. So the next time you are about to throw away anything you bought on sale, close one eye and imagine it is real money. Next week’s deal probably will not tempt you as much because it is on perishable goods.
Figure out what makes your local shops special
We know we just mentioned to not let sale pricing lure you, but hear us out! Whenever possible, it is wise to take advantage of a store’s one-of-a-kind promotions and discounts.
On Wednesdays, for instance, our neighborhood Sprouts stores offer double the regular discounts. Some of the staples we have on hand may go on sale as a result; nevertheless, you should not stock up for more than a month’s worth.
In addition to item-specific coupons, your grocery shop may also provide store coupons, which are much easier to manage.
Go organic when you can
Even while we fully endorse the organic movement and its benefits to our health and the environment, we recognize that the majority of people cannot afford to purchase 100% organic versions of everything.
In its place, knowledge of what organic foods to purchase is readily available. It is crucial to buy organic versions of certain products due to excessive levels of pesticides found in conventional counterparts.
You can also eat less meat. The earth, your health, and your cash can all benefit from this one decision. Your doctor has probably already cautioned you or a loved one to reduce their meat consumption for the sake of their heart health.
Choose your animal protein with the idea that it will perform a supporting role. Beans are a cheap addition to meat. It is worth a shot in your burgers, soups, and tacos.
A couple more suggestions: Thinly slicing hefty chicken breasts into cutlets is a great way to get more out of them, and so is adding chopped broccoli to your next batch of chicken burgers. Add rice, breadcrumbs, or even crumbled potato chips to meatballs, Salisbury steaks, or fish cakes for extra bulk.
Try going vegetarian once a week if you are new to a plant-based diet.
But fresh fruits and vegetables, not to mention seafood, may also be quite pricey depending on where you are. For these reasons, it may be more cost- and time-efficient to use convenience foods such canned salmon, beans, and frozen veggies.
Frozen fish may be of higher quality than fresh options, depending on your location. The same holds true for vegetables that are not in season. Vegetables are chosen at their peak and rapidly frozen, and seafood is often frozen on the boat or within hours of being caught.
If you defrost frozen cod filets in the fridge before you leave for work, you can have delicious baked fish on the table in about half an hour when you return home from the office. You may make a tasty cobbler or fried rice with the leftover chicken and frozen vegetables.
Replace expensive ingredients with more affordable substitutes
Even if you have prepared ahead and created a list, you still can end up spending more than you expected at the grocery shop.
On the other hand, there will be occasions when you have to run to the nearest grocery store, even if they are not currently running any deals. In such a situation, the ability to swap substances is invaluable. If lamb is prohibitively expensive, you need not purchase it just because a recipe calls for it.
Pick cheaper cuts of meat like chicken thighs, pork chops, or even tofu.
Cook in batches
Cooking in bulk is a cost-effective way to save time and money. By preparing large batches of food, you can enjoy leftovers for lunch or dinner throughout the week.
Invest in some good-quality storage containers and freeze your meals for later use. Soups, stews, and casseroles are great options for batch cooking, as they can be easily reheated and enjoyed later.
It all starts with taking stock and straightening out your food storage areas. Make use of it to plan your meals for the week.
Knowing what you have on hand and what you want to eat allows you to shop more efficiently, prepare with what you already have, and plan meals so that leftovers from one dish are used in the preparation of another.
Investing in a cheap pot of beans with rice on a Sunday can pay off in simple burritos and bean salad on Monday and Tuesday, so keep that in mind when you plan your week’s meals.
Wednesday’s frugal tomato sauce with pasta can be used for Thursday’s shakshuka and Friday’s easy pizza. Try fending, the trendy term for clearing out the fridge and pantry on a weeknight by making a stir-fry, a chopped salad, or a cheese and charcuterie platter with whatever you can find.
Recognize that in an effort to cut costs, you may not be able to fulfill every craving you will get, but make sure that the food you do create is satisfying.
Finding the best deals and discounts on groceries can help you save money on your food bill. Consider shopping at farmers’ markets and local stores, where you can often find fresh produce and other ingredients at lower prices.
Look for generic or store-brand products that are just as good as their name-brand counterparts but cost less. Choosing affordable and versatile ingredients, such as beans, lentils, and grains, can also help you stretch your food budget.
To reduce your grocery bill, you need to know more than which meals are good for your pocketbook and your waistline. Knowing how to maximize your time and money at the supermarket is also essential.
Be vigilant when looking for coupons and sales
Weekly sales flyers are commonplace in many supermarkets; they detail the various products that are currently discounted.
Checking the weekly ads can help you save money on your weekly grocery shopping. If canned or dry beans or frozen vegetables go on sale at a cheap price one week, it might be wise to stock up.
Saving money on food with coupons can be a double-edged sword. Finding coupons for the things you already buy will save you time and money.
However, many coupons are for products that you might not use or would not think to use if you did not have the discount. If you are going to use coupons, it is better to limit yourself to goods you buy frequently.
To maximize your savings, wait until the food you have a coupon for is on sale if you do not need it right away. Be mindful of the date it expires and utilize it before then.
Do your own shopping and get ready for your trip
Bringing along a spouse and/or a small child can complicate your ability to shop efficiently and stay within your grocery budget.
Your children may ask for items that are either out of their price range or not on the wish list. You may not realize your kids have added something to the basket until you reach the check-out counter.
When shopping by yourself, it is much simpler to stick to your list and avoid impulse buys of products you do not actually need. However, it is possible to succumb to the store’s tempting displays of baked goodies or bargain items. When you are full, you are less likely to make impulsive purchases.
Eat something before you go grocery shopping so that the treats and snacks look less appetizing. Avoid becoming sidetracked by an attention-grabbing store display by listening to a podcast or listening to music as you shop.
Go shopping at “undesirable” hours
If you have ever tried to go grocery shopping on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, you know how difficult it can be.
It takes extra time to complete a task generally because stores are busier and queues are longer during peak times. You could get irritated or exhausted, making you more prone to making rash purchases.
In contrast, supermarkets are typically deserted late at night and early in the morning during the week. The store is spacious, allowing you to easily locate the products you seek. Spending less time at the shop and more time enjoying yourself will help you avoid going overboard on your shopping expenses.
Saving money on groceries begins with reading the label
The retail price at the supermarket is not the full story. You can use the price tags printed on the shelf below the item you are purchasing to help you stick to your food budget. These tags not only tell you how much a single item costs, but also how the price of that item compares to other similar things.
The sale or retail price is clearly displayed on each tag. The unit price, expressed in terms of the price per ounce, pound, or other unit of measure, is also included on the labels.
If you compare the prices of two different brands of Greek yogurt, you might find that one sells for $0.80 for an 8-ounce container. Each ounce costs ten cents. Meanwhile, Greek yogurt costs $2.75 for a quart (32 ounces). A single ounce will set you back $0.085. The larger quart jar costs more overall, but each individual ounce costs less.
If you need to buy a large quantity of an item, knowing the unit price difference will come in helpful. Buying 32 ounces of yogurt when you only need an 8 ounce container is a waste of money because the extra yogurt will certainly spoil. If you consume yogurt on a daily basis, however, it would be more cost-effective to purchase the larger container.
Cook from Scratch
Cooking from scratch is not only healthier but also more cost-effective than buying pre-made meals and snacks.
Homemade versions of popular pre-made meals and snacks, such as pizza, granola bars, and hummus, are easy to make and can save you money in the long run. Making your own pantry staples and condiments, such as salad dressings, marinades, and spice blends, can also help you save money and reduce food waste.
The question then is how to weigh the time saved against the money saved. Even if you only need 30 minutes to prepare a recipe from the cupboard, you still need time to go grocery shopping, cook the meal, and clean up.
it ultimately depends on your personal priorities and circumstances. One way to make cooking at home more manageable is to set aside time to prepare meals for the whole week so you can save time and reduce the stress of having to cook every day.
You can also make use of time-saving kitchen tools, such as a slow cooker or an Instant Pot, to make meal prep easier and more efficient.
When considering the cost savings of cooking at home, it’s important to factor in the cost of ingredients, as well as the cost of any kitchen equipment or tools you may need. While the upfront cost of buying kitchen equipment may seem high, it can pay off in the long run by allowing you to cook more efficiently and effectively.
Ultimately, the decision to cook at home or buy pre-made meals depends on your personal preferences, priorities, and circumstances. While pre-made meals may be convenient, cooking at home can be a rewarding and cost-effective way to enjoy delicious, healthy meals.
Reduce Food Waste
Reducing food waste is not only good for the environment but can also help you save money on groceries. By planning your meals in advance and cooking in batches, you can reduce the amount of food that goes to waste.
Make use of leftovers by incorporating them into new meals or freezing them for later use. Get creative with your ingredients and use up any produce that is starting to go bad by making soups, stews, or smoothies.
Composting any food scraps can also help reduce waste and provide you with nutrient-rich soil for your garden.
According to the USDA, the average American household wastes around 30-40% of its food each year. By reducing food waste, you can save money on groceries and help reduce your environmental impact.
Start by taking an inventory of what you already have in your pantry and fridge, then plan your meals around those ingredients. Make a grocery list based on your meal plan and stick to it when you go shopping. By reducing food waste, you can make the most of your groceries and save money in the long run.
Put your freezer to good use. Flour, almonds, egg whites, shredded cheese, butter, fruit, and even frosted cake slices can all be frozen with little to no loss in quality.
Consider this while you prepare meals and make plans. Date and record the amount/weight of the leftovers before freezing them, such as if you only eat two of the three chicken breasts in a package or one cup of those mixed frozen vegetables.
How about halving the onion and pepper? Let the rest freeze. Everything there can be used in a soup or stir-fry later in the week. (Quick pickling leftover vegetables like onions, celery, and carrots is another enjoyable option.)
Make an effort to rotate the older, more perishable foods to the front of your freezer and refrigerator. Ensure its freshness, but give it some thought before throwing it out. Keep in mind that the sell-by date on your condiments is not the same as the expiration date. If you are not sure, the USDA Food Keeper app is a great resource.
Cooking at home can be a cost-effective and enjoyable way to eat well and save money. By planning ahead, cooking in batches, shopping smart, and cooking from scratch, you can make the most of your home-cooked meals and reduce your food bill.
Don’t be afraid to try new recipes and experiment with different ingredients – home cooking can be a fun and rewarding experience that pays off in more ways than one.