If getting better with finances was one of your resolutions this year, we highly recommend you keep reading. One of the biggest ways people blow money without even realizing it is by going out to eat or getting takeout on a regular basis. By cooking more meals at home, you can not only reduce your food budget drastically, but also keep an eye on what you're putting in your body.
Now that you understand how important it can be for your body and bank account to make more of your own food, you'll want to know how you can stretch your dollar even more, which is where we come in. It's definitely easy to drop a few hundred dollars at the grocery store without even realizing it, especially depending on which store you're actually visiting. But, it's also really easy to fill your shopping cart with everything you need to get you through the week and not go over budget, too. Here's how...Head to the bulk bins. This section is definitely featured more prominently in certain stores than others, but it's where you can find things like rice, oats, nuts, dried fruit, spices, and more in huge bins so that you can take as much or as little as you need. Often times these products are generic, not brand name, and since they don't have any fancy packaging either, they can be significantly cheaper. For example, if you know you're someone who has oatmeal every day for breakfast, you can really stock up here (especially when oats are on sale!) and get weeks worth of oats for a low price. The more you buy, the more you save!
Buy Less Meat. This can be a hard one for people who like to have meat with most meals, but you'd be surprised how much you can save by purchasing more plant-based proteins like beans and lentils, or even just swapping chicken and steak for eggs and greek yogurt. Vegetables like brussels sprouts, broccoli and spinach are also packed with protein. Try incorporating a “Meatless Monday” theme into your household by swapping the meat at lunch or dinner for extra veggies and pair them with a starch like sweet potato or whole wheat pasta. You'll still feel full and will have saved a few bucks on your weekly grocery bill.
Look for sales and plan your meals around them. It’s easy to roam the aisles and keep an eye out for sale stickers, so as you’re walking around the store, simply take note of what’s cheaper that particular week. So if one week your favorite pot roast is on super sale, pick that up and build a meal around it. Maybe green beans are also on sale, or cauliflower, so grab those too and you’re all set. Even if you’re someone who loves berries, if they’re $4 a package and you know they’ll be on sale in a few weeks, maybe hold out and pick a different, cheaper fruit instead. Stock up when the low prices come around, especially if you know you can freeze those foods, too. If you pay attention, or just ask, you can find out when your local grocer switches out their sales. Most stores will switch on Wednesdays, but double check on yours. That way, let's say if you run out of berries on Monday night and you know the sale is only on for one more day, you can run and grab more before the price jumps up again.
Buy store-brand items rather than brand name items. This rule works best for basics like oats, flours, or beans. So many grocers are stepping up the quality of their in-house brands to better compete with brand names, and its to the consumers' benefit. In reality, when you pay for a brand-name anything, you're often paying extra for the name and the name only. This isn't always the case, especially for things like dish soap when the bargain brand is really just watered down, or foods that you wouldn't want to consume unless they fit a quality standard (ie. cheeses and meats), but for most other things you're safe. There are some pretty impressive store-brand items these days like kombucha, organic quinoa, and even those fancy low-carb/low-cal ice creams.
Buy organic only when you need to. Produce that’s on the dirty dozen list (which you can find here) plus meats, eggs and milk, can be great to buy organic if you can swing it on your budget. Otherwise, there’s no need to buy everything organic, especially because it’s such a buzzy word right now that companies will put that label on everything to encourage you to buy it. Organic doesn’t necessarily mean healthier, so if you’re trying to save on groceries, skip any organic produce that has an outer shell or skin you won’t eat (ie. avocados, onions, and mangos), and organic cookies or crackers.
Aim to buy more fresh produce and less of things that come in a box or bag. Have you ever noticed how expensive simple items like crackers or chips can be? Even cereals and pre-packaged sweets can be expensive unless they’re on sale. If you make it a priority to primarily shop the outer aisles of the store, you’ll be more likely to only buy fresh food, which can save you big time. Instead of grabbing the $4 bag of tortilla chips, you can buy a few pounds of sweet potatoes or apples, which have far more nutritional benefits anyway.
Bonus: Write a list of the groceries you know you need in advance to avoid any impulse purchases. Buy only what you know you’ll eat before it goes bad, or what you can freeze!
Jordan Drankoski is the one woman star of the foodie blog Dancing for Donuts. She's a regular guest writer on ToBox serving up inspiration and recipes for the mind and soul. She loves spending time in the kitchen creating new recipes, hiking, trying new restaurants and visiting new places.