A few months ago, I posted my 5 Tips for Eating on a Budget. For the sake of time, I cut it short. There are really so many different things you can do to stay within a strict grocery budget. These tips (and the ones I just linked to) are just a few of the things I do to stick to my own budget…I even frequently come under it!
1. Eat Leftovers
A lot of comments I get about leftovers are things like, “We say we’re going to eat leftovers, but we never do” or “I’m just not a big fan of leftovers.”
If you are one of these people, then what I am about to say may upset you.
Excuses are boring, so suck it up.
Eating leftovers is not something Zach and I actually enjoy doing–we are huge fans of variety. But we also don’t like to waste perfectly good food because that food cost us good money. If you want or have to live on a tighter budget, then eating leftovers isn’t really optional.
This doesn’t mean you have to eat the same soup three days straight; although, we’ve been known to do it. Usually, the leftovers get sent to work with Zach (it keeps him from buying his lunch) and I make something new for dinner. Ideally, that something new will also produce leftovers. So the third night, our dinner is whichever leftovers Zach didn’t have for lunch that day. We switch between leftovers until they’re gone. Sometimes we can go a whole week on nothing but leftovers, which makes my grocery bill that much cheaper the next week. It also means I don’t have to cook every night, which makes my inner lazy person very happy.
If the leftovers can be frozen, though, we also tend to do that. Especially when winter is coming, because then I can stock up on frozen dinners and I don’t have to worry if we get snowed in. (Though that’s not as likely to happen now that we live in Georgia….)
If you still find that you can’t bring yourself to eat leftovers, then start halving your recipes. Or make the full batch, cook half of it and turn the other half into a freezer meal.
2. Add Filler Foods
This is going to be very difficult if you have certain food allergies or medical conditions (beans have been known to make IBS act up, for instance), but it should be fine for most people.
One of the ways I make my dinners last longer is by adding rice and/or beans and some bags of frozen mixed vegetables (the ones you can get for $1). This fills us up faster, for one thing, which means no one is going back for seconds or thirds (unless they enjoy pain).
Serve your meats and vegetables on top of a bed of brown rice or add a cup of it to soups (just be sure to cook it first and add it once the soup has finished cooking–cooking rice in soup will turn it into an extremely bland stew).
In short, this is an easy way to increase our leftovers, which makes #1 easier to accomplish and even more cost-effective.
3. Embrace Vegetarian Meals
I realize that there is a political aspect to vegetarianism for some people, but moving past whatever your beliefs are and having more vegetarian meals is a great way to stay within your grocery budget.
Zach and I love meat, but the price is really high. So we’ve been eating more and more vegetarian meals, simply because it’s cheaper. I can get a bag of dry beans for $0.99 and it will last me a couple of weeks. (Keep an eye out for close-out deals, though. Kroger recently had all of their beans on sale for as low as $0.39/bag. Needless to say, we stocked up.) Black bean burritos are a huge staple in our house right now, because they’re incredibly cheap and easy to make.
You don’t have to go full vegetarian, either. If a meal calls for two pounds of meat, you can get by with one pound and then add some beans to take care of the rest. (I add 15 ounces per pound of meat that I replace, which is equal to one can of beans.)
4. Prepare and Freeze Your Ingredients
This is time-consuming, but ultimately worth it. I like to do this on the day that I get my groceries, especially with vegetables that won’t get used for a few days. With stuffed pepper soup, for instance, I chop up my peppers and toss them in a freezer bag. Vegetables go bad so quickly, but buying fresh is often cheaper than buying frozen. So this is a great way to save money. You can freeze:
- Cooked meats (which means you don’t have to thaw and cook later, you just have to heat it up. GREAT for anything going in casseroles or soups)
- Fresh fruits and vegetables (peel them, cut them up, and freeze them on parchment paper before putting them in a freezer bag)
- Dairy products (cheese, butter, milk, yogurt, etc. Milk might be grainy once it’s thawed, but it’s OK to drink)
- Vegetable pieces (I know this one sounds off, but I’ll explain in a moment
- Leftover wine (assuming you don’t just drink it, like we do 😛 )
- Canned foods (if you open a can of tomato paste, put the rest in an ice cube tray and freeze. Remove from the tray and put it in a bag)
- Eggs (crack them, freeze them in ice cube trays, and then take them out and put them in a bag)
There’s a whole lot more you can probably freeze. If you have questions about specific items, Google is a good way to find out.
**Herbs can be frozen, as long as you cover them in water or oil first. I’ve frozen my leftover fresh herbs in oil before and it’s…OK. Great if you know you’ll be using oil in a dish. Otherwise, I don’t recommend it. It’s very expensive to do it because it uses a ton of oil. And it’s not as versatile. If you insist on freezing your herbs, definitely cover them in water. That way, you can melt the ice and use just the herb or you can toss the whole ice cube into your dish.
However, my preferred way to preserve herbs is to dry them. Lay out your fresh herbs on a piece of parchment paper, making sure they don’t overlap each other. Set your oven to its lowest setting (I put mine on 200F) and bake them until they’re completely dry (2-3 hours, normally, but it will depend on your oven). Then I use a mortar and pestle to crush them. Dry herbs don’t start to lose their flavor for 6-12 months.
5. Use the parts you normally throw out.
This is actually really easy, but a lot of people don’t do it.
You can do a lot with the “garbage” parts of foods. Toss chicken bones in a freezer bag, save until you have enough, and then make chicken stock.
Do the same with vegetables–toss your potato and carrot peels, celery stalks, pepper cores, etc. into a freezer bag. Once it’s full, make vegetable stock.
Orange and lemon peels are great for homemade potpourri, or to freeze in an ice cube tray filled with vinegar. Toss one into your garbage disposal and it will clean and freshen it.
What do you do to stretch your grocery budget? Leave your suggestions in the comments!