101 Ways to Take a Bite Out of Your Food Budget

by Ron Haynes

Food is usually one of a family’s biggest variable expenses, and while some of these ideas seem like common sense, maybe you can pick up an idea or two to help you reduce the amount you spend on food. I know these work so give them a try for yourself. What will you do with the savings?

Happy Buggy WednesdayRemember, there are several benefits to saving money at the grocery store:

  • You’re saving after tax dollars
  • Your savings are immediate — no waiting!
  • Use the money like I recommend in my 17 sneaky savings strategies and build up your savings account and/or your emergency fund!

Not all of these ideas will apply to you, but hopefully, there are a few that can help you “take a bite out of your food budget!”

1. Budget for your food expenses. Once you’ve reached your budget’s limits, stop spending on food and make do with what’s in the cupboard.

2. Shop when you’re full. Shopping while you’re hungry is a sure way to overspend.

3. Shop at local farmer’s markets. There, you have a better opportunity to haggle.

4. Make friends with your butcher. He or she can point you in the direction of potential sales.

5. Buy items nearing expiration. As long as you use them or freeze them, they’re perfectly okay … and usually cheaper.

6. Check with the day old bread store. They usually have breads, pastries, and other items that are much less expensive.

7. Shop at Aldi’s. They’re well known for having high quality food at great prices.

8. Buy in bulk. When you DO find items on sale, buy in bulk.

9. Learn to preserve food. Those bulk purchases are no good if the food spoils. Learn to preserve food by freezing or canning.

10. Use those coupons. Duh! But did you know that many coupons can be combined with in-store specials? Stores run those specials 4 to 6 weeks after the coupons come out.

11. Join or start a coupon club. Get with friends or co-workers and trade coupons for fun and savings.

12. Shop at the warehouse clubs. For increased savings, share the cost of the warehouse club membership with your coupon club buddies.

13. Buy the “frugal cuts” of meat. Some cuts are less expensive than others because the take longer to cook. Learn to overcome and adapt and save!

14. Buy the store brands. My cupboard, fridge, and freezer are full of store brands and in most cases, I can’t tell the difference between store brands and name brands. In many cases, they’re manufactured in the same facility!

15. Bring your own grocery bags. Some stores will give you a discount for bringing your own, some will charge you extra for using theirs!

16. Shop at ethnic food stores. Many times the local ethnic food shops have comparable items for less than the big chain grocery stores.

17. Use a shopping list. Stick to your list and resist those impulse purchases.

18. Check the per unit price on everything. Don’t get tricked by the price tag.

19. Be careful what you pick up. Simply touching an item can cause you to want it.

20. Don’t let yourself get bored with your food choices. Change things up every now and then. For some people, spending more comes from boredom. Others can eat a peanut butter sandwich every day for 30 years.

21. Grow your own herbs and spices. I love to grow and dry my own herbs and spices. They taste better and you know how they were raised.

22. Grow your own food. Even a small container garden on your deck can save you some big bucks if you cultivate those items that the grocery store thinks should be expensive. Yellow bell peppers, bibb lettuce, and herbs come to mind.

23. Ignore everything lining the checkout aisle. These impulse buys can ruin everything good you’ve done up to this point.

24. Learn to cook. Cooking is a matter of following directions. You can do it! Sign up for a class and eat your homework!

25. Dine out responsibly. The best way I know is to use Restaurant.com and their $25 gift certificates that cost only $10 or less.

26. Make your own coffee. Using a french press will get you close to the gourmet coffee flavor found in those $5 cups.

27. Make your own spice blends. By making your own spice blends you save money and can tailor the flavors to your own tastes.

28. Check your receipt at checkout. Although the computer doesn’t make a “mistake,” sometimes the data wasn’t entered correctly or the cashier scanned something twice.

29. Comparison shop between grocery stores. When it comes to branded items and the perimeter things (fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats), there is rarely any difference between the most expensive stores and the cheaper ones.

30. Buy items in season. Sure you can get fresh strawberries in February, but they always cost more. It’s a long way from Chile.

31. Buy local only if it makes sense. Sometimes it doesn’t.

32. Buy organic only if it makes sense. Sometimes it doesn’t, either.

33. Pay with cash. People who pay with cash spend less.

34. Pay with a rewards card. If you have the discipline to pay it off each month, a cash back rewards card can put just a little more money back in your pocket.

35. Cook in bulk. Cook several meals at once and freeze them for consumption later in the week. Casseroles are great for this.

36. Brown bag your lunch. Saving that $5 to $10 a day really adds up.

37. Join the Grocery Game. What you spend to join the Grocery Game is nothing compared to your savings.

38. Take advantage of the rules. Learn to pay for one but feed five by using the restaurant’s rules against them.

39. Ramen is your friend. A pack of Ramen noodles is about 17 cents at my Wal-Mart Supercenter. If you can stomach the boredom, you could eat 2 meals a day for only 34 cents.

40. Beans and rice, rice and beans. Use these as fillers in your meals and cut your meat consumption in half.

41. Consider organ meats. They’re usually cheaper because of the “yuck” factor, but many people enjoy eating everything from the heart to the liver to the kidneys … and more.

42. Learn expiration dates. Different foods have different freezer lives.

43. Shop at stores with double coupons. It’s free money if you only buy items with coupons.

44. Drink more water. Filter you home’s tap water using a filtering water pitcher and ditch those plastic water bottles.

45. Join a church. Wednesday night suppers are usually very cheap and usually very good.

46. Have a potluck at your home. Invite some friends over and have your own potluck supper.

47. Eat at a buffet every now and then. Make sure you maximize your money when you belly up!

48. Fast once a month. It’s usually easier after you’ve abused the buffet anyway.

49. Get a job at a restaurant. Many restaurants offer free or discounted meals to their employees.

50. Don’t take the kids grocery shopping. All of you parents out there already know why.

51. Go fishing. Nothing could be fresher and it really tastes great. Plus it’s a cheap outing with the family. Back in college it was a REAL need for me! If I didn’t catch something, I didn’t eat!

52. Avoid processed foods. Not only are they more expensive, they’re usually less healthy for you, too.

53. Do your own prep work. Pre-chopped vegetables, pre-marinated meats, and pre-grated cheese usually cost more. You’re paying for convenience.

54. Make your own snacks. Learn to make jerky, energy bars, or dried fruits.

55. Go to lunch. If you do want to go out for a special occasion, consider dining out at lunch. Usually it’s a bit cheaper than dinner (and the portions are more sensible).

56. Visit family. You know grandma always has something good to eat.

57. Buy a side. Go in with another family (or two or three) and buy a side of beef or pork.

58. Learn to hunt. It’s worked for thousands of years to feed families.

59. Learn to make homemade herb tea. Nothing like some fresh peppermint tea!

60. Know before you go. Check your cupboards before you leave and cross those items off your list that you’ve duplicated.

61. Set a time limit. The more you just wander around in the grocery store, the more you’ll spend. It’s just a simple law of retailing (keep the customer in the store!). Get in, get it, get out.

62. Buy from the farmer. Many farmers will sell fresh eggs and even meats to you if you ask.

63. Sign up for discounts. Many stores offer discount cards if you’re willing to receive an email or two and some junk mail every now and again.

64. Make fewer trips. Okay, this one save your fuel budget, but it still counts!

65. Check out grocery store alternatives. Many times drug stores will have food products that are cheaper than the grocery stores.

66. Make them match prices. If you don’t want to travel all over town, ask your grocery store to match the prices published in their competitor’s weekly circular.

67. Buy one get one free? This is only a good deal if you can use that extra item before it goes bad. Would you buy it anyway?

68. Make your own mayo. I was surprised how much better homemade mayonnaise tasted when it was prepared with fresh ingredients!

69. Make some camp stew. Use leftovers to make an end-of-week stew. This CAN get interesting …

70. Pick your own. Seek out a “you pick” family farm. I’ve picked blueberries, strawberries, vegetables of all sorts, and pumpkins for much less money than I would’ve spent at a traditional grocery store.

71. Use more lemon juice. It preserves the color of fruits. No one wants to eat a discolored piece of fruit and it will then get thrown out. It also gives a little spark to cheaper, bland foods you might not have eaten.

72. Eat less. Seems kinda obvious, but by cutting back on the amount you eat you’ll save money. We eat too much and subsequently throw away too much anyway.

73. Shop the dented can store. Many towns have a salvage grocery store that sells dented cans of food or semi-crushed boxes of food for next to nothing. A slightly dented can of soup or a box of cereal with a damaged corner won’t hurt you.

74. Don’t let the fridge get empty. When it’s 7:30 in the evening and everyone’s hungry but there’s nothing available to eat, guess what happens? Outback anyone?

75. Look out for “purchase limits.” If a store limits what you can purchase, it’s probably because the price is really, really good!

76. Buy food, not packaging. The little single use packages of oatmeal, pudding, fruit cups, etc, are more packaging than food. Get some reusable containers and buy in bulk.

77. Carry a calculator. Know how much you’ve spent at all times. And no, the pitiful calculator on your cell phone doesn’t count unless you can use it very easily.

78. Find and use grandma’s cookbook. If she cooked during the Great Depression, all the better. She probably knew the best ways to stretch that food budget and many of those ideas are in that cookbook.

79. Have theme nights. Pasta night, omelet night, pancake night, baked potato night, or tomato soup and grilled cheese night can drive down the per meal cost.

80. Calculate your per meal cost. After you do a little math, set a goal to reduce your per meal cost by using these tips. Just how much CAN you save?

81. Buy only groceries at the grocery store. Don’t lump your shampoo, deodorant, make-up, and toothpaste into your food budget. You can probably buy those items much cheaper somewhere other than the grocery store.

82. Save that junk mail. Look for coupons or for sales circulars from stores you don’t frequent and do some comparison shopping.

83. Make a smoothie! Once fruit starts to look a little over-ripe, blend it with some yogurt, a little ice, some honey, and voila! You got a $4.99 smoothie!

84. Make your own yogurt while you’re at it. Believe me, you can make your own yogurt and it will taste better and be better for you.

85. Plant fruit trees. The harvest may be a few years down the road, but in the meantime, you’ll enjoy the shade and the ability to demonstrate to your kids how an “investment” really works.

86. Shop a little lower … or higher. Those items at eye level are premium items and generate the highest profit for the grocery store. Look up and down to find the savings.

87. Make a menu plan. After you’ve planned your menu, then you can make your detailed list of things you need to purchase. Don’t deviate from your list!

88. Ask for a rain check. If a store is out of an advertised item, ask for a rain check so you can buy it at the sale price once it’s back in stock.

89. Don’t confuse “on sale” with high value. Just because it’s on sale doesn’t mean it’s worth it. Evaluate each item for its own worth to you and your family.

90. They get you on the end. The shelves at the end of an aisle are called “end-caps” and they are premium space for retailers. As a result, those items are usually not the best deal for your budget.

91. More could mean … more. Check those per unit prices. More than once I’ve found a larger package costs more per ounce/pound/each than a smaller package.

92. Keep a journal. I’ve heard that the typical family buys the same 100 food items each month and rarely deviates from that list. Start your journal and see if it’s true for you. If it is, branch out and find other items that taste good and are friendly to your food budget.

93. Make your own salad dressing. My personal favorite is one teaspoon of Dijon mustard, one half teaspoon black pepper, two tablespoons soy sauce, one teaspoon sesame oil, one fourth cup balsamic vinegar, and three fourths cup of extra virgin olive oil. Shake to combine. I call it Asian Vinaigrette and since I buy all the items in bulk, it’s cheap! Ranch dressing is simply sour cream, milk, mayo, dill, onion powder, and garlic. Try making your own. It tastes great.

94. Don’t buy eggs, buy a chicken. If your municipality allows it, they’re pretty cheap to keep and nothing tastes as good as fresh eggs.

95. Big buying sessions and little buying sessions. Buy staples in huge bulk if you can get a great deal, but buy fresh items in smaller quantities since you probably can’t use them before they expire.

96. Beware of the bag. Bagged produce tends to contain those pieces not deemed good enough to sell on their own. Inspect each bag to make sure the produce isn’t bruised or otherwise yucky.

97. The sell-by date is not an expiration date. Many products can go several days or even weeks longer. The expiration date comes with a funny odor. The sell-by date simply lowers the price.

98. Avoid display items. If a grocery product is part of an elaborate display, chances are it isn’t because it saves you money.

99. Don’t blindly trust the warehouse clubs. As a caveat to #12, don’t always think that just because you’re in Sam’s, or Costco, or BJ’s that the price is fabulous. It may not be!

100. Know the sale trends. Whole turkeys are cheapest in November and December, hams around Christmas and Easter, ribs and pork shoulders around July 4th. Buy a couple of turkeys in November and spread the savings throughout the year. Do the same for ham and pork shoulders/ribs.

101. Treat your spending like a job. Consistently work to get better at saving money on you food budget and these other 100 items will become second nature. You’ll probably come up with another 101 on your own!

What tips for saving money at the grocery store can you provide?

photo credit: Robert S. Donovan

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 1001 articles on The Wisdom Journal.


The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.


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{ 22 comments }

Zengirl

Great ideas Ron, I can use almost all except a few, being a vegetarian. It sure is healthier and cheaper. Cooking at home and growing a few little things also helps.

ChristianPF

I am sure this was in the list somewhere, but we saved the most by actually eating the food we bought – we found that we were wasting probably $50 a week on food that spoiled, now we make smarter purchases and have greatly decreased that amount…

J Rome Miller

I call it: ” I eat my garbage ” I use sandwich bags for my garbage 3 or 4 a week If Bannanas came with out Skins I could do with 1 or 2 bags. Some times I have to eat the same food for 2 days, so what???

TheRoosterChick

Wow, what a list! Thanks so much for sharing.

Andrew @ Financial Services

Thanks, this is really very useful. A lot of my hard earned cash goes to food, being single I always tend to eat out and buy one serving per meal. I think these tips will really help me save up.

Jennifer Zaruba

Excellent post. Many ideas here I hadn’t thought of before. I would add one: If you’re a coffee drinker, buy the whole beans in a store that has a grinder and allows you to grind them. That way you can finely grind your coffee and get about 30% more ounces of coffee per container.

Most commercial varieties are coursely ground and require more ounces of coffee to get you the right strength from your coffee maker than fine ground coffee.

Ron

Great addition to the list!

Andrea W

All of these sound excellent … but what is Aldi’s? I’m assuming a grocery chain like HEB or AppleTree?

Ron

They’re a very inexpensive grocery store. They only carry their own store brands and they are ultra cheap!
http://www.aldifoods.com/

Monevator

My suggested addition would be to Go Slowly. If you learn to cook the cheaper cuts you mention, such as lamb shanks, over a lazy day in a slow cooker — with the addition of cheap root vegetables, some stock and seasoning, and a glass of leftover red wine, you’ll save money on dinner AND you’ll eat out less.

It’s divine!

Anyway, thanks for a great post, just including you in my weekly roundup now. :)

Mari

Try use more veggies in the dishes, and use meat as condiment. It’d make the dishes healthier as well as cheaper. That’s how Japanese eats and deal with super expensive meat (and stay thin!)

Learn to cook with what you already have on hand, not from the exact recipe. Prep in bulk, save in easy to use form (in fridge or freezer) and use it through out the week. (ex. leeks!)

Make sure to store (esp when freezing) in easy to use portions. Also label everything with contents and dates.

cathie m

check out the dollar stores(the ones that are actually a dollar or less)–the Dollar Tree recently added refrigerated and frozen food

Ron

Great addition to the list! Thanks!

Michael

Thanks so much for the link to my yogurt making website. I’ve seen lots of your visitors come on over and check it out. Hopefully they are all becoming homemade yogurt makers themselves.

Great Stops - Miguel

The best part about the list is that you were able to keep it interesting and informative all the way to the end. Great Job with it all. My fav. suggestions are #45, which i did and worked out great, and #75. I know for a fact from when I worked in retail, that #75 is true.

Once again Great Job with the list. I’m passing it on to some of my friends.

FinanciallySmart

This list is very interesting. Never know that about Ramen. It is consumed on a regular basis here in Jamaica. Children love them and so it is very interesting to know about the nutrition benefits. #101 says it all good article.

abbygail

#64 is true not just because you save on fuel, but also the less trips thru the store the less likely all those “extras” will be calling to you to buy them. I’ve learned that was my big weakness when I switched from bi-weekly to weekly paychecks. Double the trips to the grocery store were increasing my spending big time till I caught on to my trend. Thank you for all the great tips!

Mimi

And use a pressure cooker – it saves a lot of energy, time and work. If you are frugal, you need a pressure cooker.

Veronica

The list is great! learned a few new things. There was only a problem with one thing on the list and it is a biggie:

“73.Shop the dented can store. Many towns have a salvage grocery store that sells dented cans of food or semi-crushed boxes of food for next to nothing. A slightly dented can of soup or a box of cereal with a damaged corner won’t hurt you.”

dented cans CAN hurt you. Eating food from dented cans put you at risk for Botulism. It is something we learned in our food safety course in culinary school.

Ron

So long as the integrity of the can or its seal hasn’t been compromised, you should be okay. Ask yourself this — where are all the cases of botulism from people shopping at the dented can stores? If it were so bad and widespread, you can rest assured that either the store would go out of business or that the government would step in and regulate it. So far, the FDA hasn’t. If the dent is in the top or bottom of the can, most experts agree that you shouldn’t eat the contents because the top and bottom of a can is where it is sealed and where it’s the weakest, but a slight dent on the side is rarely a problem.

According to 2008 data from the CDC, the most common food-borne illnesses ranked as follows:

1. Salmonella: 7,444 cases (foods typically affected include raw or contaminated meat, poultry, milk or egg yolks)
2. Campylobacter: 5,825 cases (meat and poultry)
3. Shigella: 3,029 cases (raw, ready-to-eat produce)
4. Cryptosporidium: 1,036 cases (water, fruit and salad vegetables)
5. E. coli 0157: 718 cases (beef contaminated during slaughter. Spread mainly by undercooked ground beef)
6. Yersinia: 164 cases (raw or undercooked pork products)
7. Listeria: 135 cases (Hot dogs, luncheon meats, unpasteurized milk and cheeses, and unwashed raw produce)
8. Vibrio: 131 cases (oysters and other shellfish)
9. Cyclospora: 17 cases (imported fresh produce)

I’m sure dented cans are in there somewhere, but with number 9 having only 17 cases, if dented cans were a huge problem, I’d expect them to have many more cases.

What do you think? Do you have sources to the contrary?

Veronica

You have a point. I had no idea there were stores specifically for dented cans. I have never heard of one around the Jersey Shore. I was going by what I learned in my food safety course in culinary school and they said never eat anything in dented cans.

Thanks for teaching me something new!

Emily

Wonderful list! With grocery prices going up up up, this is exactly what I needed today!

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