How to Grocery Shop and Cook Frugally
Found on Wiki How
Track needed items by keeping a list in the kitchen. Write down needed ingredients as they are used during cooking. You may want to keep a separate list of items your family commonly uses - now all you have to do is make a check mark next to it instead of trying to read your someone else's handwriting. "Milk, check. Cheerios, check."
Check grocery ads for specials. Base your week's meals on what is on sale. Make a double batch and freeze half - that's a "free" meal next week.
Research cookbooks or the Internet for menu ideas. Write up a weekly menu. Try to shop once a week, except perhaps for produce.
Compile a grocery list including the needed items from the kitchen grocery list plus the items needed from the weekly menu.
When shopping at the grocery store purchase only items on the grocery list. This helps keep the food budget on track. Don't shop when you are hungry; eat some protein before you go.
Buy store brand or generic groceries. Most store brand groceries are just as good as their name brand counterparts, and they are typically cheaper. They are often produced by the same manufacturer. The only differences are the label and the price.
Purchase non-perishable items in bulk, if the price is better per unit. Purchase dried herbs and spices in the "ethnic" section (in little cellophane bags) of the grocery store. They are much cheaper than the ones that come in little, glass jars. (Save and refill those little jars, if you like them.)
- Sugar, flour and rice are often cheaper in bulk. Watch out though. Some institutional-sized canned foods are more expensive than their smaller counterparts. Check the prices per unit.
Purchase foods when they are in season, especially produce. Buy off-season meats; typically, roasts are sale items during summer months as steaks tend to be popular while roasts are not. Buy the sale meats and freeze. If you buy a large piece of meat, you may want to cut it into portions for quick thawing later.
Cook using foods that are less processed.
- Buy a whole chicken on sale, cut it up, and use it to make fried chicken or stir-fries. Use the bones and any bits of meat still clinging to them to make soup.
- Learn to prepare and use dried beans, peas and lentils. They're good for you, and they're among the least expensive and most versatile foods you can buy.
- Consider baking your own bread. With a machine, it's not very difficult, and you'll get better bread at a fraction of the price.
- One quick check to guess at the profit margins for prepared goods is to compare the price per weight to that of the primary ingredient(s). If an 8-ounce package of cookies costs $4, that's $8 per pound. Look around, and you'll quickly notice that few unprocessed ingredients cost this much. Shrimp might, but not real butter, not fresh vegetables, and certainly not the flour, sugar, and hydrogenated oil that most likely make up the store-bought cookies.
Take advantage of items the store wants to clear out.
- Just about every grocery store has a "sell-it-today" section in the meat department. Use it. And cook it when you get home. You can save a lot of money doing this. And it's safe if you use it right away.
- Buy a sack of ripe bananas now and then. You can use them to make banana breador freeze them for use in smoothies.
Learn which stores have regular specials. If you shop at a particular store regularly, find out when their shipments of different things arrive, and when their sales change.
- Buy fresh herbs and freeze any excess. Remove rosemary from its stems. Chop up soft herbs such as cilantro or basil. Slip them into a zipper bag, write on the bag what it is (because you will never remember) with a waterproof pen. (Note: cilantro stems have just as much flavor as the leaves. Chop them very finely and you will not know the difference.) Of course, these frozen herbs will only be good for cooking, but so what! You can find many good recipes online to use up these tasty, frozen morsels of flavor.
Freeze excess veggies, too. Chop up any carrots, celery, bell peppers, etc., that are starting to get a little old. Most vegetables must be partially cooked before freezing. Check a current freezer cookbook on how to prepare vegetables and fruits for freezing. Bell peppers and onions do not not a pre-treatment before freezing. Dice them up and flash freeze them on baking sheets. Then put them in a zipper bag, label it and freeze. Avoid freezing them in a big clump. Use these in soups, sauces, omelets. It's amazing what healthful tidbits you can secret into spaghetti sauce.
- Learn to make homemade snacks. Popcorn is easy to make and is usually inexpensive. Buy whole tortillas, slice them into pie-shaped triangles and bake for delicious, low-cost, low-fat (spray baking pan with Pam) chips.
Make homemade mixes. Check out cookbooks from the library showing how to make homemade food mixes.
Avoid boxed cereals. Compare the per-weight price of any packaged, processed cereal to that of plain, rolled oatmeal, and you'll see how much the boxes mark things up. There are lots of ways to eat that plain oatmeal, and you may just find that you like them. You can also make your own granola or muesli at home.
Read the ingredient labels on items or look up recipes online. You may be able to make the same item for much less without any difficulty. Examples:
- Tomato soup is made from tomato sauce and water. (That is what the can says from a leading brand). Tomato sauce often sells for 8 cans/dollar (though usually 4 or 5 cans/ dollar). 25 cents is much cheaper than $1.50 for soup. The microwavable cans run $1.99!
- A well known brand of hot sauce says it is "aged". It is made of vinegar, red pepper and salt. All vinegar is "aged". Make your own sauce with the ingredients probably already in your cabinet.
- Another advantage of making your own is that you know what goes in. There are plenty of recipes on wikiHow and elsewhere online for all kinds of foods.
Buy rice in 20 or 25 pound bags. Rice is durable and a staple food. A small bag of rice often runs $2 or $3. A 25 pound bag is only about twice as much for 10 times the quantity.
- Make sure when buying foods in bulk that you will use that quantity. Even grains do eventually go bad.
Avoid buying prepackaged meals or "helpers" like Macaroni and Cheese, and "Rice-a-XXXX", etc. These shortcuts do not really save you time, but, pound for pound, they cost far more. Many also have lots of salt and other additives.
- If you have a kitchen scale, weigh the cheese that's included with macaroni and cheese. A popular brand currently sells for $1.09 a box. A large bag of macaroni sells for less. Simply add the equivalent amount of processed cheese, or make a cheese sauce from real cheese instead.
Skip the beverage aisle. Buy milk or 100% fruit juice if you need it, but remember that most of the rest of the bottled drinks have an immense amount of sugar in them, and that most of the cost of a can of soda is in marketing and packaging—not in its contents.
- Bottled water is extremely wasteful in terms of packaging and transportation, and it frequently consists of nothing more than filtered tap water, anyway. In most developed countries, tap water is perfectly safe to drink. Use a reusable water bottle and refill it from your tap. A water filter can help if you dislike the taste of your tap water.
- If you like coffee or tea, make it for yourself, at home. Get a coffee maker with a timer on it, if you like. It will soon pay for itself.
- If you'd like a sweet drink, make your own lemonade or smoothies.
- Alcohol is expensive, so limit your alcohol to the occasional treat. Or, if you're particularly adventurous, try making your own mead, beer, or wine.
Skip dessert. Candy, cookies, and ice cream will all add a lot to your grocery bill (and your waistline), if you let them. If you like the occasional treat, buy the ingredients and make desserts for yourself.
- Quality does count. It is for you to judge how much.
- If you have a laptop computer, take it in the store with you. Before leaving, put your grocery list on you favorite spreadsheet program. Label the first column "Items", the second column "price", the third column "quantity". Set the forth column to show the total per item (price times quantity). Keep a running total somewhere you can see it on the screen. Enter the price and quantity as you go through the store. If you go over budget, you will easily be able to see where to cut costs.
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