You can save big by learning some tricks to cutting food costs at home. Most of us know that by eating out at restaurants we are often stretching our food budget, or spending more than we need to. However, just cooking at home won’t necessarily save you big. If you regularly use expensive ingredients, if you waste food, or you don’t properly plan, then you can end up spending more than necessary even when eating at home. Of course, in order to save money you should also be careful to make smart decisions when you are actually at the store, and there are some items that you shouldn’t buy at the grocery store at all. In addition to looking for sales at the store, and avoiding items at the store that can be purchased cheaper elsewhere, careful planning can also help you save more at home. Here are five ideas to start with.
1. Utilize your pantry
One thing that you should purchase at the store is sale items that will last for a long time. Canned goods, cereals, toilet paper, and pastas are an ideal choice. When items that you regularly use go on sale, it’s a good idea to buy as much as you can and save them for later. Of course you need to be careful of your budget, but if you can save a significant amount on the items that you use the most, doing so will help your budget in the long-term.
If you don’t have a pantry already, be sure to make room for one. If you don’t have one in your kitchen, you can simply empty out a few cabinets to make a pantry space. You can also cheaply install shelves in your garage to keep food that doesn’t need to be kept at room temperature. If you want to take on a project, you can also build your own pantry.
2. Have key cooking ingredients
You don’t have to make the same meals over and over in order to save money, but using some of the same key items can save you big. If you plan your meals around items that you can purchase cheaply in bulk, then you can save money. As long as you determine that buying in bulk is cheaper than buying smaller portions (be sure you check the price per pound or ounce), then you will cut your grocery bill as long as you are able to use all of the food before it expires.
According to Eating Well, you should make sure to have cooking oils, condiments, seasonings, canned and bottled items, nuts, and grains. Besides these key items, you can get yourself on the right track by taking inventory of your regular purchases for a month. Determine what you buy the most, and then try to get those items in bulk.
3. Mind your leftovers
Many of us find something distasteful about eating leftovers; they just don’t seem as appetizing the next day. If you just reheat your leftovers, or you eat them straight out of your tupperware, you’re bound to be disappointed in the flavor and texture; it just can’t compare to when the food was first made. You can fix this problem by cooking only as much as you plan to eat, or you can simply incorporate leftovers into your next dish. Transforming leftovers into something new allows you to save money by eating what you bought (and you also save money by needing less ingredients for your new meal). Need some ideas? We’ve got plenty of recipes to get you started.
4. Eliminate waste
According to the Natural Resources Defense Concil, 40% of edible food in the U.S. gets wasted; an average American throws away between $28 and $43 (20 pounds of food) per person each month. That is a lot of wasted food, and it’s also a lot of wasted money. $43 dollars per month could pay part of your cable bill, and in a year, it could probably go toward a nice vacation. It’s relatively easy to save money by wasting less food; the NRDC suggests shopping wisely and avoiding impulse buys (also avoid perishable items you don’t need), use your freezer to keep food safe if you can’t eat it soon, watch expiration dates and determine whether food is good or bad, eat your leftovers, compost, and donate food.
5. Plan, plan, plan
Meal planning is important for several reasons. One, if you bring a list to the store, you will likely spend less money; doing so will also help you avoid purchasing items that won’t fit into your weekly plan, and you will then waste less food. Also, if you determine which meals you are making when, you can then figure out which items you can save by buying in bulk, how you can use leftovers in your other meals, and also how much you need of each item.
Lastly, planning your meals ahead of time lessens the chance that you will have to waste money driving to the store to pick up an item you didn’t realize you needed; you also will save by carefully planning your list instead of simply strolling into the nearest store in a hurry and paying more for an item that you need.
Cooking at home can be fun, and it can help you save money. Simply choosing to make the same dish at home that you would buy at the store might save you money, but being smart about other cooking-at-home decisions will save you even more.