Cooking and Baking on a Budget

Cooking and Baking on a Budget

With the announcement in the news regarding the cuts in food stamp amounts for millions of Americans, I thought it would be insightful to post an article about cooking and baking on a budget.  While I’m grateful to not have to rely on government food stamp assistance, I’ve been cooking and baking on a budget for many years now. Ever since I was a student (which wasn’t so long ago), I’ve learned how to live on a shoestring budget, and to still cook healthy meals.

Here are some of the best tips I can give to folks who are looking to decrease their grocery bills, or looking to live within a certain income:

1)      Shop around.  Just because you’ve always shopped at a certain store, doesn’t mean you have to continue shopping there!  Read the ads.   Yes, it can be annoying to get all that junk mail in your mailbox and sift through it- but this is the best way to find the deals! Also many stores have store-exclusive coupons, meaning that you have to clip out the coupons in the ad they send out, and bring those in to get the discounts.

2)      Don’t only shop at one store.  If you want to get the deals, you have to be willing to drive around a little more in order to see what is on sale where, and when, and to actively “look for the deals”.

For example, since moving to California I’ve tried to visit all the grocery stores at least once, to see who has the highest prices (just based on first impressions).  It becomes really obvious that one store is more expensive than the others, especially when you compare the price of everyday products like bread and milk.  If one store continually charges more than $1.00 more for the same loaf a bread than any other store, I usually don’t shop there.

3)      Buy produce when it’s on sale or when it’s in season.  We often go to Sprouts or Trader Joes for our produce, because I’ve found that their prices are considerably lower for produce than many other stores. If a store is selling their Zucchini, Peppers, or Broccoli for a really cheap price one weekend, then be sure to stock up. Veggies are very resilient if you slice them and freeze them- especially if you have decent air tight containers.

4)      Stock up on those staple products which don’t expire very frequently.  For example, canned and dried beans, Lentils, Canned Fruit and vegetables, Canned tomatoes, Canned sauces.  Also, easy-meal mixes that are commonly on sale, which come in boxes. Boxed pasta is usually only 99 cents per box, and that can easily supply 4-5 meals if you make a pasta salad out of it!

5)      Buy things which can be frozen in bulk, when they are on sale.  This is especially true for meats and cheeses. I almost only buy chicken when it’s 99 cents a pound.  You can save even more by buying the whole chicken, and cutting it up and freezing it. (It takes a little more work to do this, but it can save you a lot of money over the course of a month.  For cheeses, especially the kind sold in large bars, you can definitely make sure these are well wrapped, and then freeze them. When shopping in the frozen meat section, also don’t be afraid to buy products which you might not always think to buy- for example frozen ground beef, or frozen ground turkey (the kind in the rolled up packages).  These items come in so handy for when you are making soups and stews, casseroles, chili, tacos, and many other dishes.  It’s almost impossible to not use them up before they go bad.  So just buy them on sale and freeze them for later!

6)      The items which are either higher up on the shelves, or lower down on the shelves are typically less expensive than the items which are in the middle of the shelves.  SO EXTEND YOUR EYE RANGE!  Shopping in a grocery store is all about marketing, and the marketers want you to buy the trendiest, more expensive things, not the standard foods.

7)      Yogurt is a lot cheaper if you buy it in the larger containers.  Typically you can save 50% on yogurt, if you are willing to buy it in the larger container, and then portion it out into smaller servings when you eat it. How they can charge so much for a single serving of yogurt is absolutely crazy to me. You also save a lot of plastic by using less containers.

8)      Canned tuna can sometimes be purchased at “non-traditional grocery stores” for example Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid for a lot cheaper than buying it at a grocery store. The reason for this is that most of the times these stores are struggling to sell it as quickly, so in order to sell it before it expires or before more of the same product comes in- they will lower the prices.

9)      For dried baking goods like flour, sugar, chocolate chips, cupcake mixes, and other baking supplies- one secret is to stock up around major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.  A lot of times stores have sales on these items during those times because the store automatically brings in more stock for the holiday season, and then offers the items at a substantial discount.  Also, similar to the “yogurt conundrum”, the bigger the package of flour or sugar you buy, the cheaper the price will be per ounce.  If you want to test this theory, go check out the “per ounce” prices on items in the baking aisle.

10)   Last but not least, SAVE THOSE COUPONS. 50 cents off a product might not seem like a lot by itself, but when you have 5-10 coupons each week, that adds up to a lot over the course of the year, and you can use that money to do other things with- like put gas in your car!

Unfortunately money doesn't grow on trees.

Unfortunately money doesn’t grow on trees.

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