Cooking and Kitchen Tips to Save Money - How we cut our grocery bill in half while over doubling our family size, and how you can too.
Kitchen and Cooking Tips to Save Money
When Mr. Gracious and I first got married, we were spending $200+ every single week for groceries, for just the two of us. I wasn't sure what I was doing wrong, but I knew we couldn't keep this up. We were spending far too much on food. Saving money is particularly important to us, living on a single income with a large-ish family.
We've since gotten our grocery bill down to half of that or less, while also adding three additional people to our family to feed. Yes, that's right. We now have a family of 5 and average $75- $120 in groceries for the week, including household goods such as paper towels, garbage bags, toilet paper, etc.
I made this drastic reduction in our grocery bill without using any coupons or frantically searching sales ads. I just made a few easy adjustments to the way we used the food, and I'm going to share those tips with you.
23 Kitchen and Cooking Tips to Save Money
1. Meal Plan. The biggest money saver I have in my arsenal is meal planning. I know exactly what we're going to eat and when we're going to eat it, every single meal, including snacks. There's no guess work. Not only is this easier on our budget, it's also easier on my sanity. No more gathering random items out of the pantry in an attempt to make an edible meal. No more last minute trips to the grocery store to pick up missing ingredients. We have quite a few meal planning resources here if you're wanting to get started. Budget Meal Planning Basics will tell you exactly how to get started planning weekly, or even monthly meals for your family, step-by-step. You can also check out our Monthly Meal Planner, where I do all the work for you. All you have to do is print out the monthly meal planner (updated every single month), make your grocery list, and shop.
2. Shred your own cheese. This might sound a little silly, but here's the deal. Buying cheese in a block and shredding it yourself is both more cost-effective and more tasty. In my experience, I can pay $2 less per block of cheese for the same amount of pre-shredded cheese. Plus, did you know that pre-shredded cheese is covered in starches (like potato starch and corn starch)? This isn't detrimental to your health or anything but it does make the cheese stiffer when you try to melt it. Try melting cheese that you've shredded yourself, and you'll immediately see the difference, just like I did. It's so deliciously gooey and amazing, and even better because you get to save money eating this delicious goodness.
3. Re-purpose stale bread. If you have bread that you accidentally left open or that you didn't use fast enough, don't toss it! (Well, unless it happened to mold on you... Then, definitely toss it...) You can use older bread to make croutons, chop it up to make a nice stuffing or dressing, or even process it to make breadcrumbs to use in meatballs or meatloaf.
4. Store apples and potatoes near each other. Potatoes and apples, it turns out, are great buddies. When you store them together, your potatoes will sprout less quickly, giving you more time to use them, preventing waste and saving you money.
5. Freeze your produce. If you buy a bag of onions or carrots, or almost any other produce, but you only need a couple for the week, you can freeze the rest for later use. Just chop up the remaining produce, divide it into cup or half-cup portions, place them in freezer bags, and place in your freezer until the next time you need it. Now you can buy that whole bag of produce that's on sale without wasting a dime, which will probably save you even more money the next time you go shopping.
6. Find creative ways to use up produce that you don't want to freeze. I don't really like to freeze things like bananas or zucchini because they do lose a little bit of their texture in the freezer (though they're great in the freezer if you're a smoothie fan!) So I use up produce that's about to go bad that I don't want to freeze in recipes that I know we'll eat right away or recipes that I do like to freeze. Examples are banana bread, zucchini bread, blueberry muffins, blueberry syrup, strawberry cupcakes. We use the breads, muffins, and syrup for easy pre-made breakfasts. The cupcakes are just a delicious treat that my kids always beg me to make.
7. Re-grow produce when possible. We live in the Midwest with harsh winters, so while I wish we had the option to grow a year-round garden, that's just not possible for us. However there are some produce options that you can buy and re-grow indoors. We have green onions continuously growing in a cup of water on our window sill in the kitchen, for example. Here are some lists and tutorials about which produce items you can easily re-grow: 20 Foods You can Regrow from Kitchen Scraps and How to Regrow Your Groceries.
8. Make it at home. Sometimes spending a little extra time by making it at home will save you a little extra money. Of course choosing homemade meals instead of restaurants, fast food, or takeout, will save you a bunch, but making some of your own ingredients will save you money too. Buy ingredients whole and chop them yourself, for example. Pre-chopped produce always costs a little more because someone already spent the time on it. You can also try boning and skinning your own meat. Meat with bones and skin is often cheaper per pound than without, again because someone already spent their own time on it. You can also choose to make sauces or other ingredients that you would normally purchase at the store, but be careful about this one. I make my own mayo, buttermilk, and cake flour because it's very quick and very easy. But some things are time intensive and won't save you that much money. Ketchup, for example. I can get a big ol' bottle at Aldi for $0.99. I'm not sure I can beat that price by much even if I make it at home. Plus, it's a time-intensive process. So it's costing me a lot of time and could maybe save me just a little money. Not worth it. Do your research before going homemade. (More examples of things you won't find me making from scratch are cream soups to be used in other recipes like cream of mushroom, cream of chicken, etc., butter, and yogurt)
9. Add pasta and rice. You can get a pound of pasta or a big bag of rice for under a dollar. That's a huge deal if you're on a budget! I try not to serve these starchy dishes too often, but if you add it to your meal plan just once per week, it can save you lots!
10. Cook in batches. When I cook, I almost always double the recipe and freeze a portion. This is both for time and money reasons. If I'm already chopping veggies and prepping food, I found that it will really only take me a few additional minutes to chop enough for multiple batches of the same dish, and when I'm done, I now have multiple meals for my family cooked and ready to eat at a moment's notice. It can also save you money. Instead of buying a bag of carrots for soup and only using three, you'll now likely use them all. No waste. One less meal you'll have to cook and buy for next week. It's something I truly recommend trying. For more on my batch cooking and freezing, you can check out Easy Freezer Cooking for Beginners where I explain some different methods and give tips to get you started.
11. Go vegetarian. No, you don't have to give up meat completely. I know Mr. Gracious would be none too pleased with this idea. But planning one meal per week without meat can save you lots of money. You can even make your meatless dish also be your pasta or rice dish! That's a whole family meal for just $2-$5!!
12. Keep track of what's in your fridge. Go through your fridge half-way through the week to remind yourself of what's actually in there (leftovers?) and to check on any remaining produce. You may need to bump a meal up a day to use produce that could go bad soon or use leftovers for lunch that have almost hit their shelf-life.
13. Save and freeze chopped produce that you didn't end up using. This go along with Tip 5, but if you chop up a whole onion or pepper (or almost any other produce you can name), and you end up only use half of it, don't toss the rest. Place it in a baggy and put it in the freezer. Chances are you won't need a whole vegetable next time you make the recipe, and you can use what you have left from the freezer to make it again.
14. Use a detailed list for grocery shopping. I talk about this in Budget Meal Planning Basics, as well, but using a detailed, comprehensive grocery list will save you money, save you time at the grocery store, and prevent impulse buys. Write down everything you need to purchase on your shopping list, and then stick to your list! We have two grocery list organizational printables, if you need one. This one is just your basic grocery list printable, and the other one comes with an entire set of printables to create a Home Binder (including meal planning, freezer inventory, and to-do list printables.) Both are completely free, so be sure to check it out!
15. Save glass and plastic containers for storage. I don't know about you but my tupperware is always disappearing. Instead of purchasing new every month or two, I've started saving jars and containers that come with food I already buy (pickle and pasta sauce jars, deli meat containers, sour cream containers, etc.) Most of these are not microwave safe, but they do okay for temporary storage of leftovers.
16. Grow fresh herbs indoors. Never spend money on herbs at the grocery store again. You can bring life to your kitchen and save money by growing herbs in small containers right in your kitchen window.
17. Keep your fridge organized. It's easier to see what leftovers, produce, and perishable items you have and need to use if your refrigerator is organized. You don't have to get all Pinterest-y creative here with storage bins and cute little labels. Just make sure everything has a specific place, so that you always know where to look for it, and keep the most perishable items towards the front so that you're reminded to use them every time you open the fridge and see them.
18. Do buy eggs in bulk when they're on sale. Eggs are a freeze-able item, and a staple to always have on hand, so it makes sense to buy them in bulk when the price is right. To freeze these, break them open and place in an ice cube tray (one egg per slot). Once they're frozen solid, you can transfer them over to a big freezer bag.
19. Potatoes are another item to buy in bulk. If you can get a 10 pound bag of potatoes for $2, absolutely do it. I would not recommend freezing potatoes uncooked, as they will discolor. But you can make a giant batch of mashed potatoes and freeze in portions in freezer bags. Or you can bake the potatoes and then freeze them to use as ingredients in other recipes. Simply thaw, then chop to use.
20. Get creative with your pantry. Have you ever seen the show Chopped? If you haven't, you should check it out because it's pretty cool (It's on Netflix! You can binge-watch!). Sometimes you're going to have to do what the Chopped show contestants do. Even if you meticulously meal plan, you might find yourself in a sticky dinner-time situation. Like if you had plans for a date night so you didn't plan dinner for that night but now your babysitter cancelled on you? Or if you had plans to order pizza because you really just wanted a night off from cooking but your kids shoved a toy fish down the toilet that you couldn't retrieve and now have buy a whole new toilet, thus totally blowing your budget for the week? Yeah, sometimes life happens and we have to go with the flow. So think of creative ways to use the things that you always have in your pantry. Example? A couple weeks ago I was in a pickle, so I pulled out a random box of hamburger helper from the pantry, but we didn't have any hamburger! So I grabbed a can of black beans and a can of corn, threw it all together and added some chili powder and cumin, and we had a delicious "Southwest Pasta." Everyone gobbled it down, and no one was the wiser that I had to just pull dinner out of thin air.
21. Be careful with coupons. Coupons can be great if you know how to use them. However, you'll also come across coupons for items that you never would've purchased in the first place, and those are the ones you have to be wary of. If you just bought a bunch of stuff you've never used before and probably won't use in the future, just because you found a coupon for it, the reality is that you actually just spent additional money that you're essentially throwing away NOT saving money.
22. Consider shopping at different grocery stores. I currently shop at three different grocery stores to meet our budget and family needs. I've compared prices at these three stores, as well as quality, and after a month or so it started saving me loads of money. Here's what I do. I shop at our local grocery store for produce and meat. It's the freshest there, and will therefore last longer and the prices are decent. I then take my grocery list on down to Aldi and pick up everything else that I can there, because the quality is excellent and the prices are even better. I also buy ground beef and boneless skinless chicken breasts at Aldi because the prices are better and quality is comparable to our local grocery store. Then I head over to Walmart and purchase anything that wasn't available at Aldi, completing our grocery list. Now of course, my personal plan won't work for everyone, but considering shopping at different stores, especially if they're close together, can be well worth the extra time spent. Plus if you have your grocery list organized (you should!), the only extra time you'll spend is some extra driving.
Do you have any kitchen tips that save you money?
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