One of the best ways to save money is to cook at home and skip meals out. I make most of our meals at home, and I am constantly challenging myself to save more and waste less in the kitchen. Here are some of my favorite tips for getting the most out of my food budget.
Grow Your Own Herbs
Dried herbs lose their flavor and potency while sitting in your pantry. Herbs are generally easy to grow and are self-regenerating. We keep a big pot of rosemary, basil, and oregano on our balcony, but you can grow them right on your kitchen counter in smaller pots. They’re always fresh and ready when you need them.
Make Your Own Dressings and Marinades
I hate buying a big bottle of salad dressing, then being stuck with that flavor until it’s gone. And I don’t want a fridge full of dressing (or as my husband calls it, lettuce sauce). I prefer to make a fresh cup of salad dressing whenever I am serving salad. Vinaigrettes are especially easy, but you can find recipes online for nearly any salad dressing you might want. The same goes for marinades. Why buy a bottle of pre-made marinade that is full of preservatives and other crap, when you can make your own quickly and easily?
Buy in Bulk When You Only Need a Little
Buying grains and legumes in bulk is often cheaper, and the price per pound doesn’t vary whether you buy a little or a lot. For the time being, I don’t have any place to store large quantities of rice, beans, or grains, so I can use the bulk bins to buy exactly the amount I need. Additionally, this is probably cheaper than buying a small pre-packaged bag.
Substitute Ingredients You Will Re-use
Don’t buy a huge package unless you know you will use it up. The remainder will just sit in your pantry and go bad. Instead, substitute favorite ingredients that you already have or will continue to use.
Share with Friends
Sometimes you can get a great deal by buying in bulk, but can end up with more than you know what to do with. We bought a giant bag of berbere powder at an Ethiopian grocery store, because we love the flavor and the price was reasonable (it only came in one size). I used some empty spice jars I had at home and filled them for friends who I knew liked spicy seasonings. I still had a lot of berbere for my own pantry, but I didn’t need to worry about wasting it while it sat in my pantry and lost its flavor. You might be able to talk a friend into buying a large quantity of a favorite spice or staple with you to split.
Plan Your Meals Around Your Perishables
A couple weeks ago, I accidentally bought far more chicken than I needed. Rather than throw the extra chicken into the freezer, where I tend to forget things, I planned two very different meals for the week, which both revolved around chicken. I don’t want to eat the same thing every night, so I find different ways to use my produce, like green onions and tomatoes, to flavor my dishes. Throwing away food is just like throwing money in the trash.
Don’t Buy Spice Mixes
I was checking out a packet of taco seasoning at the store the other night. When I looked at the ingredients, I had most of the listed items, including cumin, chili powder, garlic, and salt. The only things the packet had that I didn’t have were MSG and preservatives. So I saved 79 cents by seasoning the ground beef myself, and I skipped the yucky MSG. If you keep a small collection of common spices, you won’t need to waste money on overpriced blends.
Pay More Per Item for a Smaller Quantity
I don’t drink beer, but I have several recipes I love that call for beer. It may be cheaper per bottle to buy a six-pack, but what am I going to do with five extra bottles of beer? It’s better to pay a little more for a single bottle than have to store extra bottles for months or years until I need them.