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Cooking a delicious meal shouldn’t gobble up your entire grocery budget for the week. With a little planning and preparation, you can make amazing meals for less than you think. There are also plenty of little tips and tricks you can use to save money that you can use to splurge on fancy cuts of meat for a special meal or treat yourself to a fabulous vacation. Make your money and your food work for you by stretching your budget. Here’s how!
Plan your meals at the beginning of each week
Decide what you’ll be making for the week and go through your pantry and refrigerator to see what you will need. Add those items to your grocery list and stick to your plan. But another crucial aspect of this is to look at what is going on sale at your local supermarket. You don’t want to revolve your meals around expensive ingredients or they will literally eat up your entire budget. By doing this, you’ll avoid buying things you don’t really need or making multiple trips to the store which can be a waste of your time and money.
Don’t buy pre-packaged vegetables and salad mixes
You might think that having a bagged salad ready to go is a great idea, but the reality is that in most cases, it will turn bad faster than you can eat all of it. They are also much more expensive than if you were to just buy a head of lettuce and make your own salad. The same goes for pre-washed and pre-cut bags of fresh vegetables. You are much better off buying them unpackaged. Broccoli costs twice as much cut up in those pre-packaged bags. Buy it intact and you’ll be saving big. The same goes for fruit incidentally. Never buy those packages of sliced fruits. You’ll get fresher fruit at a better value if you cut it up yourself.
Try out your green thumb
You can save a lot of money growing vegetables and herbs of your own. Not everyone has room for an entire garden, but some things really don’t need much space and they grow quite quickly. Instead of buying a pre-packaged bag of salad, buy the seeds and grow it yourself. Fresh herbs are great for adding flavor to your dishes but they can be really expensive. Some of them can be grown in little pots right in your kitchen. Others can be grown outside. Rosemary is one that can grow outdoors any time of the year. Visit your local gardening department and see how easy it is to grow your own herbs. It’s so much cheaper and nothing is more satisfying than plucking your herbs fresh off the plant and tossing them into your culinary creations!
Buying in bulk will always save you money if you use things wisely. When it comes to meats, take the time to portion your cuts out and wrap them in butcher paper. Label them and then tuck them into freezer bags. By doing this, you avoid wasting quality food and saving yourself precious time when you need to make a meal. You’ll be able to find things very quickly this way and thaw out only what you’ll need. While buying from the wholesale stores can help you save big on meat, don’t forget to check out the meats at your supermarket for sales and stock up on those too. Big bulk containers of spices like garlic powder are also a great way to save money particularly if you use it in most things you cook. But if you’re going to buy things that you won’t use as often like paprika, remember that spices have a shelf life in your cupboard and they won’t be as flavorful the longer they sit there.
Stock up on staple items
When your local supermarket has a BOGO (buy one, get one) take advantage. Most will also accept coupons on top of that so keep a vigilant eye out for the things you keep in your pantry like olive oil, pasta, and beans for example. These items will keep for a while without spoiling.
Keep a stash of frozen vegetables
It’s never a bad idea to keep frozen vegetables on hand. For starters, they are often cheaper than fresh and they are also higher in nutrients thanks to being frozen at the peak of freshness. Avoid those pricey flavored varieties and buy them plain. Vegetables frozen without sauce have no added sodium, unlike canned vegetables. But the frozen vegetables in cheesy, spicy or Asian sauces tend to have a high sodium count so beware. You can make your own fresh and delicious sauces instead or use these frozen vegetables in soups and stews. Another bonus is that no one will be able to tell they were once frozen.
Use the entire whole-roasted chicken
If you want to buy one of those rotisserie chickens from your supermarket, go for it only if you make use of it in its entirety. If you’re just eating it and tossing the bones, you aren’t getting the most for your money. You can pull all the meat off the bones and use it to shred into soups, sandwiches, salads, and other recipes. Then take those bones and boil them up with water, chopped onions, garlic and seasonings. Allow it to simmer for an hour and guess what you’ve got…homemade chicken broth. You can use this to make soups and to work into other recipes plus it will taste better and have much less sodium than the shelf-stable versions. It freezes well too so make sure to portion it out to get the full benefit of it. By doing this, you make the purchase of the rotisserie chicken a very wise investment.
Go for dried beans
Canned beans are great in a pinch and are an inexpensive way to make your meal heartier. But they also pack a lot of sodium. Dried beans don’t come with all the sodium and are loads cheaper. It takes a little extra prep work to soak them and get them ready but once you do, you can portion them out in containers in your freezer and grab them as needed for your soups, garnish for salads, or to make homemade hummus.
Big batches are the way to go
Whether you have a big family or not, making a big batch of soup, lasagna, or some multi-purpose food like a versatile meat you can use as the base for many different meals will save you lots of money and time in the long run. Plus, everyone has those busy days where everything goes crazy and by the time you get home, there’s no time to make anything good. Instead of blowing your weekly budget on pizza or takeout, you can heat up one of your prepared portions to save the day. Besides, nothing tastes better than a home-cooked meal, even if it was cooked fast.
Always sign up for store incentives and memberships
Every supermarket has some sort of rewards program. Plus there’s literally an app for everything now. Use these tools to help you save money on the things you buy every week and take advantages of special incentives and coupons. For example, Walmart has an app called the Savings Catcher. Scan in your receipt and it will scour the advertisements of all competitors in the area. If it finds a price difference, it gives you the money you would have saved if you’d bought it elsewhere. It might only be a few dollars per receipt but that money adds up, and that’s more money in your pocket!
Go to the supermarket in the evening
In the evening, you can score some pretty great deals on perishable foods. That rotisserie chicken will be half off in the evening because the store needs to sell it. The same goes for breads, pastries and anything else that they make fresh. The shelf life of those items is extremely limited and even though they were made in-store that morning, your store needs to move them in order to be profitable, even if it means selling it at half the price. Even on sale though, it’s a waste of money if you don’t use what you buy. Make sure you store your discounted breads in the refrigerator or freezer so that they don’t go to waste.
Buy the store brands instead of national brands
You can save gobs of money just by purchasing your store’s generic brands. When you buy the big name brands, you are often paying for the label and the identity associated with that name. The big name brand of rice is a good dollar more than the store’s generic brand and there is no difference in taste. Try the store brands and you’ll see it’s the same ingredients and that they are most often produced in the same factories as those big name brands.
Reuse as much of your leftovers and scraps as possible
Remember that extra bread you got on sale? You can use it to make bread crumbs or a side of stuffing for your chicken dinner. Crumbs at the bottom of your bag of chips can be saved for making breading on fried foods too. And it doesn’t stop there. Think about all the bits of vegetables you wind up with leftover like the ends of carrots or celery. Save these to toss in with those chicken bones from your rotisserie chicken to make that chicken stock. Get creative with those leftovers too. You can turn leftover mashed potatoes into potato pancakes or stuff them into wonton wrappers for a quick perogie.
When it comes to cooking, you’re only limited by your own imagination and budget if you allow it. Some of the best meals you will make will be from the most simple and wholesome ingredients that will literally cost you only a few dollars to feed your whole family per meal. Start off making one or two changes in your supermarket shopping and cooking habits and then gradually add more. As time goes on, you’ll be an expert chef as well as an expert on savings.