We all know that cooking at home is far cheaper than going out, but did you know that you could probably be cooking for even cheaper than you are? Here are some tips to take you the next step in your cooking at home money saving!
1. Know what’s always cheap. One of the easiest ways to save money on your grocery budget is look around and educate yourself on what you can get a lot of for a little. For instance, everybody knows that ramen is cheap–there’s a reason that the running joke about ramen involves broke college students. But, there are easy, and even semi-healthy recipes that you can make with ramen (if you throw out the sauce packet). You can get a ton, a ton of ramen for very cheap, and knowing that might help pad out your shopping cart when you’re approaching your budget. It also helps to look for cheap things that are versatile–I recommend tomato paste which is always under a dollar and can be used in everything.
2. Know alternatives. It helps to know if there are cheaper alternatives to things that you already use. Making your own pasta sauce is cheaper (especially if you start with tomato paste). So are blocks of cheese (as opposed to shredded). Think about the long run. How fast do these things go bad? How many different recipes could you use them in? Obviously, if there is something that you love then don’t sweat it. For instance, there is only one brand of hummus I like. While I might save money buying the cheaper hummus, I would be wasting food! But, if there’s a cheaper alternative to something then I try to go for that if the taste doesn’t make much difference to me.
3. Know more than one way to use an item. Absolutely do not buy everything that you need for one recipe and then a few things your normally buy. You will technically be cooking more, but it will only be the one recipe! You can absolutely buy everything you need for that recipe (say it’s lasagna), but think about how you’re going to stretch those ingredients. So the noodles might be on sale, and they keep, and you’ll probably make lasagna again, so go ahead and buy extra noodles. Ricotta is delicious, maybe you can use it for another recipe later in the week. Ask yourself how much of something that you’re going to use in a recipe and what you’re going to do with the remainder of that ingredient. You don’t have to meal plan (although I wrote a handy guide about it), but you should have a general idea of what you’re going to do with your groceries.
4. Know how to freeze and reheat. Learn the principles of freezing and reheating. If you make a big batch of something, go ahead and freeze it! Even if you’re worried it will waste away in there before you remember to eat it again. Better to let it waste in your freezer, where it will keep for a long while, than let it go to waste in your fridge while you think “I should’ve had leftovers, but I didn’t!” Certain foods don’t keep well in the freezer, but most casseroles and some pasta dishes do. You can also freeze certain ingredients that don’t keep well in the fridge but that you might want to use later (like berries for instance). Use your freezer to your advantage. Don’t just make it a place where ice is the only useful thing in a pile of forgotten TV dinners and bread heels.
If you make effort to do these four things, you will notice a significant change in your monthly grocery average. Seriously!