Law School
Personal Finance

27 Ways To Save Money On Food

One of the easiest ways to reduce your budget is reducing your food costs. Last week, I asked my awesome readers what they do to save money on food. The response I got was amazing! Frugal Law Student readers came up with 27 creative and frugal ways to save money on food. I’ve compiled all their ideas in to this post. I’ve put the name of the reader who contributed the idea next to the tip they provided. If they have a blog, I’ve included a link to it. (Make sure to check their blogs out!) Thank you to all my readers who contributed! Stay tuned for next week’s “Ask the Reader” question of the week!

1. I keep a spreadsheet of all my expenses, listed by day and category, so that’s a huge motivator to curb my eating out. A bag of groceries or a single meal at the same price? When I do go out for meals, I choose the “value menu” items at most fast-food places, the lunch special, or just a larger appetizer at sit-down restaurants. [Emily]

2. One of the best ideas for students is to get involved with campus organizations. I get a free dinner at least once a week from my various organizations’ meetings. (Free food is one of main points we use when trying to recruit members for the Student Alumni Association.) [Emily]
3. Buying in bulk when items are on sale is also helpful, though it takes some strategy. Sometimes I hold off on buying a $2-$3 jar of spaghetti sauce because I know that eventually (in a week or two), some brand will be 2-for-1 at about $1.94. [Emily]

4. Some of my staples are pasta (buy one, get one free boxes of $0.69 spaghetti), tortilla chips ($1 big bags) and hot sauce (under $2 huge bottle has lasted me over four months…and I use it a lottt), tortillas ($0.98 for 36 small ones), cereal (whichever brand is around $2/box that week), frozen veggies ($1/bag), and 3lb. bags of apples ($2 on sale). Of course I add more than this, but these are the “classic” items I always have on hand. [Emily]

5. And of course, I do save those ketchup packets (it would take me a year to use a bottle; I don’t use it often), Taco Bell sauce packets, sugar/Spelenda packets, etc…just a few here and there are great for items that I don’t use frequently enough to justify buying a larger quantity. [Emily]

6. I have found that making a menu for a week or two before going grocery shopping keeps me from spending too much. It means that I am only buying what I need instead of just replacing something that I may not use till next month! [Shawna]

7. Get a wok and a rice cooker. Put away all other cookware. Buy a large bag of your favorite rice and make it every day. Shop for veggies, fresh and in season. Be realistic about serving size and you’ll find it’s pretty cheap to eat healthfully. Add meat but not too much. Americans eat too much protein anyway. Make sure to take your vitamins. We exist happily as a family of 3 on $60-$75 a week with one good splurge, like crab or lobster. [Jasi]

8. People often think Ramen noodles are just for broke people but I happen to love them. I also just take the noodles sometimes and throw them into a stir fry which is awesome.
For a treat, I will make chicken ramen noodles as a side dish and throw in a few frozen shrimp from Sam’s club. It makes it a little more sophisticated. [chitown]

9. Getting extra napkins from fast food places is also a good idea so you don’t have to waste paper towels or buy napkins. I also use cloth hand towels when I am eating which I can just wash. Better for the environment too. [chitown]

10. For those of us trying to go with a healthy lifestyle (hey, save $ on health care costs at least), a big saver is a CSA membership. Frequently, farms near cities will make a once a week dropoff to people who pre-pay, and this gives you fresh, local, frequently organic fruit and veggies at a bargain price (provided, of course, that it’s a decent growing season). Moreover, the one I joined (Jug Bay in MD, which serves the DC region) gives you money off for “sweat equity” if you volunteer to help out at the farm. [Tawnya]

11. Don’t drink soft drinks or bottled water! You CAN exist on tap water. You don’t need to buy those crazy filters either. We drink lots of water and then we have a 6-pack of beer on the weekend (2 per night for one person, or 1.5 beers for two people). Also, if you go out to eat – don’t drink any alcohol or soft drinks in the restaurant – drink water. You can usually buy a whole bottle of wine for the cost of a glass at a restaurant. [K-Lo]

12. Find a farmer’s market or weekend produce stand and ask the sellers if you can have their leftover produce, whatever won’t keep until the next time they sell. I get literally tons of food every year this way. We eat it fresh and can a lot of it for later use (salsas, jams, pickled asparagus, etc.) I share it with friends and neighbors and others via freecycle. It takes a lot of work, as I have to sort out and compost the rotting/ stuff, but generally most of it is quite edible. The produce sellers are relieved they don’t have to haul it away and throw it out. [Marcia]

13. Make a list and don’t buy anything that isn’t on it. [FinanceandFat]

14. Go to the websites of your local grocery stores and check out the ads, I typically do this on Sunday and make my big shopping trip on Monday. Find the store that has the best deals on the items like and plan your meals for the week heavily using the items on sale. [FinanceandFat]

15. If food that can be stored a long time without going bad is on sale stock up! [FinanceandFat]

16. Don’t go shopping too often. The longer you can go before hitting the store, the less you’ll spend. [Emily]

17. Eat vegetarian meals fairly frequently (we started with once a week and have worked our way up). [Emily]

18. Take the time to do prep work instead of buying convenience. It saves a ton of money, especially if you have one spouse who’s home more than the other. Dried beans instead of canned, whole vegetables instead of frozen stir-fry mixes, etc. [Emily]

19. Try to have a cart full of ingredients, instead of a cart full of ready to eat food. Then, I take the time to bake muffins, bread, make granola, etc. instead of buying the packaged versions. It adds up really quickly, especially considering I can buy 25 lbs of flour on sale for less than $5 and 25 lbs of sugar for $8. [Emily]

20. Go veggie, without necessarily going soy (many meat imitation soy products are very expensive for what you get). Use canned beans and vegetables and buy non-perishables in bulk. (Curried chickpeas and rice? Still the best, cheapest, most nutritious meal I know. [strange bird]

21. Also, ethnic markets. Cheapest and most variety. [strange bird]22. If you eat meat, get the “value pack” of 5-10 lbs and split it into smaller portions. I usually wait until the meat has a “reduced for quick sale” sticker, then freeze it the moment I get it home. [Bety B]
23. When you cook, make two extra portions and freeze them. If you have something that’s easy to fix when you don’t feel like cooking, you’re less likely to order pizza. [Bety B]

24. If you have an off-brand grocery store (like Aldi) near you, give it a try. The food is very inexpensive, and most of it is the same quality as the name-brand stuff. [Bety B]

25. I’ve spent the last few months putting together a “price book” in excel, nothing fancy just a basic list. What I found is that it doesn’t save money as much as make me aware of what food costs. Just noticed that the price of the milk took a huge jump, as well as other things were more expensive than what I though (fruit in particular). As well I realized that I tend to buy the same things every week. [rob in madrid]

26. You’ve got to become comfortable with cooking, or at least preparing, meals. Buying the staples of a meal is the absolute best way in my opinion to save money on food. Choose things that can be used in a variety of ways: Rice (steamed rice plain, with stir fry, chicken, fried), meats (frozen lean chicken breast can be used in a lot of different ways and keeps for a while), vegetables (frozen and canned keep more than fresh and can be used in a lot of ways as well), and last but certainly not least pasta. It’s filling, versatile (hot with pasta sauce, cold in salads), lasts for a while, and whole wheat pasta is pretty cheap. [Jake]

27. I don’t often find that things go unused or that I don’t like things– of course, I chose a coop that grows a lot of things I like, most of them have lists on their websites– I even got a watermelon last week, which was pretty cool. Of course, sometimes I get things that I need to google uses for (like epazote, which it turns out is amazing with beans– who knew?), and some weeks I don’t cook a few days in a row and then have to cook to feed my freezer. Luckily , this usually means that during the winter, when veggies aren’t delivered and I’m feeling lethargic, there are healthy meals in the freezer and I don’t have to get takeout. [Jake]