05 Nov

Written by Captain Frugal on November 5, 2008

Flickr credit: thebaron03.

Eating well on a budget is possible, though it takes work. Of course, one person’s definition of “eating well” will not match another’s, so you have to decide for yourself if you want to budget less for food or sacrifice something else in your life. Here are some tips to help you eat better on less money.

  1. Buy only what you need. Don’t buy in bulk unless you’re going to eat it. Buying in bulk for perishable goods sometimes tends to encourage people to eat more than usual “so it won’t spoil.” Or you end up wasting. Either way, bulk items used like this do not save you money.
  2. Use coupons. See last item: buy what you need. No point in saving coupons for food items that you don’t or won’t eat. Though maybe you can trade coupons with a friend or neighbour.
  3. Only keep useful coupons. Immediately get rid of coupons for items you won’t eat. Better  yet, swap with a neighbor or friend. Just because you don’t want that coupon for a tin of sardines doesn’t mean they won’t. They might have something for you.
  4. Buy on sale. When looking in the in the weekly sales flyers for coupons, also check to see for non-coupon sale items that various supermarkets and grocers may have.
  5. Buy seasonal items. Seasonal produce tends to cost less, though you may need to put in a bit of effort with finding a suitable recipe for unfamiliar items.
  6. Get used to leftovers. There’s nothing wrong with leftovers, provided you are still getting a balanced meal. You can always add a different “side” item to a main dish leftover for your next meal. It’s not an entirely different meal, but at least it won’t feel like the same old thing.
  7. Use your freezer. It takes time to prepare food, and if you make your own, make it worthwhile. Cook in batches and freeze off portions for later use.
  8. Have dinner clubs. Food costs often tend to be higher if you’re single. There’s often more waste, when you’ve come home late from work (or the pub) and the leftovers have crawled away. Talk to friends. Maybe you and a chum can share meals together, alternating cooking or cleaning duties. This may not work with roommates, but might with friends.
  9. Try own-brand/ generic/ no-name items. Our experience is that these are rarely bad in taste or quality compared to famous brands. The latter require often require millions in advertising budgets to sustain – a cost passed on to you. Generic brands skip the advertising.
  10. Downshift your brand name items. If you feel there’s a quality difference, try a technique called downshifting, where you start with a (perceived) “top” brand for an item and step down in phases. You’re “trying” something new. If you like it great. This can save you hundreds each year, and if you downshift gradually, you won’t feel it.
  11. Check the “day olds” cart. Many stores now have a discount rates trolley with perishable items that are a bit bruised or discolored. If you can put up with that, and can arrange your cooking to use these items immediately, you can save a bundle. One good way to do this is to make a stew or a soup. Unless the food item is actually spoiled, you’ll never notice.
  12. Remove items from your cart. Just before you go through the checkout queue, look through your cart or basket for items that you don’t need for the next 3-4 days. Put them back on the shelves or ask tell the cashier you are not purchasing them.
  13. Ask for rainchecks. If an advertised sale item is out, some stores have a policy of offering a “raincheck,” which is a coupon you can use when the item has been stocked once again.
  14. Change your source. Food items are often cheaper at Farmer’s Markets and Asian groceries. It might mean you have to change how you eat, possibly the cuisine you eat.
  15. Cut out or reduce meat. Meat sales might be subsidized by some governments, but in general, meat on your shopping list means spending more. If you can’t/ don’t want to eliminate meat entirely, try a different cuisine where meat is not the focus.
  16. Change your cuisine. Asian stir fry dishes lend themselves well to inexpensive meals – especially if you cut the meat into bite size pieces. This also works for pastas or Asian noodle dishes and soups. For example, provided you’re preparing your own healthy dishes at home, Chinese and Indian food can be very healthy, not to mention less expensive.
  17. Keep a food diary. Some markets have better deals on canned goods, others on produce or meat. Though it’s not always worth the petrol to drive from store to store to “save” money on food. Weigh out the best approach. Or alternate stores from week to week, based on current sale items.
  18. Make your own soup. It’s not that hard. You need a big pot, a tasty recipe, the right ingredients, a bit of patience, and a way to freeze/ store lefovers. If you’re growing your own herbs (see below), you’ll save even more.
  19. Stop eating out. Take your lunch, take healthy snacks. Prepare your meals at home. Don’t eat out, and don’t do fast food or any form of take-away.
  20. Go easy on the junk food. Okay, ready-made meals and junk food does cost less than organic or even regular food items, but what you save in coin you could pay for with your health. Whatever you eat, learn to eat in moderation.
  21. Eat less. If you have trouble convincing yourself to eat less, start by filling your plate normally, then put some back. Now chew more slowly, more bites per mouthful. When your plate is done, ask yourself if you’re still hungry. If so, help yourself. If not, well then you’ll have leftovers.
  22. Go easy on the organic food items. Organic meat and produce tends to spoil much faster, thanks to less preservatives, etc. This decreases the yield and increases the cost to producers and markets, not to mention you. It’s just the old law of supply and demand.
  23. Grow your own. You can grow herbs, mushrooms and some vegetables and roots in small spaces, with relative ease in many climates. The information you need is available on the Internet for free.
  24. Wait longer between shopping trips. The logic with this is that you’ll make a meal with food items that have been sitting around. Your overall outflow of cash on food items this week just got reduced. (E.g., admit it, you don’t know what to do with that can of chickpeas (garbanzos) that you bought on sale. Well get on the Internet and search for some salad or hummus recipes, etc. )

It’s not always easy to eat well on a small food budget but it’s possible. If you’re really serious about trying, check out Sarah’s Cucina Bella and her $7 Dinner Challenge, Christopher and Kerri’s One Dollar Diet Project, and Forty Dollar Gourmet, amongst other websites. For those of you outside of North America, try something similar. How little, in your currency, can you get by with each day or week and still eat well?

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