Food! One of the most essential requirements for survival – and one of the biggest spending categories in our budget! Fortunately, having grown up as one of five siblings, I knew various ways to save money on food. But discovering it for myself, especially as our family grew to eight kids, was a different experience altogether. I think I’ve done pretty well over the years and I’ve refined some practices that work well for us.
21 Ways to Save Money on Food
Who wouldn’t like to save more money? Whether you’re deep in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, saving for a rainy day, or investing money for your retirement, we could all learn ways to save money every month.
The financial freedom that comes from saving money means that you can take care of your needs and those of your family, support causes that are meaningful to you, take advantage of unexpected and exciting opportunities, and sleep well at night knowing that you have a comfortable cash cushion.
Even some of the wealthiest people make sure to have a solid money cushion to protect their riches and so they can quickly access new opportunities.
Below you’ll find 21 ways to save money on food. If you adopt just a few of them, you can save hundreds of dollars every month. Remember, little bits of savings really add up!
Related articles on different ways to save money:
- 7 Reasons You’re Not Saving Enough
- 7 Ways Consumer Psychology Influences your Spending Decisions
- 13 Ways to Save Money Every Month
- 5 Things Your Mother Never Taught You About Savings
It starts with water.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, sweetened beverages and juices account for over 9% of the average American budget. Switching to water (or limiting your consumption of sweet drinks to special occasions) will help you save money. Drinking water is also great for your health, which will help you save money on medical expenses, especially as you age. Excess sugar consumption has been linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay, among other health problems.
When my oldest kids were little, I gave them apple juice. But as I learned more about the effect of apple juice on dental health, we switched to water. I drink at least two liters of water every day.
Stop buying bottled water.
Besides the impact to the environment from all those plastic bottles, bottled water is expensive. We use reusable water bottles and fill them up before we leave the house. When we go on family trips, we will buy a six-pack of one-and-a-half liter bottles and fill them up regularly.
Don’t buy coffee out.
I admit it. I love coffee. Especially good coffee. But buying a latte on the run, or a café hafuch as we call it in Israel, can do some serious damage to your budget. Drink coffee at home before you go out or, prepare good quality coffee at home and take it with you in an insulated travel mug.
Reduce (or eliminate) alcohol.
I’m not a big drinker. A glass of wine a month is more than enough for me. But if you enjoy alcoholic beverages, try a spending freeze for a month, or even a week, and see how much you save.
Eat from your pantry and from your freezer.
We all have extra food that we’re going to use up and get to eventually. Some of it eventually ends up in the garbage because it’s passed the sell-by date or it gets freezer burned. Use what you have before stocking up again. It might make for some very creative meals.
Plan your meals for the week – before you go grocery shopping.
People don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan. If you plan what you’re going to eat at the beginning of the week, you’ll shop accordingly. You’ll bypass unnecessary purchases and those last-minute trips to the pizza shop or calls for takeout.
Plan meals around proteins that are on sale.
Keep a notebook with the prices of your favorite meats and fish so you will notice when the price drops.
Eat before you go grocery shopping.
The super market is filled with triggers that can lead to impulse buys – especially sweet and over-priced treats that mysteriously find their way into your shopping cart.
Eat breakfast for dinner.
Instead of a meat meal, eat toast and eggs with a side of salad or fruit. Pancakes are also a great choice. What kids complain about pancakes for dinner? Not mine!
Eat oatmeal instead of boxed cereal.
I wish we didn’t eat any boxed cereal – because of the price and the sugar content. But we’re a big family that’s constantly on the go. Boxed cereal is one of those things that fill us up quickly. Our work-a-round is to add quick oats to our cereal bowls – the natural, unsweetened kind. This helps reduce the amount of sugar we consume and stretches the time until we’re hungry for the next meal. We also eat oatmeal, especially in the winter. And from time to time, we make granola from quick oats.
Bake your own bread.
We home make about half the bread we consume each week. That includes whole wheat bread and the challahs I bake for Shabbat. I love kneading dough. I’m an earth mama that way. We also have a bread machine that I used to use daily. But as our older kids have moved into dormitories or gotten married, we use it less and less. The bread products we buy are pitas – both white flour and whole wheat, plus the occasional hot dog bun. Here’s our delicious whole wheat challah recipe.
Don’t go to the bakery – bake your own cakes and cookies.
Who doesn’t love a sweet treat after a hearty meal? We bake most of our desserts in-house. My 13-year old son makes the most delicious chocolate chip cookie bars. And the smell…. heavenly!
Two weeks ago, I bought some bakery cookies as a special treat for the family. They’re still sitting in the cupboard – I think that speaks for itself. And let’s not even talk about the cost!
Eat fresh fruits and vegetables when they’re in season.
Out of season fruits and vegetables are incredibly expensive. I know it’s hard to wait when that juicy, luscious fruit is staring at you. But your wallet will be really happy if you wait a couple of weeks for the price to drop.
Brown bag your lunch.
Restaurants and fast food joints can take a big bite out of your budget. Pack your lunch at night to spare yourself the morning rush. Use a sandwich maker or panini press to give your lunch that gourmet feeling. When I worked in an office, my husband prepared our lunches every morning. Now that I work from home most of the time, I serve myself.
Prep your food ahead of time.
Spend a half hour at night browning ground meat or roasting chicken breast. The next day, you can prepare dinner quickly by cooking up a bolognaise sauce with noodles or tossing together a stir-fry. You won’t get stuck unprepared buying frozen dinners or ordering pizza.
Growing up as one of five kids, we had leftover night. The fridge was unloaded onto the kitchen counter – a portion of this, two-and-a-half portions of that. All the bits and bobs were uncovered. We ate what there was till it was gone (except for the lima beans – that story didn’t end well). Today, I do the same for my large family. If there aren’t enough leftovers to go around, I can scramble eggs in a jiffy. On rare occasions, I throw out food. And that hurts. I try hard to avoid it.
Make soup using wilted vegetables.
Nobody’s going to eat rubbery carrots and zucchini. Chop them up real small and throw them into a soup pot with some onions, garlic and other vegetables. Add split peas, barley, lentils, chicken breast or meat bones to turn your saggy veggies it into a nourishing meal.
Make fruit smoothies from very ripe or bruised fruit.
During the summer months we get excited by the taste and variety of fruit available. Inevitably, we buy more than we can eat before it gets over-ripe. Bananas can be frozen. So can grapes, mangoes, nectarines and peaches. But why wait? We toss soft fruit straight into the blender with some milk, ice cubes and maybe a spoonful of natural peanut butter and whip up a yummy treat. Don’t tell my kids that I sometimes add a cucumber or two.
Use a crock pot.
This is one of my favorite ways to prepare food for our large family. Meats taste great slow cooked with lots of onions and garlic. Chicken, too. Add other hearty vegetables like potatoes and carrots for a one-pot meal. You can cook meat overnight or toss everything in the crock pot in the morning – a delicious, hearty meal will be waiting for you at dinner time. Use a 24-hour plugin timer to make sure your meal is ready for you at exactly the right time.
Reduce your spending on restaurants and fast food.
Eating out is a big drain on any budget. Due to the size of our family and our spending priorities, we rarely eat out. You can use the food preparation tips above to eat home more often. Try a restaurant ban for one month to kickstart your savings.
Track your food spending.
The best way to save money on food is to track your spending. Tracking shows you where your money’s going and how much you’re spending in each category, like grocery store, restaurants, fast foods and snacks. Tracking gives you the information you need to make different choices.
Tracking your food spending also helps you set goals and targets for yourself. If you discover that you’re spending $1000 a month on food, you can set a goal of $950 or $900. And then you can come up with exciting challenges to meet your goals. But just saying that you want to reduce spending on groceries every month leaves it hazy. And you have no way to monitor your progress or to figure out what is or isn’t working.
If you really want to save money on food every month, I recommend that you track your spending, set a goal and create a plan for how you’re going to make it work.
How do you think you can save money every month? I’d love you to share your best tips in the comments below.
Want to keep these money saving tips handy? Click here to download my free eBook 21 Ways to Save Money on Food.