We want to help you make good choices now so you can spend your money on things that provide you joy versus health care costs that could be avoided. Cut grocery costs and still enjoy a healthy, homemade meal when you shop for savings.
We all would love to spend a little bit less. If you learn to cook with fresh ingredients, you’ll likely spend less on your meals than eating out.
Over time, home cooked meals will save you more money because you’ll be living a much healthier life.
5 Tips on How to Shop for Savings
Most of us want to save money on groceries without spending hours clipping coupons and driving to multiple stores to get the absolute best deal. Here are our 5 not-as-obvious tips on how to shop for savings:
1. discover your local ethnic markets
Do a search to see if you have any ethnic markets around you. Markets that specialize in a specific cuisine – Latin, Asian, Indian, Russian, and Eastern European – will carry a wider inventory of ethnic ingredients and usually be much cheaper. It’s also a great opportunity to discover and learn about new ingredients too.
2. buddy up and split it in half
Costco has a lot of great deals, but buying in bulk doesn’t make sense for every family, and spending $15 on peanut butter can feel like a big hit in one go. If you buddy up and purchase things together with your shopping buddy, then you can split everything between your two families back at someone’s house. Clearly, you can’t do that with everything, but some items can be split easily, such as meats, pasta, condiments that come in a package of two – you get the idea. This tip kills two birds with one stone – see a friend and get your bulk buy on without a huge hit.
3. don’t let a sale price tempt you
Most of us throw a lot of money into the trash through bad grocery shopping habits – shopping without a list, shopping while hungry (yes, we buy more when we’re hungry!), or being tricked by a deal. Just because it’s on sale doesn’t mean you should buy it. In some cases, you’ll see the larger size on sale and the smaller size not. Unless you’re throwing a football party and making a huge 7-layer dip for the NFL, do not buy the gallon container of sour cream because “it seems like a better deal.” Whenever you throw something away, pretend it’s cold hard cash, and I’m sure you’ll be less tempted at the store.
4. find a store’s unique specials
Take advantage of store level discounts. For example, our local Sprouts has double sales days on Wednesdays where twice the amount of items are on sale. This increases the likelihood that some pantry items we need will be on sale, and then we’ll buy no more than a month’s worth (remember tip #3). Your grocery store might also offer store coupons, which is way less painful than managing hundreds of item-specific coupons. Take a little time to research your grocery store to see what store level specials they run.
5. buy organic where it matters
While we love the idea of organic and fully support the cause, we don’t always buy everything organic, because we just don’t have that kind of budget. Instead, we buy organic where it matters. Some items are better to buy organic because the non-organic variety has tested very high for pesticides. There are other items that you don’t have to buy organic.
Guide on What to Buy Organic
Cook Smarts' Guide on What to Buy Organic
Top 10 Budget-Friendly Items
In addition to our 5 shopping tips, we recommend keeping your kitchen stocked with these top 10 ingredients to ensure that you can always get dinner on the table without breaking the bank:
1. seasonal fruits and veggies
This might sound obvious, but it’s not always easy to keep track of which fruits and vegetables are in season at the moment. Living in California, we see a ton of produce any time of the year, whether they’re apples in the spring or tomatoes year-round. It’s easy to load up on this non-seasonal produce, but we’re paying for it! Even though it seems like a just few cents more, those cents add up. Buying produce when they’re in season means you’ll get a better deal, since that is when they are at their most inexpensive. Plus, their flavors and appearance are at their peak, so you’re getting the most bang for your buck.
Vegetables by Month (US)
Discover what veggies are in season each month with this Vegetables by Month Chart
Vegetables by Month (Australia)
Buy and cook veggies that are at their best tasting with the help of this Vegetables by Month Chart.
2. frozen fruits & vegetables
To enjoy produce when they’re not in season, buying them frozen is a great, cost-effective way to go. They are typically just as good as fresh and having them on hand in your freezer means you can add fruits and veggies to every meal. Whip up frozen veggies in no time by steaming or roasting them, or adding them to a stir-fry, soup, or rice. Frozen fruits are great for smoothies or as a topping on many breakfast favorites, such as oatmeal, yogurt, and pancakes.
Dried beans are inexpensive and are ideal for feeding large groups of people or for leftovers. They can be cooked in a slow cooker with a bay leaf or two to add flavor. Cover with 2” (5 cm) water and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours, then drain. Make a large batch, separate them into serving portions, and freeze for a quick future meal. Canned beans are also a great option for a quicker, yet still inexpensive, meal. Use them to bulk up enchiladas, quesadillas, salads, soups, and rice. You can also flavor them with spices and enjoy as a side dish.
4. canned tomatoes
Purchasing tomatoes (paste, crushed, or diced) in a preserved form (canned, tubed, or boxed) can save you time and money, and it adds flavor to lots of dishes. If tomatoes are not in season, or even if they are, buying them canned is perfect for a quick spaghetti sauce or in a chili or soup.
5. grains & pasta
Grains, such as rice, farro, and quinoa, and dried pasta are easy to buy in bulk at a reduced price and can generally be stored for long periods of time. They are also very versatile to cook with and can be used to bulk up an otherwise light meal, such as a soup or a salad. There are dozens of grain and pasta types which allow you to mix things up and never get bored! For greater nutritional value, opt for whole wheat varieties.
Potatoes often get a bad rap for their fry and chip form, but potatoes are actually a nutrient-dense vegetable that can be very good for you in moderation. They also happen to be very inexpensive and last a long time when stored right (in a dark, dry place, away from onions). They can be baked whole, chopped, and roasted, or added to soups, or of course, mashed and grated, too!
Eggs are an excellent source of lean protein, with 6 grams of protein and less than 2 grams of saturated fat in a hard-boiled egg. The best way to get a deal on eggs is to buy them in bulk. If it’s too much for just your family to eat, split it with a friend or neighbor – that way you’ll both save! And remember, eggs aren’t just good for breakfast scrambles and omelettes. You can also use them to make a frittata, strata, in fried rice, or in a sandwich.
8. canned tuna
Canned tuna is another great source of protein that can be purchased inexpensively or on sale. Albacore (known as “white” tuna) and skipjack (known as “light” tuna) are the most common types sold. Albacore varieties tend to be somewhat more expensive, but some prefer the taste over light tuna. Light skipjack varieties generally have lower levels of mercury than albacore; something to consider, depending on how often you are eating tuna. Visit the FDA website for more information on how much mercury is safe to consume. You can also buy canned tuna in water or in oil. Tuna in water has less calories and fat, although a majority of the oil in canned tuna provides healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Think beyond the tuna sandwich and add canned tuna to a pasta, casserole, or salad.
9. rotisserie chicken
Buying rotisserie chicken on sale can feed your family for several meals and can be incorporated many different ways, from tacos to salads to sandwiches. It’s already cooked, so it’s perfect for when you need to get dinner on the table quickly. Rotisserie chicken is a great source of protein and key vitamins and minerals, but can also be high in sodium, so be careful to eat in in moderation.
Tofu is a wonderful meatless source of protein and fiber, and it’s much cheaper by the pound when compared to meats. Tofu is great in stir-fries, salads, or really any dish that you would normally add meat to.