5 Ways to Stretch Your Food Budget Dollars

There are some great tips in other articles on this site, but you can always find more ways to stretch your food budget dollars. Groceries account for a considerable portion of any budget. We need food every day, and food prices seem to go nowhere but up. Here’s some tips to help keep those costs down and your food budget in check. 

Obvious and Common Advice for Your Food Budget

Make a list, keeping this week’s ads in mind. Plan your meals so you’re buying ingredients, not processed food. Keep in mind that you’ll pay for the labor that goes into making processed foods, along with the fancy packaging. Since labor, packaging, and marketing aren’t cheap, that doesn’t leave much room for actual food.

Home-made is real food, not a pile of something whose ingredients list reads like a college chemistry exam. If cooking after a long day isn’t your thing, consider cooking meals in advance that you can warm up. Adapting ones thinking to view cooking as a form of self-care rather than a chore can also help. Having dishes to wash means a full belly, and that’s more than many people have right now.

A positive mind is lighter than a negative one; this is the Fourth Principle of the Kokikai school of Aikido. Mindset matters. If you can, shop during the off hours. If you can find out when the store receives deliveries such as bread and produce, you might be able to time your visit to get the freshest stuff. Avoiding the crowd is a nice bonus. 

Buy in Bulk

The perfect time to stock up on nonperishables, food, and non-food items, is when they are on sale. It will cost a bit more upfront when buying bulk, but will save money over the long term. I recently purchased pasta for $0.68 per box, right around half the usual price. Sadly there was a five-item limit, but I didn’t let that stop me from buying what I could, cheaply. Everything from aluminum foil to trash bags, toilet paper, canned goods, laundry soap, cat litter-you name it! If it’s not perishable, consider buying as much as you can when it’s on sale. Some of those items, such as laundry soap and household cleaners, can even be made very cheaply at home from store-bought components. Even more savings if you can buy those components on sale!

Speaking of buying in bulk, how about the bulk food aisle? Not all stores have these. However, if yours does, take a look at the offerings and compare the price to packaged. Rice is a great example, at least in my local store. Bulk rice is significantly cheaper than packaged. You won’t get the pretty package, but you won’t have to pay for it either. 

Buying meat in family packs will save a few cents per pound as well. As one of my aunts used to say: pennies make the dollars! Once home, repackage it in smaller portions. Be sure to label your package with contents and date. Rotate stock, so items don’t get freezer burned. 

Buying in Season 

Fruits and vegetables are much cheaper in season. Buy and preserve, then eat it over the winter. Freezing is very easy and requires minimal equipment. Ditto for dehydrating. It’s very easy to make fruit roll-ups, for example, and you will know what went into them. Dried peppers, both sweet and chili, work well in soups and egg dishes. Berries can be dried or frozen and eaten over the winter when others pay twice what you paid.

There are plenty of ways to preserve food without freezing, canning, or dehydrating. Check out Preserving Food Without Freezing Or Canning for some time-tested and traditional methods involving oil, sugar, salt, vinegar, and lactic fermentation, to name a few. Fermented foods last quite a while and aid digestion by promoting a healthy gut biome. 

Don’t Forget to Look Down! 

Seriously, look towards the bottom shelves. Product placement is designed to have the most expensive brand name products at eye level. The cheaper store brands and the lesser-known brands will be on the lower shelves. You might even find a few bargains on top. I’ve found store brands are often cheaper, even than brands offering coupons. Bargain bins might even hold a valuable item or two, but beware of impulse buying! If it’s not on your list or something you use, leave it. 

Organic Does Not Necessarily Mean Organic

Food in the organic aisle tends to be more expensive just because of that moniker. Moreover, the term “organic” is highly misunderstood, and there’s no guarantee that the food is free of pesticides. Many pesticides, such as copper fungicide, are considered organic by virtue of their derivation. Check out this article from UC-Berkeley for a greater understanding of organic produce. You might be surprised at what you’re getting, so why pay the inflated price?

What Tips Can You Share for Stretching Your Food Budget?

Grocery shopping doesn’t have to be an awful, burdensome chore. If we plan our trip carefully and choose a positive self-care mindset, we can stretch our food budget dollars and still enjoy a healthy diet of whole foods on a frugal budget.

5 Ways to Stretch Your Food Budget Dollars
Jayne Rising

Jayne Rising

Jayne Rising is a gardener and bookworm with a BS from the University of Wisconsin and a Master Gardener certification. She’s been growing food on her small urban lot since 2010 and teaching others how to do it since 2015. She’s involved in a number of local urban agriculture initiatives, working to bring a sustainable and healthy food system back into the mainstream.

12 thoughts on “5 Ways to Stretch Your Food Budget Dollars”

  1. Denise Rouleau

    Celery and green onions are versatile and can be grown in a window in a glass of water. Other veggies, too. Lots of online instructions available on how to do this.
    Protein requirements are not one size fits all. Know what you really need. Adjust recipes by using less expensive veggies instead of relying on a protein. So many medical conditions are related to overconsumption of meat.

  2. Chris Parsonson

    Most of these frugality tips seem to assume that people live in towns and cities and must survive by buying stuff in brightly coloured and relatively expensive packages. We live in a small village in a sparsely populated part of South Africa. I am retired and on a small pension so I have to be careful with money. Add to that COVID, and in this country the looting and rioting. Happily most of all of that is not in our province. Food wise I start off with basics for survival, cornmeal, beans, and squash. We get beans at 50kg from a local farmer, we buy cornmeal from the farmers cooperative and we grow our own squash. Water, we have a 2000 litre rain water tank. we cook with gas until we run out and then we use a rocket stove. A small corner of my patch is left for a fast growing exotic bush which makes good wood for the rocket stove. We can survive on just the above but when we can we buy or grow onions, sweet potatoes, potatoes and spinach. We buy coffee and tea. We buy in bulk and that can last a couple of months. The stuff we have to by about every two weeks in winter is fresh fruit. In summer we have our own mulberries, strawberries, apricots and peaches. We keep chickens which live on corn and what they can find. Every winter the flock grows and we sell some

    1. Dear Chris, thanks so much for sharing about food in rural RSA. We would do well to adapt some or all of what you’re doing. Question, I’ve read about nutritional problems when using dried corn as the main carbohydrate. For that reason Mexican people here use a flour called Masa Harina, to which lime has been added. Can you shed any light on pros or cons of eating a lot of cornmeal? Thank you. Karen

    2. Fair enough. My focus is urban living and agriculture, and it’s true that I know little about living in South Africa. When I lived in rural United States, we still did much of our shopping in grocery stores, and brightly colored packages containing processed food are the norm here. So evidently one size does not fit all! Thank you for sharing how things are done in your country.

  3. Use less meat than a recipe calls for. Instead of a full pound of ground beef, for example, use a half to 3/4 pound. Add more beans or vegetables, depending on your recipe.

  4. I live in Australia and have a low income. I stretch my ground meat meals with red lentils. I make most of our food from scratch. Bulk food bins in supermarkets are expensive and I also find Costco to be expensive and we only use a few items from their store and I get my children to buy these when they shop. I don’t have a deep freeze and recently bought a dehydrator. Some experiments have been successful. I like that the food is greatly reduced in bulk and I still keep it in the fridge as our area is hot and humid. I do buy bulk bags of rice etc and repack those using a vacuum sealer. Once again most of these foods go into a fridge. The most difficult thing for me is the shift from cooking for a family to cooking a meal for one or two. Sometimes I freeze for later. I become tired of the same meal over and over. Because I have food allergies I often end up cooking something else for my meal. Keep things simple. Do we really need 20 ingredients to make a curry? This many be a time when buying a prepared waste might be less wasteful. It is easy to accumulate spices and herbs that might not be used in a timely manner. I have never seen herbs and spices in the bulk aisles here. They might exist in the green bulk food stores but they are a long way from my home.

  5. Can mix things like chopped onions into ground beef or ground chicken to stretch that. Also you can get a grinder for relatively cheap and grind your own meat – it’s amazing how much money that can save at times. Also if you live in the US, sometimes ethnic markets can have interesting deals that you won’t find anywhere else. I shop at Asian and Hispanic import stores/markets and they will sometimes have really good stuff. Again in an urban setting, shopping in different parts of town can give you different deals on different things. For example, if I want great prices on bulk pinto beans or pasta, I’ll head to the Food City in the crappy part of town – I also get wicked deals on hot sauce there.

    Also, asking your grocery managers when they typically mark things down can net you some good deals. Buying meat, for example, on a manager’s discount because it’s about to expire then sticking it in the freezer can save you a fair amount.

  6. Buy what’s on sale, rather than going into the store with a fixed list. I walk through grocery stores and let the yellow sale tags catch my eye. If you stock up on whatever’s discounted each week, over the course of a month you can accumulate almost everything you want.
    Rather than having to buy a particular cut of meat or variety of fish, I let the sale prices determine what I buy.

    Meat and fish on the final sale date are often marked down 50%; bring a cooler bag to keep them cold until you get home, then portion and freeze them right away.

    Likewise salad and vegetables. Walmart marks down bags and bins of salad and veggie platters on the last date of sale; you can get great deals, and the greens and veggies will stay fresh for at least 4-7 days.

  7. Add oatmeal to ground beef when making burgers.
    Add a can of chili beans or pinto beans to taco meat.
    Use stale bread: Garlic and butter the top, put on enough spaghetti sauce to cover it, top with mozzarella cheese, and bake for about 5 minutes. The grandkids will love this!
    Leftover taco meat can be combined with a can of pork and beans and topped with dumplings. Easy one pan dinner.
    Eggs, eggs, eggs. Good cheap nutrition.
    The best way to control food budgets is to watch portion size. We eat too much. Also use all leftovers. I label everything in the fridge and freezer by the date and contents. You’d be surprised how this can save by using up food that is about to go bad.

  8. I do many things others here have said but I also do a few more. The main thing I do is go to our local farmers market the last 2 hours that it is open, they don’t want to have to take everything back so can get some great discounts. My town also has 2 stores that supply restaurants and anyone can shop there, gets some real good deals.

  9. You all are awesome! I do much of what you’ve all said here too: shop there sales, cut down on the meat, add beans & other nutritious fillers, and never allow leftovers to go to waste!

    I’ve also been learning about a stunning number of things that I didn’t know were edible, radish & beet greens, for example. And they’re awesome! I look forward to learning more. Please keep those ideas coming! And thank you!

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