saving ALL THE MONEY - food

Next up on the Saving ALL THE MONEY series (insert money bag emoji here), we'll tackle food. You can read my previous post on necessities here where I alluded to food being a huge way we have saved over the years.

While I do have some concrete tips, saving money on food really boils down to one simple thing. YOU NEED TO COOK FOR YOURSELF. If you aren't a great cook, this won't be very appealing, but that's the second part. YOU NEED TO LEARN HOW TO COOK.

Anyone can learn how to cook. There are precisely a bajillion food blogs and websites out there that will teach you for free. Get serious about it.  Since we had no money to spend on cook books, I asked for Martha Stewart's Cooking School for Christmas, to get me started. There are a lot of beginners cook books like this, but also free resources online or at the library. I had the advantage of growing up in a family that loves to cook. Both of my parents are excellent cooks, and it's no surprise that my sister and I also love to cook. But if you don't know the first thing about cooking proper meals for your family, don't let that stop you. Everyone has to start somewhere. My dad was motivated to learn to cook because he was raised on french fries and fried chicken, and wanted something different for his family.

One great perk of learning how to cook is being able to spend less on groceries. Generally the "easiest" meals are the most expensive, so if you get serious about learning to cook, you can go beyond those meals and save more money.  Boneless, skinless chicken breast is a great example. The majority of beginner/easy recipes involved this cut of meat, and it's so expensive! Often the same price per kilo as steak! I was once very intimidated by cooking any meat with the skin on or bones in, but now they're our favorites, not to mention the cheapest option. Fish can also be intimidating, but it's often less expensive than meat (and at my grocery store there's always one type of fish on special each week) and healthier. It probably goes without saying, but anything pre-made is going to rack up your grocery bill. Salad dressings, pasta sauces, granola, seasonings, marinades, salads - these are all things that you can easily make yourself for SO much less than buying pre-made. Here are some examples:
  • salad dressing - $5+ at the grocery store, $1+ at home
  • 12 whole wheat tortillas - $4+ at the grocery store, $1 at home
  • pizza dough - $5+ at the grocery store, $1 or less at home

Learning to cook your own meals, and improving in the kitchen also makes eating out less enticing. Initially, I mastered simple recipes like pasta and pizza. These are still staples in our home more than once a week, but the bonus is, we're never tempted to go out for Italian or order in a pizza. I know I can make it just as good or better than the restaurants, at a fraction of the cost, and healthier. But as I'm growing in my courage in the kitchen, I'm trying other recipes that we once deemed only possible at restaurants. Sushi, indian food, lobster, steaks, salmon tartar.

Here's an example of recent things we've made at home, compared to what we've paid for the same meals at restaurants:

Pizza with gourmet toppings (serves 4)  - $30+ at a restaurant, $10 or less at home
Pasta Carbonnera (serves 2) - $30+ at a restaurant, $10 or less at home
Steak dinner (serves 2, high quality meat) - $50+ at a restaurant, $20 at home
Salmon tartar main course (serves 1) - $25 at a restaurant, $6 at home
Mussles in white wine cream sauce with baguette (serves 2) - $40 at a restaurant, $8 at home
Coffee and a muffin - $4+ at the drive-through/cafe, $1 or less at home.

When we first got married we had a budget of $0 to spend on eating out, ordering in, and driving-through. If you're serious about saving, that's a good place to start. Maybe you're the type to never go out to an expensive restaurant, but you hit the drive-through a few times a week for a coffee or a snack. This adds up! And the price hike on any food that's bought at convenience is enormous.

Aside from learning to cook great food (which anyone can do!), you need to be smart with buying groceries. Set a grocery budget and stick to it. No exceptions. We used to spend $75-100/week on groceries before kids, and now we spend around $150/week for a family of five. Here are some grocery tips:

  • Buy the generic brand for EVERYTHING. You'll save at least 20-40% on your food by doing this alone! 
  • Stock up on dry goods when they're on sale. Cereals, baking supplies, canned goods. 
  • Buy in bulk, sometimes. Costco has incredible prices, but make sure you'll use it all before it goes bad. And compare pricing with generic brands, because Costco only carries name brands so even their discounts aren't always cheaper than generic brands. 
  • Buy in season, and on special. I love peaches, but in the winter months they cost 3x the amount. So we only buy them in the summer. Bananas are cheap year-round, so we always have them.  If we want a more expensive item, we only buy it if it's on special.  
It's also good to keep in mind which foods are generally inexpensive, and learn to cook/bake with those. Flour and oats are incredibly cheap, so make your own tortillas, pizza dough, and baked goods. Other really cheap foods to buy and enjoy often:
  • bananas (we buy around 15-20 a week! in smoothies, on own, frozen and blended to make "ice cream")
  • lettuce (instead of buying ready-made boxes of salad, for sandwiches)
  • eggs (poached eggs, omelets, in baking, egg salad sandwiches)
  • ground meats (great for meat balls, burgers, dumplings; make sure to get lean)
  • bone-in meats
  • lemons and limes (salad dressings, marinades, seasonings for meats)
  • potatoes (so cheap and so filling, try roasted, mashed, grated potatoes in latkes, sweet potato pie, muffins)
  • apples (in baked goods, served with pork, on own)
  • canned corn, black beans, chick peas, etc (usually $1/can and great in salads)
One final tip to save on your grocery bill is to not spend anything on drinks. In the early years of our marriage we never bought alcohol. We love beer, wine, cocktails, but it was an added expense we couldn't justify when we were paying down debt. If we had guests over and they asked what they could bring, we'd always say WINE!!! and often we'd receive bottles of wine for birthday or Christmas gifts, but other than that we drank water. Juice is another big expense we avoided. $5/week turns into $20/month, turns into $240/year! That's a lot of date nights right there! Ice water with lemon or cucumber is refreshing and almost free. The bonus is, now when we have a beer or glass of wine at the end of the day, we feel filthy rich :)

I hope that's been helpful! Feel free to ask me any questions you might have. Next time I'll talk about saving on clothes! xo


  1. Anonymous8.9.15

    are you willing to share your grocery budget for a week? Thank you Jodi

  2. Stumbled across this Saving all the money series, really wise read. Question for you, how do you socialize with friends when so many get togethers involve going out for meals or getting coffee?