There are only so many first dates you can go on so as to lower your grocery bills, right? There's got to be a better way. Especially since most dates are so traumatizing that afterwards, we generally want to curl up inside of a giant tub filled with Ben & Jerry's and/or spend a week at the Canyon Ranch Spa to recover... neither of which are very cheap.
Cutting back on the number of nights we eat out on our own dime is one way to go, but there's also no denying the benefits of eating at home. Even so, grocery bills sometimes astound us (Whole Paycheck, er, Whole Foods, anyone?). The truth is, meals can be expensive whether they're coming from a restaurant or from your kitchen, as food costs have skyrocketed over the past few years.
Luckily, we here at Broke Girl's Guide have discovered a bevy of ways to cut our grocery bills in half without resorting to dumpster-diving. Keep reading for 11 ways to drastically slash your grocery bills...
1. Weave One Fresh Ingredient Throughout Your Meals
Every broke girl hates it when the bunch of thyme or the pack of tomatoes she bought goes bad long before it's all been used. So, maximize your fresh ingredients by planning ahead -- our Dinner for One series shows exactly how to do this. For instance, this episode shows how to use pomegranate seeds through your entire meal (with a Pom Royale cocktail, a Pomegranate Cast Iron Pork Chop and a Blueberry & Pomegranate Shortbread Crumble), while the "Pizza Party" episode laces blackberries throughout the meal.
But don't stop at one meal! Whenever we buy fresh rosemary, we like to start our day with Rosemary & Parmesan Scrambled Eggs, eat a Turkey, Avocado, Basil and Rosemary Sandwich for lunch, and then have Roasted Rosemary Butternut Squash with dinner. Not only does this method prevent us from wasting food, but it encourages us to try new recipes!
2. Shop seasonally
When shopping for your fresh ingredients, always look for the ones that are in season; these herbs, fruits and veggies are at the peak of freshness, so they'll last longer than older ones. Plus, you get the most bang for your buck in terms of nutrients, and they tend to be cheaper because they're more readily available. If you have absolutely no idea what's in season when, simply refer to a chart like this one before hitting the store, or download one of these handy apps onto your phone.
3. Freeze Your Fruits & Veggies
Concerned that your berries will go bad before you can finish the ginormous pack you bought on impulse? Wondering what to do with the truckload of spinach you nabbed because it was on sale? Preserve your bounty! And no, we're not suggesting that you figure out home-canning and botulism-avoidance (unless that's your jam -- sorry, bad pun!). Read here for deets on freezing produce, and spend the afternoon with some Ziplock bags and a straw (we're calling this "vacuum sealed").
4. Freeze Herbs In Oil
So you laced rosemary throughout your meals all weekend, but the pack you bought appears to have been designed for an entire family (and not just any family, we're talking Octomom's family)? Don't fret -- just freeze. The trick for freezing herbs is to freeze them with oil in ice cube trays, like so. Next time you're cooking and need some herbs, just pop one of these ready-to-go cubes into the pan. Easy peasy!
5. Work That Green Thumb
If you are capable of keeping anything other than yourself alive (we know this is asking a lot), we highly suggest planting a couple of pots with fresh herbs to keep in your kitchen. Besides the fact that these little plants look cute and smell great, this is obviously the best way to keep fresh, on-demand herbs year-round, at a fraction of the price it would cost to buy them from the store. Simply snip off what you need for each meal.
6. Become a DIY Queen
We're the first to admit that we've had our fair share of DIY fails. While there are certain items we will always buy pre-made from the store or bakery (macaroons, we're looking at you), there are some traditionally packaged foods that are so simple to put together, you will feel silly buying them in stores once you've tried making them at home. This list of 10 easy DIYs is a great place to start: guac, pasta sauce, salad dressing, burgers and more are a snap to make yourself, not to mention a great way to save money. We would add hummus to this list, as well as bread (seriously -- all you need is flour, yeast, salt and a Dutch oven), along with really simple/obvious things like trail mix. You can do it. We know you can.
Honestly, even going just a tiny bit DIY of can help you save. For instance, buying whole chickens, cheese, and vegetables and then cutting them up yourself (in lieu of purchasing the pre-cut stuff) will shave dollars off of your grocery bill. Let other people pay for the convenience!
7. Make Cheap & Healthy Basics the Foundation of Your Dining
Always have plenty of the following on hand: brown rice, whole-wheat or multigrain pasta, old-fashioned oats, frozen veggies, canned beans, potatoes, canned tuna, yogurt, eggs and dried lentils. Not only are these foods nutritious and filling, but they generally cost less than $2. You can use these basics in a wide variety of recipes, from Overnight Oats to Tuna Salad Bruschetta to White Bean and Kale Soup. Just use your favorite online recipe search tool for a little inspiration.
8. Make the Most of the Randos
About once a week, survey what you've got on hand -- especially noting anything perishable -- and toss together a salad, soup, frittata or stir-fry -- all of which are great (and very affordable) ways to use up odds and ends. Use the basics you've kept on hand, like beans and rice, to fill out the meal.
9. Beef: Maybe It Shouldn't Be What's For Dinner
Listen, we like meat just as much as next girl (we grew up in Texas, after all!). But we know that the production of meat is not great for the environment, we know we should all probably cut back on our consumption of animal-based products, and we know that we can save a lot of money in doing so.
Since beef is the biggest offender all around (and the most expensive), try subbing cheaper meats into your beef-based recipes. Ground turkey is a no-brainer substitute for burgers, but did you know you can also ask the butcher to grind up chicken breast (or thigh!) meat for you?
You can also try swapping meat for beans or lentils as your protein source every so often to save money. Need a little meatless inspiration? Try one of our favorite veggie or vegan recipes.
However, if you're dead-set on grilling, and don't think that grilled portobello mushrooms with chipotle mayo can cut it, we advise marinating cuts of top round (tri-tip, hanger steak, or skirt steak), which have more muscle than more expensive cuts. Just be sure to cook them no more than medium-rare or rare!
10. Diversify Your Dairy
Here we go again, crazy California hippies preaching about vegan-ing up your world! But seriously, it's not rocket science that the factors that make beef expensive also apply to milk products. Personally, we'll never stop loving cheese, so we've had to figure out how to outfox those price tags over the years. Try swapping cottage cheese for ricotta (add a drop of honey for that added sweetness) in desserts and lasagne (or toast, like we do!) or thick yogurt for sour cream. Plus, did you know that it's crazy easy to make homemade soy milk? Grab some soybeans (cheap and de-shelled in the frozen aisle!) and try this recipe on for size. We're also big fans of DIYing almond milk. Finally, lots of people swear by making their own yogurt, but don't yell at us if it's a disaster -- we can't say we've tried it!
11. Outsmart the Grocery Store
Avoid the middle of the shelf! The best bargains are often on the lowest shelves or sometimes on the top shelves--basically, stores try to hide the better deals (very sneaky). Also, keep in mind that the flashy displays at the end of each aisle are not always bargains.
Another tip to keep in mind is that if a store is offering several items for one price, such as a three-for-$4 sale, you usually don't have to buy all three items to get the sale price. (But note: if the offer is "buy-one-get-one-free," you do in fact have to buy one in order to get the second one free. Nice try, guys.)
We also urge you to make use of the bulk items that are sold in the big bins. Prices on those items are less expensive than packaged items, and you can buy only what you need. If you rarely bake, for example, you can buy one cup of flour instead of buying a five-pound bag that will just go to waste.
Finally, don't fall prey to overpriced single-serving sizes. Re-package your own yogurt, applesauce, chips, pretzels and more to save major money.