If you couldn’t tell already, food is one of my favorite things in the world. Food connects people, food is creative and vibrant, it is comforting and exciting, and trying new foods can bring you a sense of adventure, and so on and so forth. I am a foodie through and through and one of my greatest joys in life is making sure that my little familia is well fed.
Another important thing about me is that I live on a very tight budget. My husband is working on his doctorate degree and also as a research assistant which means we are on a student income. I work part time from home which also brings in some income, but not much at the moment. So how do we eat as well as we do when we actually barely make enough money each month to cover our bases? Today I will share 8 of my best tips with you so that you too can eat well on a tiny budget!
1) Plan out your grocery list in one week increments
Pick a day to sit down and plan out everything you are going to put into your and your family’s mouth the next week. If that sounds overwhelming to you, it might be the first and second time you do it but in the long run it will save you so much money because you took the time to plan it all out. It works best if you plan to eat the same breakfast all week long, eat the same or similar lunches each day for that week, and cook enough dinner that you can split it between two nights (less time cooking!), and plan to make or buy a few snacks everyone can munch on in between meals if necessary. You can read how I meal plan right HERE.
2) Buy one specialty item a week
I titled this how to eat well on a shoestring budget because I want you to literally feel like you are eating an exciting variety of foods and trying new things week to week. Each week pick one special or more expensive item to incorporate into your weekly cooking/eating. For instance that could mean a fancy cheese to eat with crackers, or an organic chicken to cook for dinner that will last two nights, or perhaps you want to try an intriguing Asian dish that involves forbidden (or black) rice. These items are a little bit more of a splurge, but if you buy only one item a week like this it makes your cooking more exciting and keeps you on budget.
3) Don’t be afraid of clearance food items or discounted produce
Just because food or produce is in the clearance or discount section that doesn’t mean it’s gone bad or it is going to make you sick. In fact stores would not knowingly mark an item down that has gone bad to sell to a customer because then they might get in legal trouble. If it’s bad, a store will toss it. I have found specialty olive oils that the store maybe just isn’t selling well marked down from $20 to $5, organic seasonal tomatoes marked down from $5 a pint to $2 because they are getting a little bit soft, and coconut milk yogurts that will have their sell by date coming up within the next couple days for 50 cents instead of $1.78 each. You can find some nice quality, normally expensive items for a great deal if you just look.
4) Eat seasonally as much as possible
Seasonal items, most specifically produce, is cheaper because there is more of it to go around during its season, thus stores sell it for a cheaper price. For instance zucchini and squash will likely be cheaper in the summer because that is the best season for it to grow. Butternut squash and pumpkin will be cheaper in the fall because that is their growing season. Another great option is to find a local farm/orchard that has open picking hours. It is berry season right now up in the upper peninsula of Michigan and we have berry farms all around where we can go pick a pound of berries for a fourth of what they would cost in the store. It really is so fabulous!
5) Buy staples in bulk
It is often cheaper to buy basic staples in bulk. The cost upfront will be more but over time you will save a lot of money. Many stores will have not only the price of the product but the price per ounce. For instance a 1 pound bag of rice might cost you $1.48 and a 5 pound bag will cost you $3.32 which means the 1 pound bag costs .0925 cents an ounce and the 5 pound bag costs .0415 cents an ounce. What will save you money in the long run? I buy rice, beans, nuts, honey, and dried fruit in bulk and we save money each year because of this.
6) Look for the cheapest option and compare the ingredients to the most expensive option
Let’s say you are looking for a can of coconut milk for a recipe. You get to the store and there are four options of canned coconut milk. Is there a difference in ingredients that makes it worth it to buy the more expensive one or will the cheapest one work? Sometimes the cheaper option will include a filler or an undesirable additive, but often times the cheaper option is the exact same thing as the expensive option. Look at labels, look at ingredients, and don’t just assume the more expensive one is better.
7) Set a budget and ACTUALLY stick to it
Sit down and analyze your income and what you can spend on your groceries each week. Pick a budget that works for you and stick to it. It is as simple as that!
8) Try to make half of your meals plant based each week
When you eliminate the cost of dairy and meat you end up saving a lot on your grocery bill. If you are open to trying a more plant based diet try planning at least half of your meals to be meat free and dairy free. There are so many wonderful plant based recipes for every meal of the day that you can find online. Cooking with beans, nuts, vegetables, grains, fruits, and spices is healthiest for you, the environment, and your budget!