Cooking On A Budget

Something that every budgeter needs to know is how to cook on a budget. Anyone can buy noodles or rice and make a 21 cent dinner but if you have a special diet or other health concerns or perhaps you just want to eat well while still saving money then you need to get creative.

Eating well while on a budget is definitely an art form - all the best ingredients are typically the most expensive ones as well but there are plenty of options for the thrifty and the crafty.

A great way to save is simply to shop around. Lots of people will simply go to one grocery store for all their food needs but just by simply heading to a few different stores instead of one you can find better deals and save a good amount of money. It also helps to know when stores place certain items on discount so that you can know when the best prices are going to be available.

It’s also a good idea to buy in bulk on the things that you use the most often or that wont go bad any time soon. I go through bags of flour when I bake faster than should be legal so I always drag my boyfriend to one of the big box stores to get him to load bigger bags of flour and sugar into my car and it usually saves me a big amount of money compared to the little packages of flour. However this method only works if you really use that much of what you’re buying. If you live by yourself and aren’t a big dairy fan then it’s probably not a good idea to buy milk in three gallon packages. It wont get used (unless you happen to have a fleet of very hungry cats hanging around) and then you’ll have wasted all that money. If you’re worried about wastefulness when buying in bulk then get a couple friends to go in on the purchases with you and divide up the goods when you’re done. That way you share the cost and nothing goes to waste.

One of the most expensive costs when cooking on a budget is always going to be produce. Produce is by far the biggest part of my budget and it makes a big difference where you buy it too so this isn’t an area you want to skimp out on. Having a good variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet can have a huge impact on your health (in a good way of course) and the quality of where you buy your produce will be really easy to tell if you decide to go cheap somewhere. So it’s worth the extra spending you might have to do to have tasty produce around - and it will improve your cooking enough to compensate for less than top notch products you may have bought in other areas.

There are however ways to save on your produce and still have good quality foods. The most inexpensive way is to grow your own. If you have space in your backyard that isn’t being used take advantage of it and grow your own vegetables, it can cut quite a bit off your monthly bill and you’ll appreciate your food a lot more - plus home grown vegetables are very tasty! Remember that even homes without gardens can still grow food. Try planters and pots and windowsills for growing herbs and all kinds of container-friendly vegetables, every little bit helps. If for some reason you aren’t the gardening type then look out into your area for local farms and use them instead of buying from the grocery stores.

Many farmers will do local sales at farmers markets or will have stands out in busy areas where you can purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. These are often less expensive than if you were to go to a grocery store, better quality (as they haven’t been shipped from who knows where) and you don’t have to grow it yourself. Many farmers also participate in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) which allows members of surrounding communities to purchase a “share” of a farm (usually on a yearly basis) and then in turn the get a share of the food that is grown. Often these are crates of food that are delivered weekly or bi-weekly and you typically choose the size of your share based on how many people are in your household. Some of these require that you come help out a certain number of hours but most don’t. Since you’re paying a flat rate for the growing season you don’t have to worry about price fluctuations and you’re getting fresh local food - can’t go wrong there.

Another way to save money when cooking is to eat what’s in season. The more out of a season an item is the farther it has to travel to get to your grocery store - which means it’s more expensive for you. In summer you can take the time to can a few different kinds of fruit which will then keep throughout the winter while you’re purchasing in season foods at the store and then you’ll still be able to have lots of variety.

It’s also wise when cooking on a budget to make foods that can be eaten well as leftovers for a few days or made into another dish as well. For example, once a week I’ll make a big dinner of chicken or turkey or roast beef and then the next day use any leftovers to make sandwiches or wraps to take to work for lunch. Little things like these can make a big difference to how far your budget goes and what kind of value you’re getting for your money.

You can also save money by the amount of effort you’re willing to put into your cooking. If you buy chicken with the skin on and bone in it’s cheaper than if you buy it already trimmed and all it takes is an extra five minutes of your time. Buying heftier cuts of meat makes a difference as well - they are less expensive and you can use them in soups and stews where the long slow simmer time will make them soft and tender.

There are plenty of ways you can save money while cooking just be smart and get creative with your shopping and you’ll be able to get more value for your money without sacrificing your diet or having to eat poorly.