How To Save Money on Food

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The following article is by MPFJ staff writer, Miss T from Prairie Eco-Thrifter. If you want to learn how to live your dream life in a sustainable, healthy, and money savvy way, check out her site here.

I don’t know about you, but I find that food is one of the biggest items in my budget. Whether it’s the weekly grocery shopping, eating out, snacks for the kids on weekends or going to Farmer’s Markets, I always seem to be shelling out money for food! And, it seems to get more expensive every month. There has to be a way to save money in the pantry, I thought, so I did some research.

Financial experts are keen to tell us that eating out is expensive, and one great way to save money is to reduce or limit these occasions. We all know that take-out food is expensive, considering what you are getting, and so avoiding this type of food is also a way of saving. We are pretty health-conscious in our household, so there’s never been a lot of take-out or pre-prepared food consumed, but we do like to enjoy the occasional meal out as a family. We seek out reasonably-priced establishments that offer good quality food and we enjoy our dinner nights about twice a month. Apart from this, all our meals are prepared and cooked at home.

Cook at Home

So, most of these pantry money-saving tips are concerned with eating at home. I’ve found this to be the most cost-effective way of eating and certainly the best method for ensuring we eat healthy, nutritionally-balanced meals and snacks. So the first tip is this – cook at home most of the time and enjoy the money you’ll save as well as the pleasure of creating dishes in your own kitchen.

Of course, if you’re going to cook at home, you’re going to need to shop for basic ingredients. I found that buying the products to make a dish from scratch is so much cheaper than buying similar ready-made meals from the supermarket. Importantly, I like to know what my family is eating and making meals at home means I have control over what ingredients are used.

Buy Generic When Possible

I have learned that well-known brand name goods are not always better than generic brand goods. This especially applies to canned vegetables and fruits, pasta, flour and sugar. If they taste the same and look the same, why pay more for the brand-name? This is one of the most important ways I save money in the pantry. Do some comparisons for yourself and save.

Plan a Weekly Menu and Use it to Create/Stick to List While at the Supermarket

The best way to avoid over-spending on things you don’t need is to plan a weekly menu. We do this as a family so that everyone gets a say in what we eat and we plan at least one new dish each week. This means we don’t get bored with our food and we are experimenting with new tastes. Once you have the menu, you can write up a shopping list for the things you’ll need.

Going to the market with a list is a vital step in saving money. Buy what you need and stick to the list. This means that your list needs to include everything you will need and nothing you won’t. So, allow the time to make your list at home where you can check what supplies you have already in the pantry. I have a list of staples that are needed most weeks like toilet paper, washing powder, sugar, flour, pasta, rice, butter, cheese, bread etc. These are permanently on the list and then I add whatever else I need.

I have a rule when grocery shopping – I can only buy 10% of the total on items not on the list and these usually end up being regular items that are on special. This keeps my grocery budget in check while still allowing me to take advantage of store specials. This is another way of saving money in the pantry – take advantage of specials but only when it is an item you usually buy.

Buying in Bulk

Buying in bulk is a great way of saving money too, but be sure that you will be able to use the whole amount before it goes stale. Buying more than you can use fresh is just wasted money. The best bulk buys are those that have a long shelf life or are non-perishables. Bigger packages are often cheaper, per ounce, than smaller packets of the same product but the same rule applies – you must be able to use it all before it goes off.

Buying from Local Farmer’s Markets

We love to go to local (and sometimes, not so local) farmer’s markets to buy fresh produce. I love that I can talk to the farmer who grew the food and know that it has been freshly picked, dug, laid, or butchered. Most of our fresh produce comes from this type of outlet, which means we are eating in season when the produce is at its most nutritious and hasn’t traveled loads of food miles. Because it is so fresh, it lasts really well, several times longer than store-bought fruit and vegetables. This equates to excellent value for money because there is no waste.

Buy Boxes of Produce to Process Community Style with Friends and Neighbors

Another money-saving tactic I use with a group of friends and neighbors is to buy boxes of produce for processing. We might buy boxes of stone fruit and either bottle it or stew and freeze it. Tomatoes are dried, bottled, or made into sauce to provide a supply for months of home cooking. We get together to process the fresh produce and enjoy a wonderful community atmosphere.

Try Your Hand at Growing Your Own Food

Growing some of your own food is another way to save money on food. Even if you only have a small patio or balcony, you can still grow a few herbs or easy vegetables like spinach or tomatoes that don’t take up much room. We are also lucky enough to be able to keep a few hens, so we have fresh eggs for some of the year as well as the advantage of their rich manure to feed back to the garden.

Don’t Buy Items You Already Have!

You need to know exactly what is in your pantry at any given time to avoid wastage and double-buying. Invest in different sizes of plastic or glass containers that are all the same shape so that your pantry is easy to organize and you can see at a glance what you have and what is getting low. Most foods keep better in solid containers rather than in boxes or bags and so you will have less spoiled food as well.

Have a Once a Month ‘Eat from the Pantry Night’

Another great money-saving strategy that a friend of mine has introduced is a once a month ‘eat from the pantry’ night. Using her cooking knowledge and some creativity, she comes up with a meal that uses up items that have been in the pantry for a while. Some of these meals have become legendary! Another friend has taken this a step further; one week a month, she refuses to shop for food and will only use what she already has in her pantry or freezer. Think of how much money you would save if you only did supermarket shopping three weeks out of four!

Take Advantage of the Convenience and Cost Savings of Freezing Leftovers

Here’s a few final quick tips for saving money in your pantry – freeze leftovers for a quick snack or meal-for-one; preserve the abundance in season from your own garden; swap your produce with a friend or neighbor to increase variety; buy fresh produce in season when it is plentiful and cheaper and blanch and freeze for use out-of-season. 

Hopefully you will find some tips in this article that you can use yourself and help lower your food bills.

How about you all? How do you save money on food? 

Share your experiences by commenting below!

    ***Photo courtesy of


    1. myfijourney says:

      I cook most of my own food. I'm not sure if this saves me money vs buying processed frozen dinners, but it's certainly healthier.

      I'll buy maybe 80% generics. Some foods I just hate the generic version. I am particularly picky regarding yogurt. And some generic brands I simply refuse to buy because of their low quality. I'm looking at you, Great Value.

      I don't buy in bulk. It's just too much food for a single guy in a one bedroom apartment. I've tried to buy some things in bulk before and they either take up too much space or go bad before I can finish them.
      My recent post 6 Ways to Understanding the True Costs of Your Stuff

      • Thanks for reading myfijourney! I have thought about buying in bulk from Costco or Sam's Club, but I haven't pulled the trigger on that yet since I don't think the fiance and I would go through the food fast enough! haha
        My recent post Deciphering the Cash-Back "Code" of the Chase BP Visa Pump Rewards Card

    2. Buying bulk can sometimes be deceiving, because you're spending more than you usually would to get more groceries than you usually would. There are a ton of different ways to save money on food. Here is one of my articles about saving money on milk….
      My recent post Best TurboTax Discount Codes and Coupons

      • Very true! Especially if you don't use the bulk amount and have to throw it out! 🙂
        My recent post Deciphering the Cash-Back "Code" of the Chase BP Visa Pump Rewards Card

    3. Don't forget to use coupons lol! Great article!

      • Thanks for reading Tai and Tarin! Coupons definitely deserve a place on the list!
        My recent post Should Short-Term or Intermediate-Term Bonds Make Up Your Fixed Income Asset Allocation?

    4. Jenny@FrugalGuru says:

      If you’re buying packaged goods, couponing usually saves more than buying generic, if you do it right. But if you’re not couponing, generic is usually the better option.

      I’ve found that I have NEVER saved on olive oil with couponing over the very best store sales. But I’ve saved over generic on things as “generic” as flour (which really isn’t that generic–if you bake, different flours have different protein contents, which does matter).

      • Thanks for sharing Jenny! I was operating under the assumption that if you used coupons to purchase brand name goods, you would end up paying about on par or maybe a little above generic items.

        • Jenny @ FrugalGuru says:

          I’ve gotten 20+ boxes of cereal for better than free.

          Other things I’ve gotten for free include toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, floss, soy sauce, and soup. 🙂

          If you’re choosy, there are great deals out there. You just have to make sure that you’re using time wisely. It might feel great to get paid $.24 to take four packages of floss out of Wal-mart, but is it really worth the trip? If it’s your hobby, then fine, but if you are doing it to save money, sometimes it’s worth it to pass even on freebies.

          • Well said. Thanks Jenny!
            My recent post Creating Your Own Three Legged Stool for Retirement – How Much of Your Investments Should be in Tax-Deferred, Taxable, and Tax-Free Accounts?

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