With the economy still in disarray more and more people are looking for ways to save money. One of the best areas to look at is food. Eating three meals a day can really add up if you’re not taking cost-efficient measures. Below are some tips on how to eat well on a budget.
Prepare Your Own Meals
When eating at a restaurant, you can easily spend $10-15 per meal if you figure in an appetizer, entrée, drink, tax and tip. When eating at home or bringing your lunch to work, you are only paying for the food itself, not the labor put into it. Not to mention, preparing your food allows you to know exactly what and how much is in it, allowing for more healthy and informed food choices. Cooking is therapeutic and is a great way to wind down your day. I often find that I have more time to cook on the weekends, so at times I will prepare meals that can be frozen, then during the week I can reheat the meals and enjoy them within minutes.
Sign up for Customer Loyalty & Rewards Programs
Many grocery stores offer these programs to their customers. Being a member provides discounts on select items, and, in addition, some stores offer the ability to add coupons to your account via their website. Once you purchase items at the store, not only can you receive a discount simply by having your membership card, but also an additional discount on top of that with the coupons you find online.
Choose Store Brands
Store brand items are usually cheaper than name brand items, and the quality and taste are very similar if not the same. Both typically contain the same ingredients.
Buy Dried Beans
Canned beans are cheap. The last time I checked, one 15-ounce can of black beans was $.89 ($.06/ounce). Dried beans, however, were $1.09 for a 16-ounce bag, which will provide about 3x the amount of a 15-ounce can once cooked (coming out to $.02/ounce). Not to mention, cooking your own beans will allow you to cut down on your salt intake as most canned items contain salt not only as a flavor agent but also a preservative.
Buy Frozen Produce
Fruits and vegetables are often cheaper frozen than fresh, and they are typically frozen at the height of their freshness, preserving their nutrients. Not to mention, some nutrients (i.e. beta carotene found in carrots) are sensitive to light and can be damaged when exposed. Therefore frozen carrots keep better than fresh, due to their typically opaque packaging. Produce is preserved for much longer simply by being frozen.
Buy from Ethnic Grocery Stores
Items such as coconut milk, oil, produce, rice, spices, tea and tofu can be purchased from various ethnic stores for much less than at a regular grocery store. For example, a 13.5-ounce can of coconut milk costs $2.19 at my local grocer, but costs $1.48 at an ethnic grocer. A 14-ounce package of tofu costs $2.99 at my local grocer, but costs only $1.38 for a 19-ounce package at an ethnic grocer. These types of items are staples in certain ethnic cooking and therefore, are sold for less.
Buy in Bulk
Buying in bulk is less expensive than buying only what you need. The higher the quantity, the lower the cost per unit. In contrast, the lower the quantity, the higher the cost per unit. Take almonds for example. If you were to purchase 5 pounds worth, a retailer would charge around $4.90/pound. If you bought 25 pounds, however, you would pay about $4.10/pound, and if you wanted to get crazy and buy 50 pounds (hey, maybe you like to make your own almond cheese and milk), you’d pay about $3.30/pound. Look for wholesale retailers in your area, as well as online. You can skip the 3rd party middle man and get better prices!
Buy Locally & in Season
Farmers Markets are a great way to obtain deals on produce. Not only is the food in season, it is local so the price is often less than that of a grocery store. Reason being that transportation costs are lower, and you are purchasing directly from the farmer rather than through a 3rd party middle man. Produce that is in season is cheaper as it is more widely available. Check out this helpful map to see what’s in season in your area.
Grow Your Own Food
If you have a yard, use it to your advantage by planting herbs and vegetables. Your food can’t get any fresher than this and it tastes much better than store-bought! If you don’t have a yard, any sunny, south-facing window will do. Various herbs and sprouts do wonderfully in this type of environment.
The average person consumes more than is necessary, resulting in excess weight gain. Your stomach is approximately the size of your fist so aim for eating only that amount per meal. Eat slowly so that you have time to chew and savor your food, and stop eating when you feel full. When you eat slowly you will notice sooner that you are full. I know it’s easy to keep eating because, come on, vegan food tastes so good, but be good and stop…your body and wallet will thank you!
Drink Tap Water
Did you know that bottled water is often just tap water? The cost of water is already included in your living expenses, so why not take advantage of it? Rather than purchasing bottled water and disposing of the containers when finished (we don’t need anymore plastic in our landfills), use a portable bottle (such as SIGG) and fill it with water from your tap. You can then bring it with you anywhere you go, and don’t have to worry about purchasing additional water.