How Do You Save Money on Groceries?

| 2/22/2011 3:45:06 PM

Tags: question to readers, food cost,

Save Money On Groceries
We asked you recently how you save money on groceries without compromising quality. Hundreds of readers shared a buffet of interesting tips, including one reader who "asks my Mom to buy me groceries" (Brennan Gage of Austin, Texas), and another who stopped buying meat to save money but "slathers everything in cheese instead" (Jim Cassius in Madison, Wis.).

Most folks we talked with know that cooking and growing your own food is the best place to start, and they round out the cost savings by buying in bulk, preserving food and planning meals conscientiously. What follows are some of our favorite nuggets of advice. Go forth and save!   

Neighborly Advice 

Relying on neighbors strengthens social capital in your community, and may keep some capital in your pocketbook, too.

  • Holly Best Parker splits a share in a community supported agriculture (CSA) program with pals in Little Rock, Ark.
  • Patty Hoth gleans fruit from neighbors who have fruit trees with extra to spare in Decatur, Ga.
  • Linda Albonico trades her home-canned soups, salsas and jams for wild game and fish caught by her buddies in Spring Lake, Mich.
  • Marci Hallock of Tillamook, Ore., gets bones from hunting-and-fishing friends, and transforms them into nutritious stocks and broths.
  • Anna Gattuso operates a “micro co-op” by buying large quantities of items, such as fair-trade coffee and boxed wine, that she splits with fellow students at the University of Memphis.
  • MOTHER EARTH NEWS Assistant Editor Jennifer Kongs volunteers for a farmer every Saturday at the farmers market in Lawrence, Kan. She gets paid in leftover produce, and enough seconds to supply her with canned goods for the winter!
  • Carmin Simons (Goddard, Kan.) and Jean Coruscant (Missoula, Mont.) contacted their local police departments to add themselves to the list of takers who are called when a deer is killed by a vehicle. They have to pick up the deer and have it processed, but the resulting venison burgers are to die for.

More Is More 

Incorporating items that add bulk to meals is a quick way to save while boosting nutrition and the number of servings.

  • Missy T. of Forth Worth, Texas, tosses all manner of odds-and-ends, such as leftover scraps of veggies, into delicious, easy stir-fries.
  • Kelly Evans of Oceanside, Calif., often cooks with “fillers” (such as rice, celery and onions) that add flavor and texture to dishes.
  • Diana Nelson Varnes of Montague, Texas, adds oats, brown rice and potatoes to dishes that call for a filling.
  • Mandy Lange of Boise, Idaho, sometimes substitutes beans for meat in recipes.
  • Though he admits he’s “easily a little more bean-crazy than the next guy,” Keith Berner has promised to host “Bean Fest 2011” in Brooklyn, N.Y., to spread some of the bean love he got directly from a local farmer in the form of a cost-efficient, 50-pound bag of dry beans.
  • While sipping on a pricey glass of wine at a restaurant in Alexandria, Va., Jenny Noble Anderson suddenly gasped, “This is the equivalent of four bottles of Trader Joe’s budget wine! Two Buck Chuck, my friends. Husband aside, the only man that never lets me down!”

Post your own suggestions in the comments section below!


desiree mandelbaum
4/19/2011 8:17:05 PM

Hi Guys, My name is Desiree Mandelbaum, and I am a Casting Director for a new docu-series about people who "Eat for free". I was curious about fallen fruit, it looks awesome. I was referred to you guys by Would you be interested in speaking with me? We are casting nationwide and would LOVE to get in contact with people, and see there different techniques on eating for free. Attached is our written verbiage about our casting. Thoughts? Thanks, Desiree Mandelbaum Casting Director "Untitled Eating For Free Project" All-new Docu-Reality Series Seeking People who eat for FREE! Do you get a thrill out of spending little to no money on food? Do you dedicate your life to scoring meals in clever ways? Have you perfected the art of dumpster diving, coupon clipping to an obsessive degree, or bartering your way to a full stomach? Do you crash events, meetings and open houses just for the free feast? This all-new series for a major cable network will explore the lives of people who have mastered the art of eating for free. We will follow individuals who dedicate their lives to acquiring food in crafty ways and revel in the thrill of their success. If you are a resourceful renegade who has forged a way of living that enables you to eat practically for free, whatever your reason/strategy may be, We want to meet you! To be considered, please send us your name and contact info, along with a brief bio explaining your specific situation and app

3/5/2011 11:01:31 AM

Having to budget has really taught me how to save money on the natural, organic foods I like. I used to buy all pre-made packaged natural organic foods, very expensive- now I make them myself! I go to the bulk section and load up on organic flours (oat, wheat, rice, etc.), nuts, etc. and make my own bakery- my recipes don't have artificial ingredients and are mostly organic. I have founds some great gluten-free recipes too. I cook with dried beans every week and bought a dehydrator! I never was one much for baking, but knowing I'm saving money and giving my family healthy food (that they say tastes better than anything bought) has made it a lot of fun! We raise our own chickens and two steer- selling extras to make a little money. Our family is eating better now than before when we had more money and I have more fun cooking! (I even make my own laundry and dish detergents and cleaning supplies!)

annette campbell
3/2/2011 10:48:59 PM

Hi Tabitha, I like your idea that we need to leverage our neighborhood or social capital to reduce our expenses and increase our savings. Although we may be shy knocking on doors in our neighborhood, we can also reach out to our neighbors online. Through, you can invite your neighbors or find people interested in bulk buying and splitting expenses near your area. The site is new but it has useful features that can help people organize the logistics of mini-cooperatives, or for community volunteers to spread the word out, about their bulk purchase deals with local farmers without maintaining their own website. So hopefully, people who see the benefits of taking your neighborly advice’ to reduce their expenses will also consider SplitStuff and get their neighbors and friends on it and start splitting stuff. All the best, Annette Campbell

matrix man
2/27/2011 5:27:05 PM

Not sure how others feel about it but our animals eat well and look good and we do to. Try it! Go and buy a $7 to $10 bag of corn from your feed store and cook it then can it and you have great whole corn and cream corn. That is right! At the feed store you can buy a 50 lb bag of whole and rolled corn for pennies and it is good for you as well as for your animals. We buy 50 lb bags and lasts 3 to 4 months for us canned and cooked fresh. My kids love it. They dont eat the corn we buy in the can for a dollar but they eat this feed corn like it is going out of style. It is kind of like buying a bag of beans. You still have to wash it and sort it right well the corn is the same but not much to sort. The stuff we get is clean and tastes great! To buy it in the store, you would pay over $100 to get the same for people. We say screw that and pay no more then $10.00 for better corn from feed store. lol

2/26/2011 7:41:00 PM

i grow as much as I can, shop from other local growers, only use whole foods, grind my own grains into flour, make everything from scratch including crackers and chips, buy in bulk when I can get the best prices. Fish in our own lake and trap and hunt on our own property. Trade with neighbors! Swap my homemade cheeses & butter for the neighbors homemade hams & bacon.

keith karolyi
2/26/2011 6:09:42 PM

Before I had a place to garden, I would purchase all of my seasonal produce at the local farmers markets in bulk and can, dry, pickle and freeze everything for the winter pantry. In truth, I was doing it to prepare for the day I could grow my own food but the experience gave me the bonus of saving a TON of money over buying everything in prepared form. Another advantage it gave me was that I could control everything that went into whatever I cooked so I never had to worry about "mystery" ingredients. I also buy my flour, yeast and sugar in bulk, bake my own bread and roast much, but not all of my own coffee beans which I buy green from a local Arabic market in Dearborn. It's amazing the flavors coffee has when it's fresh roasted that week and ground before you use it! I'll admit the coffee costs a little more but it's worth it!

carmen ortiz
2/26/2011 7:20:56 AM

I bake sourdough bread every week - flour, salt, water and starter. ($6.00 initial investment for the starter, a few pennies a week to maintain.) I learned to make cheese - very cheap. I grow many vegetables and fruits, sell the extras at the farmer's market (berries sell for a premium and are extremely inexpensive to grow, with very little care) or trade with other sellers. I cook 90% from scratch and can quite a bit. I just found a recipe for pickled vegetables which I actually like and will use to can vegetables that don't store well. I eat a lot of root vegetables during winter, some I never tried before because I was a food snub (ex: use to think turnips, rutabaga = pig food). I love meat (on sale 40% off) so I eat one serving a day, mostly chicken which I buy on bulk sale a few times a year. (I couldn't eat an animal that's family.) Servings are usually about 2-3oz cut up in very small pieces to fool myself. I buy on sale and only things that I like and store well. My food budget? $40.00 a month. All extra goes to pay off the house.

nathan g
2/25/2011 10:13:04 PM

Try making homemade bread! It's really not that hard. My wife and I make two loaves once a week using the "5 Minute Artisan Bread" concept. We make a 1/2 whole grain/ 1/2 white flour recipe that will get us through a week. It takes less than 20 min total time. We cook both loaves at the same time to cut down on propane, then throw one in the freezer.

jessi rhea
2/25/2011 6:51:19 PM

This is something I feel very strongly about. To be honest, my husband and I are dirt poor, but we look and feel healthier than most people we meet who are better off than us financially. On our little piece of rented land, we raise chickens and milk goats (rabbits soon to come!), and manage a small garden. We may spend about $50-$75 a month on groceries, and another $50 or so on animal feed (which includes food for 2 dogs). We buy beans and rice in bulk, and flour enough so I can make a constant supply of bread. That forms the basis of our diet, but the garden supplies all the fresh vegetables we can eat. The chickens lay enough for us to have eggs every day with some left over for a supplement for the dogs. The goats produce just enough milk for the two of us, and their male babies fill our freezer. We almost never go hungry, and we're not filling our bodies with the processed junk that most people in our economic situation subsist on. When there's a little extra money, we spend it on things like nuts and all-natural peanut butter. These things help give us the protein and calories we need to perform our labor-intensive job at a landscaping nursery. Aside from eating a low-sugar, chemical free diet, I can feel good that I'm not supporting the modern factory-farm industry and other big agribusinesses that are ruining our bodies and our lands. With the state of our country being what it is, it would behoove us all to learn to eat well on less.

jane phillips
2/25/2011 4:12:10 PM

To save on our food bill, we grow all our own fruits and veggies and can, freeze and dehydrate them. I usually can over 1000 jars a year. We also grow chickens for eggs and meat, turkeys, our pond is fully stocked with fish, plus we go fishing on camping trips and we hunt deer, rabbit and squirrels. We also purchase organic hogs. We butcher all the meat ourselves. We can it, freeze it, smoke it, make our own sausages, bacon, brats, jerky, etc. I make all our bread and pasta. What little bit we do buy, we buy in bulk and buy organic. We figure that what we are saving on all the other foods, we can afford to spend a little more for organic. It is good to know that we aren't eating chemicals, hormones, additives and the other junk in foods today and the flavor is outstanding!!! It is alot of work but very rewarding in many ways.

anna pry
2/25/2011 3:16:07 PM

I swapped out lentils for hamburger in tacos this week and could hardly tell the difference! Tons cheaper.

linda robles
2/25/2011 2:21:24 PM

since I consider my pets food to be part of the grocery bill, that is where I've cut back. we have 3 dogs, 5 if you count the ones from nextdoor, and 11 chickens. there is a dented can store near us and they save all of their outdated babyfood for me. babyfood is so strictly regulated that it can't be sold even if it is 1 month over the expire date. Lucky me!! our chixs eat better than us with all of the surplus we get. since it would go to the trash and all of that pkg. would go to the landfill we can also recycle. so not only are we saving $$ on animal food, dogs eat this stuff too, we can be sure that all of that pkg. goes to be recycled. for us its a win win situation!!! plus the chix lay more eggs since they consume so many vitamins in the formula.

anne meurer
2/25/2011 12:49:31 PM

I keep hearing"organic is too expensive for me". It isn't, if you stick to basic food, that are in season, and are growing in your neck of the woods. Totals at the checkout might be two or three dollars more, in your total order. It is better to have less amounts of organic, than more of pesticides. Stay away from anything in a box, full of chemicals, and cost a lot besides. Eat real food.

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