Many can not afford to spend whatever they want to fill the freezer and fridge. They have to carefully watch the spending and make cheap, stretchy meals.
If you have a low budget for food, how do you keep your expense low? Share your tricks to spend less with our community and readers.
Figure out first how much you have to spend say every week..
Then inventory what you have and then figure out what you need to create meals from what you already at home..
3rd create a list of meals your family likes this will be your go to list so you don't have to remember everytime....(this will help with menu planning and it will help w/ shopping...
4th--casseroles & soups tend to stretch limited items to get more out of them
5th--When beans can be used in meals use them half and half w/ meat that is what we do...example would be Tacos use half lentils and half ground meat season the beans and hamburger both w/taco mix..Now you created 2 meals from one pound of meat plus you could used the other half in say some baked Ziti w/lots of veggie to stretch a meal..
Also figure out what is the best way to use said items example...if you have a pound of say hamburger is best to make just burgers not really it may be better to make say spaghetti since you can get more meals out of a pound of meat/jar of sauce and some noodles....
I know people tend to harp on this a lot - but portion control makes a massive difference to the budget. Here in the US we're so used to portion sizes that are way out of balance with what we really need to eat. I started losing weight just watching my portions. Instead of putting out serving dishes on the table, we've started eating at the kitchen bar and I fill our plates at the stove then bring them over. Anyone who wants seconds is always welcome to them, but often times that one plate is enough. It's a very "out of sight out of mind" kind of trick...I know I'm personally less likely to go for a second helping of something if the serving dish isn't infront of me tempting me to have a few more bites. ;) Now that can be packaged up for lunch the next day, or frozen for a meal another time.
Also doing the opposite of what we're used to - meat as a side and veggies as the main dish. I always fill our plates full of a few different kinds of vegetables and leave a quarter of the plate for meat.
Growing up bread & butter was a must at every meal, and now that I've started baking my own it is especially! A slice of warm bread with some butter goes a long way toward filling a stomach on the cheap.
A few recommendations I can make:
- Learn to coupon. While you may not be able to get meat, fresh produce & milk with coupons (a frequent complaint) - you CAN get items like spices, seasonings, canned goods, health/beauty items, laundry items, etc., that will save on the rest of your budget & free up more money for that meat, produce & dairy. The keys are: being organized, and using coupons on items already on sale or markdown. That's how you get things free or nearly free, and develop a nice stockpile. I personally use a binder for my coupon organization, and I check several of the local online coupon sites to do the "match ups" for me, to save time.
- Shop Aldi if you have one near you. I like to stock up on frozen vegetables, canned goods, and I buy most of my dairy items there.
- Learn prices of items you typically purchase, and watch your local grocery store sale ads. Most come out on Wednesdays.
I agree with both of you and recently have noted what Jess has. Eating twice my caloric needs for the day, then struggling to burn it off at the gym...2 unneeded expenses. I don't ration food below needs, but for years I ate more than I needed. Eating the right amount saves $ and makes it easier to figure out the cost per serving when I'm buying.
I also do inventories now and then and work with what I've got. Since my CSA started delivering greens that gives me a focus for any new shopping to be done...it has to work with the current inventory and/or greens.
I'm also saving money by focussing on eggs. I eat a "left overs frittata" most mornings for breakfast. If there are no left overs then it's a "fresh stuff" frittata. The eggs are pastured and local so not super cheap ($3.50/dozen right now for something larger than "large" from the store), but ARE super healthy and they store forever. I've rarely had left overs last beyond a day or two by doing this and I dont' feel the need to snack before lunch. Both of those things save $$. I'm buying much less meat since I started with the eggs. With the CSA going fulll blast by next month, eggs and fruit and a bit of meat will be about the only food I'm buying each week.
I agree with portion control being an issue. It is in our own best interests for health and cost to not over eat.
That being said though, the person in our house who eats the largest portions is underweight. He eats for energy, weight gain and muscle mass. He does pay for some of his own food though.
Health issues and such can change how we look at food, what we choose but also we spend too. If I was not mindful of sales, stocking up and meal planning from my freezer and pantry stock, we would spend far more than we do.
I would look to nutritional density for someone on a budget. A lot of times, when people are on a tight budget, they are also working very long and hard hours. Simple nutritionally complete meals not only save money but time and energy.
I used to work with a guy who lived on a very small food budget but was the picture of health. Every week he made himself a large pot of pilaf. It was basically brown rice, beans, ground meat, and spices cooked together and he'd pack a big Tupperware of that for lunch every day with a large spinach salad drizzled with oil and vinegar. He said he just went to Costco and bought a large bag of baby spinach, a bag of rice and beans, and a tray of ground beef or turkey. He'd have to buy more spinach each week, but with those staples he had a complete and well rounded diet for very little money - albeit monotonous. I think he ate oatmeal for breakfast, drank water, had a cup of coffee when needed, and ate apples or bananas for fruit because they were cheap.
The pilaf he ate was a lot like one we make around here. I make it with less meat and its very delicious (especially with a few dashes of hot sauce!)
In the same vein, I like simple meals like bean, rice, and cheese, or bean, rice, and meat burritos. You can make them cheaply, batch cook them, freeze them and have them on hand all the time. And they are good for you. You can fill in the gaps with vegetables or fruit as you find them on sale - fresh, canned, or frozen - but a good bean, rice, and cheese burrito will carry you for a few hours.
I also agree with eating more eggs. Even factory eggs nutritionally are better for you than processed junk. Scrambled eggs and buttered toast are good just about any time of day. Or you can make your own yogurt in the crockpot for a few cents for breakfast or snack.
Back when I was a struggling single gal living on about $20 a week for food, I would make simple meals like macaroni and cheese with tuna and frozen broccoli, chili beans cooked with frozen stir-fry vegetables over brown rice, spaghetti with turkey meat sauce, and bake homemade bread for sandwiches. I also made a lot of soups - vegetarian or seasoned with a small amount of meat for flavor. And I ate fruit mostly instead of sweets.
Mrs O makes a great point. When I was the most broke I purchased based on calories per dollar (too much sugar and flour) and wished for greens and protein. Sucked.
I now have more opportunities to gather wild foods which can really help with the nutrient density. There are mushrooms and berries along a trail right by my office. I'm taking a free "which mushrooms are safe" class from the extension office next week so I can start gathering those safely. They don't have many calories, but they change things up quite a bit.