Tuesday, May 26, 2020

100 Frugal Food Tips

Many news sources are reporting big jumps in the price of food, mostly due to the pandemic and supply chain issues.  While we haven't seen that happen here yet, it may be because we are usually super frugal when it comes to food everyday, not just during a crisis.  Here are a bunch of tips for saving money on food...

  1. If you qualify, apply for SNAP benefitsIf you have kids, apply for WIC.  Especially during this difficult time, apply for any help you qualify for!
  2. Hit up food banks, food pantries, and other free meal sites.  
  3. If you qualify, sign your kids up for free or reduced meal plans at school.  This is a great way to stretch your food and food dollars for those who qualify.
  4. Ask friends and relatives for food if necessary (most parents would love to give their kids any food they need, even if said kid was 50 years old!).  
  5. See if your community has food share/private food donation systems in place.  There are also Facebook pages for this!
  6. Start a small, inexpensive, garden.  If you don't have room at your home for this, look into community garden plots.
  7. Google for free seeds and other freebies for your garden.
  8. If you aren't into gardening, consider sprouting and re-growing food scraps which are simple activities that require very little work on your part.
  9. Ask to glean farmer's fields after the harvest.  Even neighbors with fruit trees may let you pick what you need just for asking.
  10. Forage in your area for wild edibles.  Also look for wild apple/nut/fruit trees, wild berry patches, etc in your local area.
  11. Barter for food with others.  If you bake and your neighbors have chickens, a loaf of bread for some eggs would be a great trade.
  12. Shop sales at your local grocery stores (check out the ads online and make a list before you go shopping for best results).
  13. Use the grocery store's app if it will save you even more money.  We always get amazing deals with our local grocery store's app.
  14. Shop at $1 and 99 Cent stores but only buy things that actually save you money (ie: some canned items are 88 cents a can at Walmart yet $1 a can at the Dollar Store.  Also beware of smaller packages of popular items like half-sized cake mixes for $1 when you can buy a whole cake mix at the regular store on sale for $1).
  15. Shop at ethnic food stores.  For some reason our Mexican and Asian grocery stores have really good sale prices compared to regular grocery stores, like six avocados for $1 compared to 88 cents per avocado at a regular store.
  16. Stock up on sale items when possible (if the limit of an item in two per purchase, we will either go to the store a few days in a row to buy two of the sale items in order to stock up or hubby and I will shop separately and we will each buy two of the sale item).
  17. Shop at membership stores like Costco or Sam's Club if it makes financial sense for you. 
  18. If you don't shop membership stores often, go with a friend who has a membership and pay them for your items after checkout.
  19. Keep a grocery price book so you will know what a "good price" on each grocery store item is (it's hard to remember the lowest price you pay for every single item in the grocery store).
  20. Also use coupons, double coupons, etc. when possible (although videos of people spending 20+ hours a week on this are a bit cringe-y).
  21. Cook from scratch.  Almost always, it is cheaper and healthier to make food at home than to buy processed products.
  22. Use your freezer.  We freeze a lot of items that we buy on sale in order to extend its shelf life, we freeze leftovers, we freeze excess produce, sauces, etc.
  23. Cook double batches of food and freeze half for a future meal.  We do this all the time as hubby doesn't like leftovers but he does like being able to pull out a frozen meal, heat it up, and eat with minimal work and fuss.
  24. Learn how to preserve your own food.  This can range from canning and pickling to drying, freezing, and smoking excess food.
  25. Buy things in the least processed form possible then cook it up yourself.  A can of beans may cost $1 but an entire bag of dried beans which would make the equivalent of several cans of beans may also cost $1 so buy the dried beans and boil them yourself.
  26. Speaking of cooking things yourself, I happen to love my Instapot (bought on sale for half off, of course).  I tend to burn beans and rice when I cook these things in a regular pan but an Instapot cooks them perfectly.
  27. Also consider bulk cooking either once a month or each weekend in order to save time and effort over cooking three meals each day.  I usually cook an entire bag of steel cut oats in the Instapot then freeze individual portions which I can then take out each day and have a whole breakfast in minutes instead of trying to cook steel-cut oats every day.
  28. Drink water with your meals.  Or better yet, only drink water.  This is healthier than soda, juice, milk, and any other beverage except maybe tea.
  29. Take your meals to work and school everyday.  This is way healthier and cheaper than buying your breakfast/lunch every day.  Obviously a free school meal is cheaper but probably isn't healthier than what you can make at home.
  30. Be sure to rotate your food, both canned and everything in the freezer/refrigerator, regularly so you aren't wasting food due to spoilage.
  31. Go meatless more often.  Ideally everyone would go vegan--it's a super healthy way to eat--but the less meat you eat, the less you will spend on food and the healthier you will be.
  32. Avoid restaurants and fast food.  This is one of the most expensive, and often the least healthy, ways to eat.
  33. On the rare occasion we eat out, hubby and I will split a meal, order water to drink and no dessert, and often still have leftovers to take home.
  34. Take advantage of free meals out.  We use hubby's casino comps for meals out (it's a free bonus so why not?), and occasionally get freebies through deals we find online like a free Whopper at Burger King.
  35. Sign up to receive free food and treats on your birthday!
  36. Carry food with you (or keep a supply at work or in your school locker like granola bars, jerky, etc) so you won't be tempted to use the vending machine or eat out because you forgot to bring your lunch from home.  We also keep a supply of bottled water and granola bars in the car for the same reason, otherwise it is too easy to pick up fast food when we are out and about and get hungry.
  37. Invest in items that make your to-go-from-home food easier to take with you.  We have Contigo thermoses to take hot and cold drinks from home, plenty of individual-sized reusable food containers, sporks, ziploc bags, and reusable wax wraps all of which make taking food with us to eat on the go simple and easy.
  38. Don't get addicted to places like Starbucks.  The morning coffee at the drive-thru habit will become the bane of your existence (speaking from experience here).
  39. If you do have a particular addiction to a popular restaurant item, Google for recipes to make the exact same thing at home (the internet is loaded with copy cat recipes for most all popular fast food items).
  40. Consider learning how to cook staples like bread, tortillas, soup, granola, etc.  Again, there are recipes and how-to videos galore on this topic and making these items yourself is both cheaper and healthier than similar store-bought items that are loaded with preservatives.
  41. Make a weekly menu based on store sale items.  For example, one $5 roast chicken from the grocery store deli can make a half dozen meals--chicken dinner, chicken tacos, chicken Caesar salad, chicken pot pie, chicken fried rice, and chicken soup.
  42. Experiment with cooking your favorite ethnic food dishes at home.  We love a range of ethnic foods but in order to avoid eating out, we can pretty much skip Asian, Middle Eastern, and Italian restaurants because we can easily cook these meals at home (thanks mostly to YouTube!).  I am still not good at cooking Indian food but I am working on it. 
  43. Consider making your hobbies food-related such as hunting, fishing, shell fishing, truffle hunting, etc,
  44.  Stretch your food dollars by making meals that "stretch".  Spaghetti, tacos, soups, fried rice...these are good ways to stretch meals with minimal amounts of food over, say, the cost of a slab of steak for each person in the family.
  45. Don't let food go to waste.  After using the meat off a chicken the carcass can be used for soup.  After cutting bread, the crumbs can be saved for breading fried foods.  After peeling vegetables the peelings can go in the compost bin.  Bits of leftover meat and vegetables can be used for fried rice, soups, stews, etc.
  46. Stock up when items go on sale.  You might not need ten cans of tuna, but if tuna is on sale for 50 cents a can, buy all you can for future use!
  47. Eat less.  I'm not talking about starvation levels of sustenance, but the average American meal has morphed from 500-800 calories per meal to 1200 to 1800 calories per meal (which is why Americans are so fat these days!).  
  48. Stop the endless snacking.  Growing up, I can't remember anyone doing the non-stop snack thing like most people do these days.  We had breakfast, lunch, a small snack after school, and dinner.  That's all.  These days people can easily eat every single hour of the day because snacks are so easy to buy and accessible.
  49. When you do make after school snacks and desserts, make items that are big yet inexpensive.  A bowl of ice cream per person can be expensive but popcorn is an inexpensive, filling treat.  Ditto a cake (without the frosting is fine) which can cost $1.50 to make yet feed a dozen people.
  50. Don't grocery shop every day.  It's easy to spend extra money at the store just because you see something interesting but by shopping only weekly or every other week (with a list!) you can save a lot of money.
  51. Similarly, it is a good idea to pick a couple of nearby stores to patronize weekly instead of going to a dozen stores each week.  You won't be tempted to spend extra money and you will save time and gas as well.
  52. Use the internet to find thousands (literally!) of ways to stretch your food dollars.  Both reddit and YouTube are fonts of information on the topic as is general Googling.
  53. When you host a party, consider making it a potluck in order to both have an enjoyable event but also save money on food.
  54. Make cooking a family activity.  Whether it is baking together, growing a garden together, or trying new recipes together, the whole family will learn valuable skills by doing this, be more inclined to eat what they make, and save money both now and in the long run (I know some college kids who never even learned to boil water so they eat out for every single meal!).
  55. Make it a point to try one new kind of food each week.  Make "sloppy Joes" out of cheap lentils (it's cheaper, healthier, and introduces the family to a food item they may have never tried before).  A big bag of chia seeds is around $5 at Costco and is an interesting item to try in chia pudding.
  56. Occasionally eat your food stockpile down to the bare minimum.  This allows you to skip shopping for two or more weeks and also challenges you to use up the food that you have (definitely an exercise in creativity!).
  57. Look for alternate sources of food like a local food co-op, a local u-pick farm, a CSA (community supported agriculture program), etc.
  58. Make your own beverages.  Herbal teas can be made from scratch as can "sun tea".  For people with an appetite for alcohol, wine making and home brewing can be fun hobbies with a useful end product.  And if your family must drink soda, consider getting a soda maker.
  59. If you have friends and family nearby who are also trying to be frugal with food, consider buying large amounts of food in bulk, splitting the cost, and sharing the item (like a 50 pound bag of rice divided by 5 people, ditto a 50 pound bag of flour, buying a half a cow, etc).  Make sure the price of this works out better than buying smaller sizes.
  60. Speaking of which, always pay attention to unit prices of each item you buy in order to make sure you are getting the best deal.  Many times I've noticed that the larger item may look like a better deal but when you look at the price per ounce compared to a smaller size, it actually costs more!
  61. Hit up thrift stores to buy good quality yet very cheap cooking implements.  A good pan makes cooking so much easier and turns out better results but they can be expensive if you buy it at a department store.  My favorite, very expensive crepe pan only cost a few dollars at our local Goodwill.  Ditto cast iron pans, waffle makers, knives, etc.
  62. Most people can't live without coffee and will spend thousands of dollars each year on the stuff at Starbucks/coffee stands/Keurig cups/etc. when it is super easy and super cheap to make your own coffee at home.
  63. The presentation of food can make a cheap meal something special.  Cheap, simple food presented in a bento box in one example.
  64. Look for substitutions if you can't find or can't afford certain items your recipe requires.  Here's an example.
  65. Do without.  Years ago when year-round produce was either really expensive or unavailable, the answer was to do without.  We often ate canned tomatoes until they came available the next growing season.
  66. Similarly, try to eat in season as this is usually cheaper.  Strawberries in the spring are cheap and tasty.  Strawberries in the winter are often expensive and don't taste that great (except for frozen strawberries, so be sure to freeze lots of these when they are in season for late winter eating!).
  67. If food is your addiction (a la My 600 Pound Life), do what you can to kick the addiction.  Much like alcohol, drugs, etc, fixing an addiction to food will save you money and make you healthier at the same time.
  68. Look towards poorer cultures to learn about stretching food dollars.  China, India, African countries, etc. all make amazing food out of very cheap ingredients.  There are many YouTube videos and recipes online to introduce you to these amazing food cultures which will allow you to save money at the same time.
  69. Check out local farmer's markets, especially at the end of the day on Sunday when the farmer is much more likely to discount their items so they don't have to pack them up and take them home.
  70. Be aware of all of the tricks grocery stores use to make you buy more (and don't fall for them!).
  71. Always check the day-old bread rack, the discount meat bin, and other discount areas of your grocery store to find great deals on older/discontinued/scratch and dent items.
  72. Check bulk bins if your store has these, and see if the prices are cheaper than buying the same items in the regular grocery section (oats, rice, lentils, etc may or may not be cheaper when bought this way).
  73. Keep a range of spices on hand.  Good spices can turn bland and boring food into interesting, tasty food in a snap.  Note that spices can be cheaper at ethnic stores as well as when you buy them in "spice jar sets" at Walmart or Target.
  74. Consider raising your own animals for food like chickens for eggs or goats for milk, pigs, cows, etc.  Of course you will want to figure the cost ahead of time and see if this would actually save you money.
  75. If you pay your credit card off each month, consider using your credit card to pay for groceries if it gives you cash back on your purchases.  If you don't pay off your credit card each month, don't even consider this.
  76. Consider dumpster diving for food.  It sounds weird but there is a whole subculture of people who do this, sometimes with amazing results!
  77. If you must get a job during college or a second job to pay off your bills, consider getting a job that comes with food (I waitresses through college and basically ate at the restaurant five days a week which really saved me money on food).
  78. Never turn down leftovers.  Whether it means taking home a doggie bag from your restaurant meal or graciously taking home leftovers from a party or potluck, food is food and this will save you money.
  79. If you are in a special group where you can get food, take it.  Many schools, elementary through college, have food pantries for kids to take food home to eat over the weekend for those in need.  Many veteran's organizations have tables of food for vets who come to their events to take food.  Community meetings often provide snacks for attendees.
  80. Store your food appropriately so it doesn't go bad.  Store 50 pounds of rice or other grains in pest-proof buckets.  Store cereals and crackers in air-tight container so they don't go stale.
  81. If you have something nice, or not nice, to say about a food product, write the food company with your rant or rave, often they will send coupons or even totally free products to people who do this.
  82. Consider gimmicky ways to get free/free-ish food like the Never Ending Pasta Pass, doing a food eating challenge, or using the power of social media.
  83. Process your food as soon as you get home from shopping.  Hubby has a whole system which includes dating items like eggs or plant milk so we use the oldest first. He also cleans and de-veins shrimp before freezing them in single-serve packages, opens bulk packages of meat and divides it up into single serve portions before freezing, etc. 
  84. Buy food in the cheapest form possible than process it yourself,  If a block of cheese is cheaper, shred it or slice it yourself,  If a side of pork is cheaper than a certain cut, buy the side and cut it up yourself.
  85. If you eat a lot of salads, cut up all of your vegetables salad bar style so you can throw together a salad in minutes right before meals or heading out to work.
  86. If you must eat out, consider cheaper times (lunch instead of dinner, happy hour), using coupons or Groupons, going to a buffet, splitting meals, and skipping premium items like drinks, appetizers, and desserts.
  87. Also if you must eat out, consider picking up take out yourself instead of using Door Dash/Uber Eats/GrubHub.  It will save the cost of delivery and tip which can really add up over time.
  88. When shopping, use a calculator to keep track of the total cost of your purchases.  Hubby does this every time we shop and we often find that items don't ring up right so we catch it immediately instead of paying more than we should.
  89. Experiment with different brands then make notes in your price book about the results.  We've found some store brands and generic brands are really good so we buy them instead of name brand items.  On the flip side, some store brands just aren't the same as the name brand item (like baked beans) so we make note of this for future purchases.
  90. Generally try to only buy items you will actually use even if the price is really low.  Just because a sale is good, it won't matter much if you won't eat it.  If you do end up with these 'great sale but we won't eat it' items, consider donating them to a food bank.
  91. Keep track of how much you spend on food each month, divided by groceries, restaurant, and coffee shop/vending/bar/etc.  This will show you exactly where your food money is going (many people are shocked at how much they spend monthly at the coffee shop!) and will show where you may want to make changes.
  92. Make your own serving-sized snacks instead of buying them.  The cost difference can be huge between buying a small packet of M & Ms ($1) and a giant container of M & Ms at Costco ($10) and putting them in snack-sized ziploc bags.
  93. Each week, clean out your refrigerator and freezer and make dinner a "buffet" of any leftovers in order to get rid of them instead of letting them go bad in the back of the fridge.
  94. Organize your pantry and fridge/freezer in a way that makes it easy to write up your shopping list each week.  My pantry has a row of beans, a row of spaghetti sauce, a row of salad dressing, etc. so when something is missing, it's obvious and gets written down on my list.
  95. Consider making your own kid food and baby food.  These specialized foods are often cheaper and healthier to make at home.  Don't even get me started on extruded chicken nuggets...
  96. Be intentional when you go shopping.  Leave the kids at home, be sure you aren't hungry, don't be rushed...these things will make it less likely that you will overspend when you go grocery shopping.
  97. Do grocery budget challenges occasionally and see what happens.  There's the SNAP challenge, the $1 a day challenge, the Elon Musk challenge, etc.
  98. If you have a problem with overspending when you shop for groceries, leave your credit and debit cards at home and bring only cash.  This will keep you within the hard limit of your grocery budget.
  99. Gift homemade treats instead of expensive wine or pre-made food baskets.  We always bring food treats (homemade cheese cake, cakes, pies, etc) to events we are invited to such as parties, dinners, wakes, etc.
  100. Consider the many ways you can save money on food when you travel.  Of course a big splurge on great meals is part of travel but there is no need to make every single meal a splurge (ie: breakfast in your hotel room is often a great way to save money). 


  1. I used eggs to "buy" a lawn chair at a yard sale. At that same time, for about five years or more, I dumpster dived. I brought home anywhere from $75 t $150 worth of food each week. I shared with people eager to get it who knew where it came from. I was picky about what I took and washed it all at home.

    1. That's wonderful! I love bartering and have even done some dumpster diving in my day!

  2. Another frugal tip is growing your own plants from seeds, which is a lot of fun, and very much cheaper than buying instant plants and vegetables for your garden. frugal living