31 Super-Frugal Tips for Saving Money on Food

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saving money on foodIn any family’s budget, there are many expenses we have little control over: rent, insurance, mortgage, tuition, but when it comes to food, now there’s an expense we can easily adjust. Here are 31 tips that have helped my family with saving money on food.

  1. No more restaurants or fast food. For my family, this means planning meals and keeping up with grocery shopping. The second I become so busy that I don’t have dinner planned and ready is the moment we decide to eat out, again! And there goes at least $40. For one meal.
  2. No packaged microwave meals. Too many additives, too few of these meals actually taste good, the portion sizes are tiny, and they can be expensive. Try cooking up a large batch of soup, a stew, chili, a casserole, or preparing breakfast or lunch burritos, and then freezing them in individual portion sizes. Here are a few additional ideas to get you started on this healthier option.
  3. Take lunch to work and pack school lunches as well. Your meals will be cheaper, but just as importantly, they will almost certainly be healthier and better balanced. I bought this lunch box set for my husband, and all of a sudden, it’s cool to take your lunch to work!
  4. Keep packets of instant soup/oatmeal and cans of soup at work for days when you forget to pack a lunch. Be sure to keep a spoon, knife, and fork tucked away in a desk drawer.
  5. Say no to expensive vending machines. The easiest way I know to do that is to simply not have any change on hand! No money = no junk from the vending machine. Saving money on food can be just this easy!
  6. Carry snacks in the car to avoid impulse stops at fast food or convenience stores. If you know you’ll be running errands and/or you have a full day of appointments, pack a small cooler with healthy, homemade snacks, sandwiches, fruit, and water.
  7. If you must go out to a restaurant, find a place with cheap Happy Hour prices on appetizers and make that your dinner. My husband and I recently found an awesome sports bar just a couple of miles from our home, with super inexpensive lunches, and their evening menu is budget-friendly, too. We’re not big drinkers and only moderate sports fans, but it’s a fun night out and we can keep our bill to $20 or so.
  8. Another restaurant tip — find one that serves huge portions and share the meal.
  9. Make coffee at home and take it to work/school in a thermos container. Avoid Starbucks. I know 2 teenagers who stop at Starbucks virtually every day and typically get expensive drinks that cost $4-6 or so apiece. That’s a ton of money per month!
  10. Learn how to make “fancy” Starbucks-style drinks at home. You may very well end up liking your homemade version better.
  11. Keep an eye on leftovers and produce in the fridge. Don’t shove them toward the back of the top shelf! Instead, keep them at eye level, so you’re reminded of them every time you open the fridge. Eat them before they go bad.
  12. Become a master of “re-imagining” leftovers! Chop up all the meat leftovers in the fridge and add them to chili, a stew, or a soup. Here’s a recipe I invented for Spur of the Moment Chili, which came about just like it sounds! (I do my best cooking when my back’s to the wall and it’s 5:30 p.m.!) I also take leftover meat, either chop or shred it, and then fry it in some butter with chopped onion and sliced, fresh jalapenos. This makes an amazing filling for tacos or burritos.
  13. Learn how to make homemade tortillas, for better taste and frugality!
  14. Plan meals for several days at a time, shop for those ingredients, and avoid quick trips to the grocery store where you’ll inevitably end up spending more
  15. Look for a discount bin in the meat department. This is how we’ve managed to fully stock our freezer to overflowing.
  16. Make multiple meals ahead of time and freeze them. It will help when you have busy days and evenings when you’re tempted to just eat out. Truthfully, eating out is so much easier than cooking everything at home, but the expense adds up and it’s one of the few expenses we have total control over.
  17. Cook a whole chicken and plan 2-3 meals with the meat: shredded chicken mixed with beans or chopped and cooked potatoes in burritos or tacos, shredded chicken in white chili — the trick is to combine the chicken, or any meat, with other ingredients in order to use it in 2 or more meals.
  18. Learn to cook more things from scratch, even things like bread, noodles, crackers, hamburger buns, and marinara.
  19. Cook more meatless meals and more meals with meat/chicken as one of the ingredients and not the main dish on its own – egg meals, beans, rice, soup, loaded baked potatoes.
  20. Use coupons only when they are for foods you would buy at full price and avoid processed foods, which are both unhealthy and more expensive than homemade.
  21. Set a goal for no eating out — one week? Two weeks? How long can you go without eating a single meal at a restaurant? This is also one of the easiest ways I know of to drop a few pounds.
  22. If you can’t resist appetizers at a restaurant, then make one of them your meal, or buy 2 or 3 and share them. Also, if you go to a restaurant that offers free chips and salsa or warm bread before a meal, that’s one way of filling up and not being all that hungry for an expensive entree.
  23. Hunt and fish for healthier meats and save on your grocery budget. Look for a good, used freezer and a vacuum sealer in order to freeze the meat for later. Or, learn how to can it and keep it stored at room temperature, long-term.
  24. Use the weekly grocery store ads to determine what meals you will make. Make those decisions based on the best grocery store sales, not by recipes or whatever you might be, “in the mood for.”
  25. One way to save money on lunchtime restaurant meals is to go home each day for lunch if you happen to live near your workplace.
  26. If you use coupons use them on double coupon days and combine with grocery store sales. Give serious couponing a try to see if it works for you, your schedule, and your lifestyle, but avoid being enslaved by it. Use coupons only for the products you truly need and use, but then, get their maximum benefit by shopping on double coupon days.
  27. Decide which grocery store(s) tend to have the best prices and memorize the store’s layout. That way, when you need to go shopping for just a few items, you’ll know exactly where they’re located. That saves time and money, since you won’t be wandering around the store, being tempted by product displays at every turn!
  28. Start keeping a price book on everything you buy. This is an old-time concept and it’s effective. Simply keep track of the lowest price you’ve ever paid for something and record it in the book. This will help you know when a price is really a good discount or just a temporary gimmick. For example, if the lowest price you’ve ever paid for a gallon of whole milk is $2.39 and you’ve recorded that price, when you see it advertised for $2.79, you’ll know it can be bought for less. When you find it on sale for $2.19, record that new price, and it becomes your new “Lowest Price” for a gallon of milk. A price book helped me cut down my grocery expenses by a large margin. I organized it by food categories: dairy, meats, produce, frozen, canned, and so on.
  29. Learn to use meal stretchers, such as cooked and mashed lentils in meatballs, rice or macaroni in soups. Add 2 cups of cooked rice to casseroles and skillet meals. Not only will the meal serve more people but you’ll likely have leftovers for future lunches and dinners.
  30. Tortillas are my trick for using up almost any leftover! I make leftover tacos or burritos by adding the heated leftovers to a soft, warm tortilla, shred a little cheese over the top and add sour cream and/or salsa. If you have leftover meat and need to make several of these, add cooked rice or cooked, diced potatoes to stretch the meat a little further.
  31. Learn how to make one big dish, like chili, and then utilize it in different meals throughout the week: chili over rice, chili on a baked potato, chili with macaroni, Frito pie, chili dogs, and even added to a can of soup!


saving money on food

Helpful Resources:

  • Check out my monthly series of past articles, “52 Weeks Savings”, with discounts, bargains, and deals for each month of the year. Here’s a sample month for June’s best bargains.
  • Learn more about the 52 Weeks Savings Challenge here and customize it to your own income and circumstances with these tips.
  • Join Survival Mom’s 52 Weeks Savings Club on Facebook. We’re over 2500 members and going strong!
  • Dave Ramsey has solid advice for taking control of your finances. I recommend his basic book, The Total Money Makeover for an easy-to-follow plan and a quick, motivational read.
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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 9 years.

7 thoughts on “31 Super-Frugal Tips for Saving Money on Food”

  1. Here one that I learned from my Mom (who had 10 kids) and then in restaurants: intentional repurposing.
    You plan out weekly meals (dinner at the very least) and prep ahead. For example; When making chili and rice for Monday lunch, I would intentionally make twice the rice and use it in Thursday dinner stir fry. Tuesday dinner lasagne and broccoli included tons of broccoli meant for minestrone on Thursday lunch and Friday night potato bar. Any leftovers can easily become soup or stuffed baked potatoes.
    This is how restaurants survive, their payroll costs would skyrocket otherwise!
    More importantly for home cooks, it cuts down on “emergencies”. Real emergencies happen, but how much eating out and convenience food happens because we realize it’s already 5:10 and we have no idea what’s for dinner or it’s too late for what we planned? My friends and siblings who’ve worked in restaurants rarely experience that.
    Maybe I should write a whole article on it?

  2. Renee Schmucker

    I make Mustgo Soup. That is when you look in the refrigerator and say “this must go and this must go….”. You can combine almost anything into a pot of soup. After it cooks a while the flavor blends and who have Mustgo Soup. Great with a loaf of fresh bread.

  3. I agree with Beth; I think most people end up ordering a pizza or stopping for fast food (which can run a mid-sized family $20-$30) because it’s late, they’re tired & dinner is just to much to contemplate. I try to do big shopping once a month& pick up sale products once a week as they become available. I buy a lot of hamburger at one time then at home I crumble & cook a big potful to divide & freeze in meal sized quantities. It doesn’t take long then to boil some pasta, open a jar of sauce & add the meat. I also grate large quantities of cheese at a time so tacos can be a fast meal. I make up a couple dozen burger patties & freeze, etc. This can take a chunk out of your afternoon but it’s worth it with time & money saved later.

  4. Plan to have one dinner a week at least where you open up the fridge and ask each family member what they want – with my kids there’s always something they like, and the leftover is usually only enough for one or two servings. Toss it in the microwave, eat out of the container, and you’ve got less stuff in the fridge and less dishes to wash! If anyone doesn’t find something they like, then PB &J will do the trick.

    I like to have some things on hand for fast meals at home that kids like. Mac and cheese in a box, canned soup, and breakfast items – no one here has ever said no to those, and no leftovers!

  5. As a ‘very’ old housewife I have known and practiced nearly all of your suggestions, but, even ‘very’ old housewives fall into ruts of connivence and need to be reminded to be more frugal. Thank you, for your very thorough article.

  6. Tip one: Don’t eat in restaurants…followed by 3 more tips about how to save money eating in restaurants.

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