For many of us, groceries are the single biggest monthly expense besides the roofs over our heads. But not to fear, there’s a plethora of creative ways to eat well and save money.
From universities to dumpsters and kombucha brewing to elk hunting, read on, my food savvy friends!
Become a Hunter Gatherer
Gleaning. Urban fruit and vegetable gleaning is a wonderful way to procure high quality produce for free, often benefitting the owners of the tree or property as well.
Fishing. Ask a knowledgeable friend who fishes about the opportunities in your area and how one would go about it with little monetary investment. Check out this beautiful article about a young mother who fishes for salmon every summer in Alaska for her family.
Hunting. Similar to fishing, this one’s financial feasibility is going to depend on several factors: your area’s costs for permits and availability of game, your accessibility to firearms, ammo, supplies, and gear; transportation; cost of processing, etc.
We all know hunters who have ended up spending $25/pound for their meat when all was said and done, but there are also millions of hunters across this country and the world who have depended heavily on hunting for their families’ sustenance. The Big Country / Liberty clan definitely is looking forward to getting into this lifestyle now that we actually own a gun!
Food in the Community
Universities. If not following a particular diet and living near a university, familiarize yourself with the free food offered by various clubs and departments, sometimes daily. Sometimes this involves staying for an interesting talk, and sometimes, as during Homecoming Week, you simply stand in the outdoor line with hands outstretched to receive the bounteous free food flowing all through campus. Times and locations of free food offerings can often be found on university websites’ Events pages.
Local Dairies. Get to know your local small dairy. Sometimes they are in need of extra help in exchange for a milk share. And sometimes they have access to things like beef bones, which are excellent for making bone broth.
Friends, Neighbors, and Local Farmers could all be sources of excess produce or unsellable eggs (hint: these are just the ones with thin or wrinkled shells; they’re still perfectly tasty!) Offer to do something helpful in return for their generosity.
Local Bulk Stores, Shelters, and Dumpsters
Costco or other big bulk warehouse. Where, oh where, would we be without Costco? Yes, even though we live in a tiny house, we still buy the vast majority of our groceries in bulk at high quality and low cost.
We keep our master Costco grocery list on a shared document on our phones and spend about 30 seconds each week marking anything that’s running low. We buy virtually all our food — produce, meats, cheese, butter, oils, nuts, coffee, dried fruit, frozen fruit, beans, and grains — at Costco.
Discount Grocery Stores. Google this phrase to find your local one and check it out. Ours is a local chain called Esh’s, but there is Aldi for many people around the nation and in Europe as well.
As with thrift stores, these need to be approached carefully, with a plan in mind. Dented cans of goulash and expired exotic cheeses should not make their way into your grocery cart just to sit and rot on your own shelf at home. And many times, staples are still cheaper at Costco.
I’ve found the best luck at our local discount grocery only with heavily discounted organic produce that can be used that day or chopped and frozen for later use. This would be worth the trip if I was planning to do a big canning or freezing project, like the epic time we scored 20 lbs of tomatillos for a grand total of $1.
Salvation Army. Our local Family Worship Center offers dozens, sometimes hundreds, of loaves of bread donated by Whole Foods and Great Harvest Bakery to the public. This is the excess that homeless shelters and soup kitchens can’t use, so we can feel good that it isn’t taking bread out of the mouths of someone less fortunate, literally. And with the fancy $8 price tags still on, we feel like kings while we eat our pbjs.
Dumpster Diving. A bit of a misnomer, as this often involves simply lifting the lid of a clean, cardboard-filled receptacle to find boxes of oranges, packages of pasta, or wheels of cheese still in their wax, as well as clean clothes, good shoes, and workable furnishings. Apartment and grocery store dumpsters vary in quality, accessibility, and frequency of turnover, but these things can be learned. Bring an adventurous friend!
Learn Cost Per Calorie
Identify foods that give you the most calories and nutrients per dollar to use as baseline staples. For example, these could include something like:
- fats: beef and bacon fat, olive, coconut, and avocado oils
- carbs: quinoa, rice, teff, oats, white potatoes, sweet potatoes
- proteins: dried beans, chickpeas, peas, lentils, eggs, peanut butter
- produce: apples, bananas, oranges, watermelons, carrots, onions, garlic, kale, spinach, broccoli, cabbage
With a little more money to work with, you can incorporate healthy, but more expensive, foods as accompaniments to round out meals, such as meats, cheese, yogurt, nuts, and avocados.
Financially, fat fills you up for less. And contrary to the low-fat diet fads of the last few decades, plenty of fat in your diet is key to maintaining a healthy weight, as well as brain functioning, fertility, and hormone balance.
Save the fat from bacon, beef broth, and other fattier meats and cook with this for other meals.
Buy whole fat milk. We drink raw whole milk straight from the local dairy. Raw milk is one of the peak foods for optimum health and can often be enjoyed by people otherwise bothered by conventional pasteurized milk.
Homemade dressings, sauces, humus, and pesto. Learn to make healthy, savory, full fat dips and spreads – these make anything a meal!
Discover Healthy, Homemade Foods
Bone Broth. Make bone broth regularly in a slow cooker or stock pot for excellent, inexpensive nutrition and a tasty base for soups.
Brew your own Kombuch for a delicious, healthy probiotic alternative to soda.
Bake your own Bread and baked goods and buy grain or flour in bulk.
Spices, Hot Drinks, and Honey. There’s a reason why the sale of tea never waned in working class industrial Britain: hot drinks create the illusion of a hot meal. Include things like spices, tea, coffee, honey, molasses, and maple syrup in moderation in a thrifty diet for enjoyment and satisfaction . . . and so you don’t fall off the wagon and start buying expensive junk!
Drink more Water. This will support overall health and curb overeating. Add a squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of apple cider vinegar for a fresh taste.
Conquer Junk Food. Aim to decrease packaged and processed food, as it is more expensive to both the wallet and the body.
Grow your own Produce; raise your own chickens for eggs or meat, goats or cows for milk, etc. This one could have its own post, let alone website or 1000 page book, but I wanted to mention it, as it’s a viable, tasty, healthy option to cut food costs and is not as tricky as people think. For a few years, we would invest $40 each Spring on tomato plants and receive 150-200 pints of salsa and crushed tomatoes in return.
Simplify Meals. A lightbulb went on for me when I realized how much I was over-thinking meals. To be satisfying and healthy, most meals need to include a balance of whole-food proteins, fats, and carbs. And that’s about it! I enjoy using one pot or skillet, with seasonal ingredients. Check out our updated Beans and Rice and Everything Nice for a list of easy, healthy, inexpensive meals and snacks.
Kitchen & Vehicle at the Ready
A clean, uncluttered fridge and pantry is a thing of beauty and efficiency. This greatly help you visually see all the food you have so that you can eat up items before they go bad. You may even take on the challenge of eating up every single thing before going shopping. Huge savings here.
Leftovers. Make it a habit of using up all leftovers the next day. Since we live with a mini fridge in our tiny house, this is just part of life! Many leftovers can be incorporated into omelets, soups, burritos, and other dishes seamlessly.
Keep a snack basket stocked with simple foods like nuts, raisins, apples, and bananas. We all get hungry and need snacks that are easy to grab.
Keep imperishable food in your vehicle. Depending on the season and how hot or cold your car gets, you could conceivably keep nuts, dried fruit, canned tuna, canned sardines, packets of olive oil, packets of peanut butter, crackers, granola bars, and many other things in your vehicle. Throw in a bag with napkins and utensils, and you’re ready for anything.
This will cure the hungry, stranded times and prevent succumbing to fast food. I know there have been quite a few times (especially when pregnant!) when we’ve been out and about, and I felt like I could not last one more hour without a nice, juicy burger. It’s a weakness. Even on a tight budget, that’s probably ok a couple times a year, but if you’re getting that grumpy feeling every single Sunday afternoon you stay late to chat after church, something’s gotta give!
We even have a friend who keeps a cast iron pan and camp stove in his work truck for the many times he finds himself far from home on a job. Now that is planning ahead!