How to Cook on the Cheap: 10 Practical Tips for Making the Most of Your Money

It’s not always easy to eat well. And it’s certainly not easy to eat well while sticking to a budget. Good food, especially good, healthy food can be hard to find, expensive to buy and time-consuming to cook. But don’t let that scare you; preparing delicious, nutritious and affordable meals is possible when you take the time to think about and prepare for it. Here are 10 tips for making the most of your money in the kitchen:

Get a Reward/Discount Card Everywhere You Shop (if available)

Nowadays, most stores offer loyalty rewards cards that, when used during checkout, provide customers with discounts on certain products each week. Not signing up for one is just wasting your money.

Make a List and Stick to It

Take time before you leave home to make a list of everything you will need to cook for the week and make sure that you stick to that list when you get to the store. A lot of unnecessary spending can be traced back to impulse buys and duplicate purchases (like the block of gourmet cheese you bought because you liked the sample you tried or that extra bag of grapes you thought you needed, but actually didn’t).

…But Keep Grocery Sales in Mind

This isn’t to say that you can’t tweak your list if you get to a store or read an ad and find a great deal! Indeed, you should look over the news ads and flyers that come in the mail or are online before you start shopping and try to plan meals that utilize products that are on sale each week. (You can freeze a lot of items for later use if you find an especially good deal.)

Shop the Bargain Bin

Most stores offer nearly expired or lightly damaged goods in special designated areas. Go there first to see if anything will work with your meal plan. You can often find great deals on meat, baked goods and some nonperishable items, leaving you with more money to spend on other items on your list.

Go Generic

Don’t waste money buying brand names. Most stores carry their own brand of products that are made by the same companies that produce well-known, national brands. The only difference is the packaging. Even generic items (those that aren’t a store or national brand) can be comparable to the more well-known brands, making them great options for folks wanting to save a few dollars.

…and Go Local

You should also try to find non-chain stores to frequent instead of the large, national ones. Oftentimes, Asian, Hispanic, Indian and other ethnic grocers will offer good products for a lot less than the bigger chains. Spices, some cuts of meat and speciality items are just a few items that are routinely cheaper at these types of stores.

Buy in Bulk

It’s usually advantageous to buy more than you need and store it rather than buy a little at a time. On average, the price per unit is less, and you can either divide and freeze the extra portion, or you can use the leftovers in other ways throughout the week. Either way, you’ve saved time and money.

…and Buy Whole Cuts of Meat

Similarly, you save money when you buy larger cuts of meat and cut them up yourself.

DIY (when possible)

There are times when you need expert help — from a teacher when learning a new language; from a qualified law firm, like Pollak PLLC, when you need information about travel visas; from a primary care physician when you don’t feel well — luckily, you don’t always need ready-made service to cook healthy or to cook well. You can do a lot of it yourself (make your own dressings, bread, sauces, jellies/jams, pickles, canned goods, etc.), and by doing so, you can save a lot of money!

…and Finally, Get a Slow Cooker!

A slow cooker allows you to take tougher, cheaper cuts of meats and make them edible. It also allows you to forgo using your stove and/or oven, which can save you their associated utility costs (i.e., energy consumption, air conditioning to combat heat from oven, etc.)

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