Groceries on the cheap

Some people expressed helpfulness at my minor dilemma in the Dinner thread, so on the advice of one poster, I thought I should make a list of tips and tricks I use to get food on the cheap. And maybe this can raise our collective chow quality.

Despite my whining, I can’t really complain either. I’ve got enough to eat and enough spice to make it taste good enough. It does get a little samey, which is a pretty minor trouble. I also go in cycles. Some weeks I eat more of one thing, ame more of another.

One very minor problem is that I have some times when I need to eat out whether I like it or not. Barring getting the lunch special at the right place and time, it’s hard to get out without dropping at least a tenner. But between that, here’s a few of the things I use to get enough to munch.

I start with bread. Dunno about your grocery, but I can usually get a loaf for 2$ or less. It’s often on sale, and I sometimes go to the store on Monday or Tuesday for the post-weekend deals.

Cheese is a good source of “good stuff”, and if you don’t buy at the deli it’s not bad. Oddly, prepackaged bits are a lot cheaper than bulk, and they come pre-sliced for sandwiches.

I finish with pepperoni or genoa salami. I wait until they have Hormel packages on sale. I can get these for as little as a $1 per package, and each one has enough slices for a week’s sandwiches. It’s also not unhealthy, becaue they slice 'em thin and the flavor goes a long way.

I finish with a jar of shredded pepperocini. Delicious, flavorful, and can be had in a variety of heat levels. it’s a little more than I like to pay (about 3$), but it does the trick and lasts for about 3 weeks or so.

I buy in bulk if any of those items are on sale. I bought something like 6 months of pepperoni once, and I wish I’d bought more.

I also grab rice. You can get brown rice and saffron yellow rice very cheap, and each one makes a sizeable pot to eat. Saffron yellow is a favorite, but I’ve been too lazy to make any in a while. You can usually make both in a microwave if you don’t like to wait (like me). They’re like 60 - 75 cents a packet, and each one makes enough rice for at least two meals.

Vegetable wise, I usually stick to the cheap canned corn and green beans, and fresh carrots. Why? Well, if you look for the really cheap-looking canned goods, you can sometimes get them for 50 cents or even less when the store wants to get rid of them. That’s two meal’s worth easily per can, and for people like me (i.e., not worth it go make a big production out of dinner) it’s tasty and cheap. It’s also the same stuff you buy in a better-looking can for 20 cents more! The carrots I get freash, with the tops snipped off. At 79 cents a pound, you can’t beat the price, and they go far.

Well, that’s about my tricks revealed. Lately I’ve had more trouble from the damn dentist who has given me a random, semi-permanent toochache, so that I have a hard time eating anything hot, chewy, or tough. :mad:

Ack! Your main source of veggies - other than carrots - is canned veggies?? Do you realize how much salt is in those cans?

Look for no-salt-added green beans and corn, at least. I buy the no-salt green beans for my dog. Whenever they’re on sale (about 4 times a year) I buy whatever they have on the shelves. Usually around the holidays they go on sale from 80 cents a can to 50 cents a can.

This last time they went on sale, my dad talked to the manager and asked if he could buy 12 cases (of 12 cans). The manager was completely cool with this and actually special ordered the cases for my dad. They were in about 2 days later, all neatly packaged. Dad and I split them up between our pantries.

If you have room to store extra food, and you’re buying cans anyway - go for the gold!

But no-salt-added, please. Your post is making me retain water :stuck_out_tongue:

Coupons. If you use them wisely (i.e. only buy the stuff you actually need) you can save quite a bit. I’ve gotten boxes of cereal for a buck on double couple weeks, and bottles of Heinz for about 25 cents.
Also I buy a lot of store brand stuff. Other than the aforementioned Heinz ketchup and a handful of other items I buy sporadically, I’m not overly picky about the brands.

Are you cooking for one?

I was thinking about this problem the other day, and I thought of a couple of dishes that might work for you.

One would be a pot of slow-cooker chili. Half an hour of chopping and assembling, and then it’ll last for like a week. I don’t have my recipe on hand, but it’s basically beans, ground beef, onions, green pepper and celery. You could hide other veggies in there too, no doubt!

Another easy one is quesadillas (and some other Mexican dishes). Shredded chicken, shredded cheese, onion and green pepper in a tortilla, plus sour cream and salsa.

Spaghetti is a good cheap meal…

In my UK-centric experience:

  • Don’t ever buy full-price bread. Don’t even make bread, unless you like to. Supermarkets throw out truckloads of bread all the time; you can get loaves for buttons if you catch them at the right time. Good for freezing. I’ve got a bag of bread for twenty seven pence before now. Twenty-seven! That’s not even real money.

  • If you can, buy your vegetables from a greengrocer, because in my experience they are all slightly otherworldly and don’t understand money. I’ve never managed to break the twenty quid barrier at my local grocer, and I’ve come out with a trolley. Once I bought a bag of mushrooms for sixteen pence. Nothing costs sixteen pence.

  • Beans and pulses are often cited as a good thrifty purchase. However, supermarkets have caught onto the fact that beans and rice are popular, so now market them to the middle classes in friendly packets that detail their colonic superpowers. Ergo, supermarket beans are now expensive. It’s all very well saying “go to your local Indian supermarket for bulk grains”, but if you live in the whitest place IN THE WORLD, as I do, this isn’t possible. Buy your bulk grains and pulses online instead.

  • Same with herbs and spices.

  • Become a vegetarian. If you can live without cheese or milk or milk-substitute (which is quite expensive as well), then become a vegan, since cheese is the equivalent of filling your sandwiches with slices of Fabergé egg. Resisting the purchase of vegan cheese substitute won’t be a problem as it tastes like tile grout filtered through a sock.

  • Soup! Soup is always the answer. It’s filling and all you need is a pan and some stock and some stuff. Soup.

  • Stuff that’s okay to buy frozen: sweetcorn (cheaper than tinned), peas, chickpeas. Beansprouts, surprisingly.

  • Stuff that’s okay to buy tinned: tomatoes, beans.

  • Stuff that’s absolutely not okay to buy either frozen or tinned unless you’re putting it in a soup or something: spinach, broccoli, sprouts, peppers, carrots (I think everyone will disagree with me on carrots, but to my mind they just taste wrong).

Anything hot, chewy or tough? Maybe get it checked out. Could be an infection.

Now, cheap and tasty food. Here’s my speedy version of Cuban black beans and rice:

To a can of undrained black beans in a saucepan add:

Chopped onion and green pepper
Some thyme
Minced garlic
Pinch of sugar
Dash of vinegar
Cayenne pepper (optional)

Simmer, covered until the veggies are tender. You may add water if it gets too thick. Serve over rice.

Another black bean quick recipe:

Black bean soup with cornmeal dumplings:

Make your soup from canned black beans, some salsa, corn, tomato juice to desired thickness and simmer.

Drop in dumplings:

1/3 C. flour
1/4 C. cornmeal
1t. baking powder
salt and pepper
1 beaten egg
2T. milk
1T. oil
Dash of cumin (optional)

Turn heat to light boil, cover and cook for thirty minutes. Don’t lift cover during this time.

If desired you can garnish your soup with shredded cheddar or sour cream. A squeeze of lime is also good but not necessary.

When I was super poor I based everything on a mixture of rice, whole grains and lentils. I cooked up a big pot of that every Sunday, (with whatever grains were on sale that week, but always at least brown rice, green lentils, and whole oat groats.)

That way you can use your veggies and proteins as flavoring, instead of trying to get full on them. You’ll get the nutrition you need without over doing it, and soon the base becomes just a canvas that you don’t really notice, and doesn’t feel repetitive.

You can get veggies frozen in bags and get a lot more nutrition than you will from the canned. Use the bags so that you can add a little or a lot and then just re-seal what’s left. Get some cheap hair clips from the Dollar Store to keep things fresh.

Eggs are a super-cheap protein, and you can scramble one into the base with a 1/4cup of mixed veggies for a yummy “fried-rice.”

Slice up some pepperoni and fry it with broccoli. Add a dollop of heavy cream or sour cream and you’ve got a lovely tasting sauce to pour over the base.

A small can of tomato paste goes a long way if you use it a tablespoon at a time and keep it in a plastic bag in the fridge. Lots of flavor and vitamin C for a very small investment.

If you do buy meat never throw away the bones or trimmings. Put them straight into a pot and boil while you eat. Toss the bones and inedibles, and you’re left with a fantastic broth. Add a cup or so of base and a mix of veggies and voila, another delicious meal.

Also, a basic, generic vitamin pill is a good investment. The really basic store brand ones are mega-cheap, and remove a lot of the stress from the meal planning and sale-parsing. Take it with your biggest meal of the day, and don’t pay extra for 5,000 times the necesary amount of vitamin B or C.

Hang in there. It happens to the best of us, and you can get through it happy and healthy with a little planning.

Such as tomatoes. I see I left that out. :smack:

While it’s good to be aware of the salt content of one’s diet, not everyone is salt sensitive. For some it’s not an issue.

A lot of spices can be had much cheaper in the “ethnic” aisle, rather than in the spice aisle. Not long ago, I needed allspice. It was six bucks in the fancy glass jar vs 89 cents in a cellophane packet, two aisles over.

Don’t buy more than you can actually use - “saving” money by buying things in bulk only saves money if you eat it before it goes bad. That allspice may or may not have been cheaper per ounce in the cellophane bag, but I only needed a teaspoon of the stuff. It would have done me no good to buy a full jar as I probably won’t need allspice for another year, in which time, the full jar will go stale.

Coupons can be treacherous - they entice you to buy things you don’t normally buy. At the store, you’re thinking “It’s double coupon day, so I can save $1.50 on a jar of bread and butter pickles!” but at home, as you’re putting it away, you think “Ewww. I don’t even like bread and butter pickles!”

Watch unit prices. Larger packages of the same thing are usually cheaper by the ounce, but if the smaller package is on sale, it may often be better to buy two or three smaller packages. Sometimes you need to do a bit of math in your head - recently, dog food was something like 35 cents an ounce in 10-pound bags and 20 cents an ounce in the 25-pound bag. But, the smaller bags were BOGO, so they worked out to be 17.5 cents per ounce, making them the better deal. (Assuming you have a dog, of course!)

Try store brands judiciously. By this, I mean buy one can of the house brand soup or whatever and try it before buying 12 cans. If you hate it, you’re only out the cost of one can, vs feeling pained at the thought of 11 more cans of nasty soup in the pantry. It’s really hit-or-miss here. Some store’s house brands may be made by the same “big-name” manufacturers, and the only difference is the box. Other house brands are just nasty. Once in a while, you may even prefer the house brand, regardless of price.

Store brands are almost always as good as name brands, and almost always a lot less, IME.

Buy meat in bulk, freeze in portions.

Dont’ be scared of places like Aldi’s, Price Rite, Shop N Save… the stores with the off brands and dented cans that you hav eto bring your own bags to. Usually find good deals there.

My biggest piece of advice would be to stop eating Pepperoni and start eating eggs. You can get eggs for $1.50 for a dozen when not on sale. Hard boil 'em, scramble 'em, do whatever, but it’s much lower cost and many times healthier than pepperoni.

More beans like others have said. Get large dry sacks of bean mixtures, or from the bulk aisle, and do chili or a variety of lentil or other bean soups. Get cheap cans of low-sodium broth.

Get some cheap store brand Gladware and make chili and other soups, etc. Mark containers with masking tape and permanent marker and freeze them. Do the same with brown rice or another whole grain (Quinoa is nearly as cheap as brown rice and I prefer it vastly). Then, the next time you want to go out to eat out (a major was of $), simply pull out a Gladware container of rice/quinoa/barley and one of a soup or chili, and dump some frozen veggies in a bowl and nuke. Dinner on the table in the time it would have taken you to drive to the restaurant.

Go for a pound bag of frozen veggies on sale for $1. You can get 3 easy servings out of it. Spices are your friend with frozen veggies. Don’t boil them, simply put them in a glass/ceramic cereal bowl and heat in the microwave. This retains the nutrients, whereas boiling does not. Don’t steam them over your stove either, it wastes energy.

Whole grain crackers with sharp cheddar are your friend. These go on sale for $2, $2.30 normally, which yields you 8 packs of crackers. 25 cents a snack.

Bananas and apples are also your friend. You can have one for maybe 15 cents.

You never mentioned what you drink. Stop drinking soda. Start drinking water. Get yourself a $10 water bottle and fill it up every day before work or class.

ETA: make an appointment at the nearest dental school. They’re much cheaper than a regular dentist (cleaning is $40 versus $90-100 at a regular dentist). I have great health insurance and vision insurance, but nobody in my family ever needs anything but cleanings. So I go to the dental school.

Really, the main thing I do to save money is plan menus. Every Friday night I sit down with the store’s weekly sale flyer and my recipe book and come up with six meals built around what’s on sale. (The seventh night is leftovers).

Then I write out a detailed grocery list and put it in the order in which I will encounter things as I walk through the store. As I shop, I’m focused on “what’s next on the list” instead of “hey, that looks good…”

It’s more fun than it sounds.

For several years, I survived on $10 a week in groceries.

For starters, I made buddies with the butchers. In prepping chicken breasts for sale, they were trashing the backs which is great for stock. Same with beef bones. I became queen of stock and now always have soup stock pre-made in the freezer. Farmers markets a great place to make deals with vendors as well; at the end of the day, they often have vegetables that won’t make it to the next market which can be bought at a great discount.

The local Honeybaked Ham store sells the ham shanks two-for-one, frozen, for about $6.00 total and there is always a TON of meat left on those bones. Right now I have four different soups in my freezer. With discount vegetables and bulk beans and homemade stock, I have enough soup right now for 30-days worth of eating and the total cost on its production was less than $20.

That, supplemented with bulk oatmeal and grains with eggs and an occasional gallon of milk is all very affordable.

I buy the 8 cup packages of shredded Mexican cheese mix. At a little over $8, it might seem like a lot, but it lasts me nearly a month. Sure, the bag SAYS use within 3-5 days. But I’ve found that if you make sure to seal it good and move it around a bit, whatever they’re adding to stop mold does a tremendous job. If you let it sit untouched for a week after opening, you might have something growing in there. But open it, use some, throw the bag around a little in the handling and it can last for weeks.

8 pack of cheap ass burritos at Walmart? $2.98. Two at a time, covered with the above cheese and some taco sauce packets you got by the truck load last time you bought ONE taco from Taco Bell, and that’s a solid meal for just over a buck.

Every now and again stores have the 3lb bags of boneless, skinless chicken breasts on sale. Be on the lookout and stock up.

My local grocery store, about every 2-3 months, runs some 10 for $10 sales. I’d been waiting for over 2 months for the pre-packaged stuffed Chicken breasts to go on sale. Cordon Bleu, Kiev, Broccoli. Sure, not really the best for nutrition, but at $1 a piece, they’re great for a quick meal on the go.

Big pack of cheap tortillas. Some of the chicken breast microwaved and chopped up, some of the above cheese, some taco sauce. Sometimes some black beans in the mix or scrambled eggs.

Some of my grocery stores have added quinoa to their bulk bins. It’s really cheap that way ($3.19 / lb. at my Kroger, and a pound of quinoa is a LOT) and really filling. I’ve started keeping some at my desk at work along with one or two of those little shelf-stable mini-cartons of broth so I can boil some up as a snack. (I never boil the stuff in plain water - always broth/stock.)

Yeah, the mini-cartons are a little spendy, but I need something shelf-stable since I’m at the office. You could make some stock at home for nearly nothing and keep it in the freezer.

I’m not sure where you live, but definitely look for ethnic stores. I can get spices and veg and many staples for about half or less of the supermarket prices.

Those packages of shredded cheese? They freeze great. (Don’t try to freeze regular cheese, it gets funky.) Our store has them on sale regularly and it’s cheaper than block cheese. I get an assortment (cheddar, mozz, Italian mix, Mexican mix, etc.) and put them in the freezer. When you need cheese, get out the package and grab a handful or two, then put the rest back in the freezer.

Beans. Good and good for you. Cheap, easy to cook, and freeze well so you can make a lot at one time.

Soup. Again, cheap, easy, and freezes well. Also very filling. You can make soup out of almost anything.

For frozen vegetables, I find that I might as well just throw whatever amount I want on top of the rice I’m cooking in the rice cooker. Also, you don’t have to leave them out for long before they’re thawed enough to be edible in scrambled eggs. You can top that with gravy made from the drippings you get from hamburgers or baked chicken, ect. Nearly anything that leaves drippings or crust on a pan can be turned into a second meal by deglazing and whipping up a roux.

It used to be that it was a trial to get through hamburger I found for sale in bulk packages, and freezing it made it a pain to defrost if I didn’t want to make taco meat or something. What I do now is I buy the stuff when it’s on sale and measure it off in 200 gram units. Each unit I mush into aluminum foil until I form an even patty about 1 cm thick, 15 cm square. Pre-measured, stacks in the freezer, thaws quickly on the counter.

A mindset that we’ve found useful is to go for “peasant food”… the stuff that comes cheap in large quantities. This includes potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbages, beans, grains, noodles, bags of apples and oranges, and the cheap cuts of meat that need to stew for a long time.

We also like frozen peas and spinach when they’re on sale, baked goods off the day-old rack, pork loins (solid meat, often selling for less than $2/pound here), milk (some of which we make into cheese), and eggs.

Lunch meat and cheese is usually cheaper at the deli counter than it is in pre-sealed tubs, at our grocery. There is a ton of quality protein in turkey breast.

We buy rice, noodles, and spices from the asian grocery. Cheaper and better. We buy limes, chilis, cilantro, and big tubs of chicken bouillon from the Mexican grocery. Cheaper and better.

We buy pasta and olive oil at Aldis.

We’ve made friends with people who have fruit trees… we got 50lbs of apples for free this weekend, and I’ve been processing them into dried apples and apple sauce. We also have our own garden, obviously not an option for everyone, but if you have just one square meter to garden I recommend planting it half in Swiss Chard and half in lettuce.

Meals we like:
Tagines, but made in a crock pot. Cheap meat and asian-grocery spices, served with couscous and lemony cabbage slaw.
Hotpots, which are really just quick soups… boil noodles, cabbage, matchstick carrots, and thinly-sliced meat in a broth of chicken bouillon flavored with some onion and ginger. Dip bites into yummy stuff like Sriracha as you eat.
Mexican mess… rice, black beans, onions, garlic, and cheap meat. Top with whatever you scrabbled together on sale–salsa, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, corn chips, tortillas.
Bibimbop… we top leftover rice or noodles with fried eggs and finely-chopped raw veg, then flavor with Sriracha, sacha, and whatever else is in the fridge
Lentils and onions… cook lentils. Cook rice. Slice a bunch of onions and cook on lowish heat till they caramelize. Eat it all together and weep at the delicious simplicity.