Norpro/Spring Head/Birds Eye

If your grocery budget is a bit tight, you’re probably looking for all the ways to save a few bucks and cents. With a few clever shopping and cooking tricks, you’ll be surprised how far you can stretch that budget.

Smart cooking is all about finding the best deals and getting the most out of every ingredient. Some practices, like shopping on sale, are a bit more intuitive. Others, like buying certain ingredients over others or tweaking your recipes a bit, may require a bit more experience. We are here to help you. Take a look at these easy tips and see which ones could help you save big on your next grocery run.

Use frozen vegetables instead of fresh

Vegetable dishes on a marble counter
bird eyes

Fresh vegetables are great, but they can also cause a lot of waste. If you don’t cook them quickly enough, chances are you’ll have to throw away some pieces because they spoil before you can use them.

Instead of dealing with that food waste, consider picking up some frozen veggies next time. While this isn’t a fix for everything – things like leafy greens really need to be fresh – you’ll be surprised at the availability and quality of many frozen vegetables on the market. This way you can use just a little if you’re cooking for one person and put the rest of the bag back in the freezer, or use the whole bag for a large batch.

Get a mix of vegetables for a casserole or stir-fry, or grab individual vegetables based on each specific recipe.

Watch how much oil you use

Woman pouring oil from bottle into frying pan in kitchen.
Africa Studio/

Here’s a secret to good cooking: you probably don’t need as much cooking oil as you think. Yes, you need enough to make sure your food doesn’t stick to the pan. Yes, you need enough for the ingredients to cook well and come together into a delicious whole. But if you’re looking to save money in a modest way, reducing the amount of cooking oil you use is one of the easiest ways.

Most of the time when sautéing ingredients and cooking in a pan on the stovetop, you just need enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan very thinly. It’s only about a tablespoon or maybe two. Keeping an eye on your oil consumption helps make your cooking a little healthier while avoiding waste.

Another way to use less oil can help you save money? You won’t have a lot of leftover oil to soak up with paper towels (producing more waste) or pour down the drain (which will lead to plumbing problems down the line). Avoiding these kinds of cleaning hassles will also help you earn a few extra pennies.

Enhance meat dishes with beans

Assortment of beans and lentils in wooden spoon on wooden background.

For many people, meat is an essential source of protein, but also a potentially expensive source. To save money, you can stretch meat dishes by adding beans as a secondary source of protein.

The exact type of bean used or method of adding it will vary depending on the individual dish, as well as your personal taste. Usually, the idea is just to mix the beans, along with the other ingredients called for in the recipe, to make it stretch more. You’ll get less meat in each bite, but the beans will provide fiber and protein while absorbing the flavors of the dish as a whole, making for a consistently satisfying meal.

Some options for adding beans may include:

  • Mix beans with ground or shredded meat (beef, turkey, chicken) to make enchiladas, chili or tacos.
  • Add a can or two of beans to soups. Kidney beans and black beans pair well with richer flavors, while lighter dishes, like chicken soup or green chili, work best with white beans.
  • Add a can of cannellini beans or navy beans when making a tuna or chicken salad.
  • Substitute chickpeas or kidney beans for meat when making a pasta dish or pasta salad.

The possibilities are truly endless – it’s a great opportunity to experiment with recipes, tweak them to your tastes and see what works best for you, rather than feeling totally stuck by predetermined instructions.

Make your own cake flour

A sieve filled with flour;  a bag of flour
Norpro/King Arthur

If you’re a regular baker, you know that there are many recipes that call for specialty flours rather than your standard all-purpose flour. This is usually done for textural reasons, like giving a cake a lighter, fluffier crumb than you might get with “regular” flour.

Unfortunately, unless you bake very frequently and in large quantities, chances are your cake flour will expire or come into contact with moisture or other spoiling substances before you can fully use it. Instead, save money by making your own cake flour whenever you need it for a recipe.

Just follow these steps when you’re ready to cook:

  1. Measure the amount of all-purpose flour required by the recipe.
  2. For every cup of flour, take out two tablespoons. For example, if the recipe calls for 2 cups of flour, measure out the full two cups, then scoop out four tablespoons.
  3. Replace those tablespoons with an equal amount of cornstarch.
  4. Sift together flour and cornstarch to combine. Pass through a sieve twice to obtain a lighter and finer texture, like store-bought cake flour.

Grate your own cheese

Two box graters used for grating cheese
spring leader

The pre-grated cheese is super convenient and it also comes with an unnecessary extra. An easy way to save money is to buy cheese in blocks, rather than pre-shredded bags, and shred it yourself instead.

All you need is a basic cheese grater and a block of your favorite cheese. For even more efficiency, get a box grater, which has four sides with four different grater “sizes,” from thin slicing to fine grating and everything in between. You’ll save money and get fresher cheese every time. You can even get creative and create your own cheese blends – the possibilities are endless.

Make your own salad and dressing

Two plates of salad, close up

While bagged salads and other pre-packaged salads can be convenient, they are also extremely wasteful. For the same price it will cost you to get a prepackaged salad kit, you can buy ingredients to make your own multiple times.

Instead of buying bagged or boxed salad kits, grab the actual ingredients for a salad and make your own. A head or two of your favorite lettuce, plus a few tomatoes or carrots, will go a lot further than a single salad kit. Choose the freshest ingredients from the produce section and combine them yourself, in the portions you want, throughout the week.

Want to save even more money? You can also make your own salad dressing at home! Just follow these steps for a quick and tasty salad dressing style dressing.

  1. Wash and mix your salad vegetables in a bowl.
  2. Drizzle the vegetables with olive oil. Start with about 2 tablespoons and add more as needed.
  3. Pour red wine vinegar into the mixture. Start with about 2 teaspoons and add more as needed.
  4. Sprinkle a pinch of your favorite seasoning on top. Just go with salt and pepper, or spice it up with garlic salt or another mix.
  5. Mix, taste and add more of any ingredient to taste.

Sticking to a budget can actually lead to a lot of creativity in the kitchen! With these simple and affordable tips, you’ll save money while preparing delicious meals that you (and everyone else) will want to eat again and again.