There’s no doubt that you can quickly spend a fortune at the grocery store. Food is expensive enough as it is, but some people think it’s actually more expensive to be vegetarian and vegan or to buy organic food. The fact is none of that is actually true when you shop right. Here are some tips.
10. Buy from the bulk bins.
Yes, it’s kind of a pain stopping at the bulk department. You have to get a bag for everything you want and fill it up, then write the number on a little twisty tie and hope that you tie it securely enough not to spill out in your bag on the way home. Then when you’re there you have to find a way to store them properly (unless you can handle the kitchen anarchy that happens when you just throw the bags in your cabinets).
But it’s worth the trouble. The food is cheaper than the packaged versions (and in many cases it’s even the same brand). Plus you can buy as much or as little as you need, which is great if you want to try a new grain or dried bean and don’t want to take a chance on a huge bag of it first. You can even typically find many organic choices. It might also be the only place you’ll see some things that aren’t available in the packaged section. For example, I’ve found wheat berries, farro, and dried fava beans in bulk and nowhere else.
9. Watch the processed meat replacements and cheeses (real and fake).
Meat analogues like veggie burgers and dogs, chik’n tenders, and so on are definitely convenient to have for quick vegetarian and vegan meals. They’re excellent sources of protein and they taste pretty good, too. But they’re not cheap. In fact, sometimes I find they’re more expensive than the actual meat they’re designed to replace! For true budget grocery shopping, faux meat should be an occasional treat, not something you have at every meal.
Cheese is just generally expensive. Real cheese, particularly organic, requires a lot of milk. And it seems that cheese replacements cost just as much. It’s good to skip these for the budget conscious shopper.
8. Make your own meat analogues.
You can also make your own meat replacements. Packaged seitan, for example, is fairly pricey. However, if you stock up on a few cheap ingredients you can make tons of it for a fraction of the cost. And, with some textured vegetable protein (TVP)—check the bulk bins for that!—you can expand out into veggie sausages, “beef” style crumbles, and more. You can also control the sodium and add just the ingredients that you want. Many vegan cookbooks have different recipes to try, so if you make something you don’t like don’t give up!
7. Get creative with leftovers.
I used to typically let a lot of leftovers go to waste. I just didn’t enjoy eating something I’d made several days in a row. I was much more interested in coming up with something new.
I’ve gotten a lot better about that. Mostly, I find ways to make leftovers into something new. This is a good way to avoid food waste and reduce cost.
For example, I may take some leftover chili and use it as taco fillings later. Or add a can of beans to some cooked pasta. I recently used my leftovers for Tofu Rancheros by putting everything into a tortilla and cooking it in a skillet until it got crispy on the outside. This made a great breakfast burrito!
6. Store your dried foods and grains properly.
Pantry moths are the biggest culprit for ruining stored food. I’ve seen them hatch inside an unopened package of flour. Once inside they fill it with web-like structures and you have to toss the whole thing out.
They seem less likely to do this when it’s cold. Store any food you can in the refrigerator or freezer and it will keep the pantry moths away. If, like me, you have far too many beans and grains to do that you might try keeping them in a cooler part of your house. So far I’ve been keeping some things in a dry basement and it’s worked.
5. Check for manufacturer’s specials.
If there’s a product you use a lot, like a particular brand of soymilk, visit the company’s website and look for a sign-up form. Giving them your email address is a great way to learn about new products, but you may also receive links to print coupons for subscriber specials.
4. Keep tabs of what things cost at different stores.
Try to work in trips to different places to enjoy cost savings. You may discover some surprises. Maybe your soymilk is a bit cheaper at the drug store. Pick up several the next time you’re there for personal care supplies.
Natural food stores are probably the places to get the best prices on specialty items, but regular grocery stores tend to have natural sections now and you might find comparable prices there. For example, my favorite brand of vegetable juice is about 30 cents more expensive at the grocery store compared to Whole Foods. But it’s often on sale, making it a little cheaper when it is.
3. Plan your meals.
If you can have the discipline to figure out a week’s worth of menus at a time it will pay off handsomely. Honestly, I was never very good at this. I’m much more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants chef.
But by planning your meals you can find ways to use the same ingredient in multiple dishes. So maybe you splurge on something you wouldn’t normally buy, but you know you’re going to get several meals out of it, which makes it more economical.
Honestly, you’ll also probably eat healthier by taking the time to do this.
2. Substitute in recipes.
While every ingredient in a recipe ultimately contributes to how it ends up tasting, many of them can be substituted. For example, if you have a recipe calling for a tablespoon of chopped cilantro, do you really want to spend several dollars on an entire bunch and have most of it go bad? You could choose to leave it out or try a bit of lime juice if you have that instead.
Spices and herbs are another common culprit. Sometimes it’s definitely worth it to buy a special bottle of something in particular to make the recipe as it’s written. But you can also just leave it out in many cases. If you don’t think you’ll use marjoram much you could just substitute oregano instead. Ground coriander is nice in certain dishes, but you can often get away with just a bit of cumin.
1. And the number 1 way to lower your grocery bill?
You’re probably already doing it. Go vegetarian or vegan!
Bonus: Organic store brands are often cheaper or no more expensive than regular brands. For example, Whole Foods Market’s 365 Everyday Value has many organic selections and they’re quite reasonably priced.
And, of course, you should not go grocery shopping when you’re hungry!