5 Creative Ways to Stretch Your Grocery Budget

Elizabeth Marglin

by | Read time: 5 minutes

Inflation is hitting us everywhere—at the gas station, at the airlines, and even more ubiquitously, at the grocery store. As consumer prices climb rapidly, people need to find a way to adjust, such as carpooling, staycations and becoming more frugal with how they shop and stretch their food.

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If you think food prices have become wildly inflated, you are not simply imagining it. The USDA found “that nearly everything one might ingest, whether it comes from the grocery store or restaurant–is going up in price. Beef, pork, poultry chicken and fish are going up an average of 13 percent whereas fresh vegetables are only up roughly 4 percent. There’s never been a better time to be vegetarian or vegetarian adjacent.

So how to make your groceries go further without skimping on taste? Try these five ideas for making a budget seem more like a bonanza.

How to Stretch Your Grocery Budget

1. Cook with low-cost, filling foods

In most third world countries, the staple food is some version of rice and beans. Avail yourself upon potatoes, grains, pulses, legumes for delicious and satisfying meals. Note that when beans and grains combine, they form a complete protein source. If meat is a must, make it part of the show rather than the main attraction. Add it to beans, use it to create an umami (savory) side dish or round out dense, flavorful produce like mushrooms or squash with tasty morsels of meat, chicken or fish to add rich flavor but not bulk.

Try: Homemade humus may sound ambitious, but it’s quite easy. Just blend canned or cooked chickpeas in a blender or food processor with garlic/lemon juice/tahini/smoked paprika and olive oil. Add water and salt to taste.

2. Make whatever it takes

Pride yourself on a scratch kitchen, where you opt for homemade whenever possible. Try to limit your reliance on mixes (such as cake mix), premade sauces and dressings. The more processed an item is, such as premade chicken kebabs or meal kits, the more expensive it is. Make your own pasta sauce from canned tomatoes and fresh garlic and herbs; roast your own chicken and then use the carcass to make stock; whip up an easy salad dressing with honey mustard, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It’s easy to knock out waffle, crepe and pancake batter with a few simple ingredients instead of defaulting to a mix.

Whenever you find yourself buying an item, ask yourself how easy it would be to make from scratch. Often, with items such as bread or tofu, the amount of labor involved justifies buying them ready made. But something like gomasio (Japanese sesame salt), which is simply roasted sesame seeds and salt, is a cinch to make your own.

Try: Sprouted almonds, which will set you back around $10 for 12 oz, are easy to make—if you have a dehydrator. Simply soak almonds overnight in water with a pinch of salt, sprinkle with tamari/maple syrup or other spices as desired, and dehydrate till crisp, which can take over 48 hours.

3. Properly store food

Don’t trust the flimsy plastic wrap to ward off freezer burn. Instead, wrap meat in heavier plastic, foil or freezer paper. Store dairy at the back of the fridge, so it doesn’t spoil as quick. Store meat on the bottom shelf so juices don’t drip on produce. To help them last longer, fresh herbs and green onions can be stored upright in a tall glass of fresh water. Just trim the stems, cover them with a bit of plastic wrap, and place them in the fridge.

Try: Bananas and avocados can often spoil before you have a chance to use them. Prevent them from getting mushy by proactively freezing extra bananas and avocados when they are at peak. (Peel bananas and avocados and cut them in pieces before freezing.)

4. Create lavish leftovers

If you are staring at a fridge with produce about to go to the dark side, do a few bold interventions. Throw wilting produce into a stir fry or add to ramen. Fruit that’s starting to bruise would be excellent to make into a crisp, a forgiving home for blemished fruit.

Try: If you have excess milk, try transforming it into yogurt. Heat the milk up almost to a boil, and then let it cool to warm (if you dip your finger in, should be warm but not burning). Add some plain fresh yogurt, with live probiotics, as a starter, and place in a sunny spot or wrap in a towel. Give it 12 hours or so to set, depending on outdoor temps. Homemade yogurt has a special flavor—it’s one of those things that taste exponentially better when homemade.

5. Buy in bulk

Buying certain items in bulk quantity, such as rice or nuts, offers substantial savings. Large bags of frozen fruit, for example, tend to be much cheaper (per pound) than smaller bags. Pasta, canned goods, shelf stable milk such as soy, oat or rice, are much more affordable when bought in quantity instead of singly.

Try: Stock up on sale or clearance items or take advantage of BOGO (buy one get one) offers, especially when it’s an item you already know you love.

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