Struggling to reduce your food budget? try out these Hacks

Food budget to reduce food costs

You open your pantry door to meet empty food containers on the shelves. The thought of purchasing food scares you, not because you are allergic, but the double cost of the same or less quantity gives you a headache. Maybe your paycheck is two weeks away, or maybe you recently got laid off and are wondering how to reduce your food budget. Whatever the case, you must do something about the situation.

As the world grapples with rising food prices, reducing food costs is important now more than ever. Feeding a family three square meals with snacks in between is getting harder by the day. Many are stressed and no matter how hard they try to provide, things just aren’t working.

I’ve been in your shoes. I know exactly where it pinches and exactly how to reduce and stretch your food supplies. Read through these proven tips and get long-lasting solutions to your food costs.

1. Have a food budget

For most people, food is the hardest expense to manage. It is a decision influenced by cravings and availability of money rather than sound budgeting practices. Though there is no standard amount on how much you should spend on food, you need an estimate.

A simple way of making a food budget is listing all your family meals and calculating their total cost. Once you know the amount you are spending on food, evaluate your income to see whether it’s affordable or expensive. No two budgets are similar.

Another way of creating a food budget is by setting aside a specific amount for food. This limits your spending, thus allowing you to operate within a budget. You could also reduce or eliminate certain foods from your budget.

Whichever option you prefer, tweak your meal options until you come up with a manageable food budget.

2. Bulk buying to lower food budget

Buying food items in bulk is a cost effective method that has worked for many. Large quantity purchases attract discounts which will save you some coins. You also get to save on transport costs for not having to visit stores frequently.

When doing bulk purchases, ensure you know the retail price of items and divide it with the price of bulk goods to see the amount you are saving. This is because not all bulk purchases will save you some coins.

Bulk shopping also guarantees a long-term supply of food. This food, when stored properly, can last you three to six months. For a prudent user, the three or six-month break from buying food is enough to set up a kitchen garden to supplement your meals.

Foods with a long shelf life are the best for bulk purchases. They include; grains, flour, cooking oil and dried meats. Not unless you know how to preserve perishable foods, don’t buy them in bulk.

3. Portion your meals

Portioning should start from meal preparations trickling down to serving. Prepare and divide your food in batches before storing in the freezer. This ensures you prepare enough food for your family. When you don’t portion food, you are likely to cook lots which may go to waste if not handled well.

To effectively portion food, you will need kitchen measurement tools such as a scale, measuring cups and jugs, sizeable food storage containers, bowls and plates. These will help you use the right measurements during meal preparations.

Encourage family members to serve portions they can finish. It is wasteful to serve huge portions that will probably end up in the bin. Going for a second serving is better.

A stocked pantry and freezer isn’t a license to prepare excess food or serve huge portions.

4. Have a functional meal plan

Whereas writing a meal plan is the first step towards reducing food expenses, it doesn’t end there. The next important step is heading to the market and buying only what you need. Doing this ensures you have all the ingredients while preventing you from impulse purchases.

Meal planning also helps you prepare food in advance. Instead of spending hours in the kitchen preparing food from scratch every day, spare a day to prepare and store food in readiness for your next meal. If you are the type that prefers fast foods for the convenience, create the convenience by having a functional meal plan. For example, cooked frozen grains will only require defrosting, and it’s ready for cooking, unlike wasting time to go buy beans plus other ingredients before starting the cooking process.

5. Prepare meals from scratch

Cooking is not everyone’s cup of tea, but when tough times call, tough measures save the situation. People opt for takeaways because of the convenience. The convenience of not having to knead dough or boil grains.

Who wouldn’t appreciate prepared or pre-cooked food after a busy day? I definitely wouldn’t mind. But a quick comparison of the prices of pre-prepared foods like chopped vegetables or canned foods to whole foods reveals a big price margin. Pre-prepared foods are expensive because of their cost of production.

For someone running on a budget, cost overrides convenience. Instead of going for pre made groceries, chop your vegetables and store if possible. Forget the canned pineapple and buy it whole. Do away with the processed canned foods and watch your food cost go down. There are many meals you can prepare from scratch, but only if you put your mind to it.

6. Embrace low budget meals

Before you stretch your hands to pick expensive ingredients, ask yourself what the same amount of money can buy. Ingredients cost money, and that is what you’re trying to manage.

Here’s how to go about it:

  • Substitute expensive ingredients

Substitution is all about replacement. Replacing one or several ingredients that can give similar results. You could opt for chicken or duck meat instead of turkey. You could also use vegetable oil instead of butter for baking. The options are endless.

  • Reduce the ingredients

Some food recipes demand for many ingredients. A single meal may comprise three proteins and over five spices. The only way to go about it is by reducing the requirements and watch the difference in your pockets. The taste may not be what you are used to, but at least no one’s going to bed hungry.

This is not the time to think about using three large onions and six tomatoes. Go lean on your meals to control your food costs.

  • Embrace simple cooking methods

The simpler the cooking method, the lower the cost of preparing a meal. A meal that has to be prepared using different cooking methods before it’s edible means a lot of ingredients will come into play, plus you will use more cooking energy, translating to higher power bills.

If baking a particular meal is cheaper than deep-frying, go with it.

7. Reduce your meat intake

Meat dishes, though popular for their taste, are among the most expensive foods people eat. Most people prefer meat as their major source of protein, forgetting there are other healthier and cheaper options.

Since you cannot eliminate meat entirely from your diet, here’s how to go about it:

  • Find alternative sources of protein

Meat is not the only source of protein. There are other sources, such as beans, eggs, milk, soy, cheese and nuts.

  • Go for ground meat

Ground or minced meat when cooked and mixed with vegetables can give you a large meat flavored dish. You do not have to buy a lot of it and even if you do, don’t use it all. Portion and add to vegetable stews.

You can even use it as a garnish in your salads.

  • Avoid expensive meats and cuts

Not all meats cost the same. Some are costlier than others. The price of turkey is higher than chicken. Some types of fish are more expensive than others. Avoid highly priced meats by buying the less costly. This will help reduce your food budget.

8. Eliminate processed snacks and drinks

Though processed snacks and drinks don’t serve nutritional needs, they have found their way into people’s budgets and pantries. To some, shopping is not complete without several bottles of soda, crisps or biscuits. If you are struggling to put food on the table, drop the snacks. Those things don’t come cheap.

You are better off making your own snacks and juices if finances allow.

9. Avoid eating out

No matter how cheap restaurant meals or take-outs are, they can never be cheaper than home-cooked meals. It might look expensive to gather your finances and buy food, but once you have done your shopping, you are set. Home-cooked meals are better in terms of nutrition, portion and cost. You will also have leftovers for the next meal.

Eating out every day is unsustainable. The meals may be mouth-watering, but in time, you are going to run out of money. To discourage the urge to eat out, try these hacks:

  • Have a functional meal plan
  • Learn how to cook

Teach yourself how to make delicious meals so you can enjoy them from the comfort of your home.

10. Reduce your meal intake

Different nutritionists have varying opinions on the number of meals you should take in a day. There are those who recommend three square meals with snacks in between, while others recommend four or five meals.

Well, not unless you have underlying health conditions, there’s no harm in reducing your meal intake. Introduce brunch and linner to your meal schedules.

11. Go for filling meals

Food is not just food. Well, it’s food because it’s edible, but some meals are more filling than others. Communities around the world have meals they consider heavy or filling. Therefore, what one community considers a heavy meal may be light to another community.

Heavy meals will keep you satiated and powered through several hours, keeping hunger at bay. This reduces the urge to keep visiting the kitchen or buy food. Foods such as corn, beans, cassava, sweet potatoes are a good place to start.

12. Start a vegetable garden

Until the early 90s, most families had vegetable gardens to supplement their income. People used their back or front yards to grow vegetables and keep poultry. However, this has changed over the years and instead of growing food, people have moved to planting flowers and mowing lawns. It’s not wrong to grow flowers and have uniform mowed lawns, but if you can grow flowers, you can definitely grow vegetables.

A vegetable garden will reduce your grocery budget. Instead of buying kales, tomatoes and onions, you can harvest from your garden and use money on other ingredients.

People with enough space have no excuse not to have a vegetable garden. Those with less space can opt for vertical or container gardening.

13. Cook One-pot meals

These are meals cooked in a single pot. Like, instead of cooking rice and beef stew separately, you cook it in one pot. One-pot meals will allow you to cook tasty food even when you are short on ingredients. Creativity and experimentation are of importance for such meals. You can brighten a plain meal of rice using spices or vegetables.

This cooking style requires you to know the cooking time of different ingredients. That way, you know what to start with and at what point to add the rest of the ingredients.

14. Buy directly from farmers or local markets

Assuming you live near a farming community, take advantage of their presence and buy food from them. You will get fresh, quality and quantity produce at farm gate prices unlike if you had bought from stores. Food prices from local farmers are fair because they do not incur transport, packaging and other business related costs.

Local markets are also a great place to buy food at affordable prices. Traders in these markets source directly from farmers and their prices are fair.

The best time to buy produce from the open markets is during the wee hours. That’s mostly when fresh produce arrives in the market and the prices are low.

15. Store leftovers for later use

Reusing leftovers is a cheap way of maintaining low food costs. Instead of throwing food, store it in the refrigerator and use it within the week. Those without refrigerators can boil their food and leave it uncovered for it to cool completely.

You can create a new meal from leftovers. This is possible by experimenting with food combinations.

You can’t reheat food over a long period. It will gradually lose its nutritional value and the texture will put you off. So try to consume leftovers as soon as possible.

16. Use what is in your pantry or fridge

Open your pantry and check what is available. What do you see? Use whatever is in there before restocking. The FIFO method will come in handy.

FIFO means, First in, First out. Meaning, supplies bought first will be used first. Use the FIFO method to clear your pantry before restocking.

If you have rice or beans in your pantry; use it up before restocking. Should you restock, only buy food that supplements what you already have. If you only have rice, buy vegetables or grains that go well with it.

There are people who are addicted to buying ingredients even when it’s unnecessary. Avoid this temptation as it leads to impulse purchases.

17. Buy in season foods

When the supply of any item is high, the price goes down. The same applies to food. When the supply of food is high, the prices fall. The low prices of in season foods gives room for bulk buying.

Availability of food also ensures long-term supplies, meaning you’ll be able to put something on the table.

Take advantage of such seasons by stocking up and finding ways to preserve food.

18. Embrace store brands

Many stores have come up with their own products, which sell at relatively lower prices than established brands. It won’t hurt to try them out.

19. Don’t throw it away

People have embraced a culture of throwing food for the flimsiest of reasons. Much as food poisoning is real, you can overcome it by adopting better food handling practices. Forgetting to warm or store food in the refrigerator is not enough reason to throw away food.

Spoilt milk doesn’t have to go down the drain. There are recipes that could benefit from it.

Use your senses to gauge whether food is good for consumption. You can smell to gauge whether it gives off an unpleasant smell. You could also stir using a clean spatula to see if it’s sticky. Just don’t be quick to throw away food without a valid reason.

20. Be on the lookout for sales and offers

Sales and offers on food supplies provide perfect opportunities to stock up. You get to buy discounted items while saving money.

Be on the lookout for discounts at your local stores. Most established stores also offer loyalty award programs. However, try not to be carried away by the discounts as you may end up buying what you don’t need.

21. Try out new foods

In some cases, the reason people struggle with food costs is that of limitations. These limitations, whether religious, self or market-imposed, have prevented people from trying out new foods.

Apart from religious limitations, which are a no-go zone, nothing is stopping you from trying out new foods such as mushrooms, duck eggs, sardines and much more.

With options, you get variety. A variety of food will allow you to swiftly move to other affordable foods. This, by itself, is an unpopular yet effective way of reducing your food budget.

The surest way to deal with food related issues is to address them from a food perspective. No amount of reducing unrelated expenses to maintain your food budget is going to work. Never. Not today or in the future.

Apply two or more tips mentioned in this article and see yourself effortlessly put a meal on the table even through the hardest times.

Are there any smart measures you’ve taken to stretch or reduce your food budget? If there are, kindly share with us in the comment section. At, we are all about solutions and alternatives.

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