Stretch That Budget!

These days, everyone is looking to save money where they can. From budgeting to cutting expenses to homemade gifts, there are lots of ways to pinch your pennies. Have you looked at your food budget yet? Read on for some ideas to stretch your food budget in easy and manageable ways.

Shop Smart

grocery cart in aisleOne trick my mom taught me was to look at all the grocery ads each week and write down what I want to buy when it’s on sale. This is useful if you know you want to stock up on something. I always look for deals on frozen or canned vegetables or meat I can freeze.

You’ve probably heard “Don’t shop when you’re hungry.” When you’re hungry everything in the store looks good you end up with a grocery cart full of extra stuff. Make a list before you head to the grocery store and stick to it. This saves time and money.

One of my favorite tricks is to get items I can use in lots of ways. Some of my personal favorites are bags of dried beans, rice, noodles and eggs. You can make a lot of really delicious things with all of these as base ingredients. It’s great to stock up on items that have a longer shelf life. Cook some basic ingredients that you can stretch through a whole week in lots of different ways. Cooked shredded chicken is my household favorite. One day it can be used for chicken tacos. Another day it can be used to make barbecue chicken sandwiches. On another night, add some  frozen veggies and cooked noodles into broth for a tasty soup. Beans are another staple. Make a large batch of cooked beans in a slow cooker and use them for sides, main dishes and multiple meals. They freeze well too.

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

Homemade white chili chicken with beans, lime and corn close-up on the tableI asked a bunch of coworkers about their favorite ways to stretch their food budget. Here are their top tips:

  • Reuse leftovers to make something else.
  • Cut down how much meat you use or stop buying meat on a regular basis.
  • Use meat as a flavor enhancer, not the main taste.
  • Substitute things like quinoa, lentils or beans in place of meat.
  • Buy a whole roast chicken and cut it down. Save the bones and such to make homemade stock.
  • If you buy fresh vegetables, make sure to save the parts you cut off to also add to stock or as flavor enhancers while you cook.

I have friends who joke that growing up, they couldn’t ever find the butter container in their grandparent’s refrigerator since there were multiple plastic tubs! That’s one way I’ve seen folks cut down on buying reusable plastic containers is by washing and cleaning out meat, butter and other food-safe plastic containers to use as food storage in their home. Others have invested money is reusable and environmentally friendly products like steel or glass straws, silicone bags, and stainless steel drinking cups.

Homemade

So many things taste better when they’re made from scratch. Homemade soup, bread and baked goods all have a little something extra. Of course, not many of us have the time to make it all from scratch, so compromise.

I like buying boxes of cake mix when they’re on sale. This means on a weekend where my kid is craving something sweet, we can spend time in the kitchen together. If I make a batch or two of canned dough, I try to freeze some to have on hand for later. Homemade yogurt in a pressure cooker is fun to make and you get a lot! We make homemade popsicles in the summer. A colleague of mine always has ingredients in her freezer to make soup from scratch. By thinking ahead and keeping ingredients on hand or pre-made, you can save a lot.

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Meredith is the Business and Career Librarian. She loves helping job seekers, entrepreneurs, legal resource information seekers and people researching a variety of finance topics. She loves to read mysteries, historical fiction and historical mysteries. When she isn't working she loves to spend time with her family and enjoys learning new things to keep her mind fresh.