If you’re anything like me, you’re broke. Just because we can’t afford the finer things in life–fancy cars, exotic vacations, health care–doesn’t mean we have to starve to death, though. Not only is spending a mere $20 a week on groceries possible, it’s also probably a lot healthier than your current diet. Follow these tips and you’ll have enough moola left over in the ol’ budget to treat yourself to everyday luxuries like scented candles and booze.
Keep a Well-Stocked Pantry
Now, for the rest of the article, I’ll be operating under the assumption that you already have flour, salt, pepper, miscellaneous spices, your preferred cooking oil, et al sitting in a cabinet in your kitchen. You do have these things, yes? If the answer is “Of course,” congrats! You know how to be an adult! If the answer is “What’s flour?” you, my friend have much to learn. A fully packed pantry of dry goods is necessary in order for this experiment to work–you’re going to be doing a lot of cooking.
Buy in Bulk
Y’know those huge barrels of dried beans, lentils, and rice most supermarkets have? The ones with the big ol’ scoops in ‘em? They’re your new buddies. Bulk beans can be purchased for less than $1 a pound–throw them in a crockpot with some salt and water, wait a few hours, and BOOM–you have a fiber rich staple you can eat with rice, in burritos, or merely on their own. Bulk rice can be cooked up even quicker. You can add fresh or frozen veggies and sauce, and turn into an easy (and healthy) stir-fry. Speaking of sauces…
Make Your Own Sauces
A nice, flavorful sauce can make any food, no matter how inherently bland, taste swell (or, at the very least, palatable). Instead of spending exorbitant amounts of money on store bought, sickly sweet stir-fry sauce, I make my own out of pantry staples I always keep on hand–soy sauce, rice vinegar, chili flakes, salt, pepper, powdered ginger and garlic. Rice vinegar, when coupled with peanut butter, soy sauce and sugar, makes a fast and simple peanut sauce you can put on rice. Experiment with ingredients and make your own sauces. You know what flavors you like, so trust your judgment.
Condiments are Free
They’re like water! The air! The sun! They’re for everyone! (And by “everyone,” I mean “everyone who takes 30 hot sauce packets every time they patronize Taco Bell, and 45 ketchup packets whenever they patronize McDonald’s.”)
Embrace the Versatility of Eggs
My local dollar store sells eggs for $0.99 a dozen–that’s a mere $0.08 per egg. Eggs are one of the most versatile foods in the game–you can fry them for breakfast, hard boil them for a snack, make egg salad with them for lunch, scramble them in fried rice for dinner–the list goes on and on. Get yourself some eggs, pronto.
Remember the Dollar Store Isn’t Always Your Best Bet
Certain things, like eggs and spices, are far cheaper at the dollar store than traditional markets. Many items, like canned vegetables and produce, however, are more expensive. Make sure to comparison shop before you waste a buck.
Go Off the Beaten Path
Ethnic grocery stores always have great deals, and the cheapest prices on produce. Fresh produce makes any meal, no matter how simple, taste great–that’s a fact, jack.
Limit Your Meat Intake
You may have noticed I haven’t said a peep about meat yet. That’s because I don’t eat it. But if you insist on doing so, make sure to buy a ton of it when it’s on sale and freeze it, defrosting when necessary. Roast a cheap chicken on Monday and use that bird all week–make soup out of the chicken stock with some beans and veggies.
Make Your Own Tortillas
FUN FACT: Tortillas are like bread, but flatter, which means you can totally use them in place of bread. Sure, they’re cheap at the supermarket (usually $0.99 per pack), but they’re even cheaper when you make them yourself. All it takes is flour, salt, baking powder, vegetable oil and water, which you should have in your pantry by now, assuming you’ve been paying attention. You can also make your own tortilla chips by frying corn tortillas, which are more difficult to make but, thankfully incredibly cheap at the store–$0.69 will net you 30 or so.
Don’t Buy Crap
While that $0.99 cent can of SpaghettiOs may seem like a bargain, it actually isn’t. The same goes for ramen, or any of that other over processed, unsatisfying junk that litters store shelves. While making your own food is time consuming, it’s worth not punishing your body with convenient but nutritionally deficient foods like these–and in the long run, it really is cheaper.
While this may go without saying, I’m saying it regardless. Dry goods are good to buy in bulk, as they’re nonperishable, but think before you buy mass quantities of anything else. Ask yourself–are you really going to eat all that cheese before it goes bad? If the answer’s yes, mosey on.
Megan Koester is a writer and comedian living in–wait for it–Los Angeles. You can follow her on Twitter @bornferal.