How to Save Money on Food When You Live Alone

No more wasting food or money! A few smart strategies can make meals for one affordable and simple.

If you’re cooking for one, you probably know the feeling of disappointment and frustration that comes with throwing away a lot of food before you’ve had the chance to finish it. You’ve probably also thrown items in your cart, knowing fully well that half of it will end up in the trash. Often food isn’t packaged in smaller portions and, when it is, the price might be too high. But have no fear. You can save money on food when you live alone.

1. Shop With a Friend or Family Member.

This works especially well in wholesale stores, because chances are you don’t have the space to store 20 cans of soup or a large box of granola bars. Shop with someone else to utilize savings that come with buying in bulk without hoarding excess food that will go to waste. Split the cost of items and then split the items themselves. This works well for multi-packs, large variety packs or non-perishable staples.

2. Meal Plan

This is one of the best ways to save money on food when you live alone. Having a meal plan helps ensure all the groceries you purchase are used. Center your meal plan around using items on sale at your grocery store and items that can be used in multiple recipes. For example, I’ll find two dinner recipes that require half of an onion each, ensuring the onion I purchase is totally used. Or, I’ll buy a package of chicken, divide it, freeze it and plan for three meals based around chicken for the week.

Making a meal plan can be simple, too — craft it while waiting for the bus or drinking your morning coffee. Having a meal plan and grocery shopping list to go with it will save you time at the grocery store. It also helps you save on groceries by preventing you from aimlessly and mindlessly spending.

3. Utilize Your Freezer

When it comes to food, cook what you want and freeze the rest. Wrap meats, chopped veggies and other foods in easy to thaw individual portions. If you can’t use something before it’s about to go bad, freeze it. When you cook, make several servings at a time and freeze what you don’t eat for future meals. Your freezer will quickly become your best friend.

4. Create a Budget

Setting a limit for spending on food each week can prevent overspending on groceries and food. Saving doesn’t always mean depriving yourself of all luxuries — adding a small budget for ordering in and eating out is also an option.

5. Learn From Past Purchases

After your next grocery shopping trip, stick your receipt on the fridge. Each time you finish something you bought, highlight it on the receipt. Before your next trip to the grocery store, check your list and reassess. Whatever ended up going in the trash, barely being touched or never being opened may not be worth repurchasing or should be bought in smaller quantities. This is a simple way to learn what’s a necessity and what’s a waste.

6. Host a Monthly Potluck

Don’t feel like halving or quartering another recipe? Have a potluck meal. This is a great way to try new foods and spend time with family and friends. Have each person bring a dish, side dish or dessert and enjoy a meal that doesn’t involve eating it leftover for lunch all week.

7. Revamp Leftovers

When trying to save, leftovers become a staple. Leftovers can easily be turned into sandwiches, quesadillas or even salad toppings. Toss the leftover grilled chicken from your salad with frozen veggies and teriyaki sauce for a last minute stir fry. Last night’s chicken parm? Make it into a sandwich. Leftovers don’t need to be boring or overly repetitive — all you need is creativity.

8. Double Check Deals

I learned this lesson in the cereal aisle, where I was grabbing two boxes of cereal when I only wanted one because the cereal was two for $4. “You know you can buy one and still get the sale price, right?” said older woman, who shared this wisdom as she threw one box in her cart and walked away. She was right. The originally $3 box of cereal was still $2, even when I only bought one.

Don’t let tempting deals that require buying multiple products to get the discount cajole you into buying more than you need. Many grocery stores honor the deal price if you purchase just one. Check your store’s policy or scan the item yourself to see if qualifies. If you’re buying more than you’ll actually use to save money, you’re not actually saving. If you do buy extras of a food to earn savings, freeze or figure out how to utilize the excess.

9. Buy Versatile Foods

Foods that can be used in many ways can prevent your meals from getting boring and repetitive, lowering the chances of ordering takeout. These foods can also be added to many recipes to make them more hearty and filling. An egg can be cooked in so many ways and used in so many dishes from fried rice to chocolate chip cookies. Some other affordable versatile options are pasta, poultry, rice, potatoes, and lentils.

10. Go Meatless

Meat is often one of the priciest parts of grocery shopping budgets. Plan for a few meatless meals per week. Pasta, quinoa and potatoes are some great focal points for meatless meals. (However, when you must use meat, utilize these butcher’s secrets for saving money on meat!)

11. Keep Track of Expiration Dates

This is the method I’ve found to be most effective when it comes to using groceries before they expire. Keep a dry erase board or notepad on your fridge with perishable items purchased that week (eggs, milk, cheese, sausage, etc.) and list them in order of which expires the soonest. Also track of when certain things are opened, like bags of shredded cheese, so you knew to use them as they could potentially expire sooner. Also list fresh fruits and veggies purchased that week as a reminder to use them before they rot.

This method adds incentive to cook certain meals before others and creates awareness of which foods are nearing their expiration date. This is also helpful for those of us who constantly ask ourselves, “What should I make for dinner?” When you you have an opened bag of shredded cheddar, half of a bell pepper and some chicken that’s set to expire tomorrow, you might be inspired to cook up some chicken fajitas. It’s almost like a game — can you use all of your groceries before they expire? The prize is getting the most bang for your buck and not wasting money on food.

12. Always Have Condiments & Spices

These have a long shelf life and can transform any dish. I always keep hot sauce, Dijon mustard, Teriyaki sauce, pasta sauce, soy sauce and pesto on hand for last-minute dishes.

13. Limit Ordering Takeout

This option is more tempting when you live alone. There’s no one to stop you from order pizza, sushi and Chinese at all hours. Learn what tempts you to order out. Do you tend to order out after a long day of work when you’re too tired to cook? Throw ingredients in your slow cooker in the morning so you have a meal waiting when you get home or store already made meals in your freezer. While not the healthiest option, keeping an emergency can of soup or frozen pizza on hand can be a quick fix that’s cheaper than ordering in.

If you do order food, try to maximize your savings. On websites like Seamless and Grubhub, check off “Coupons Available” or “Free Delivery” when searching for restaurants. You can also order for pick up versus paying a delivery fee and tip. You can save when you eat out at restaurants, too.

14. Buy Frozen or Canned 

While buying fresh is often the tastiest option, fresh fruits and vegetables expire quickly and can get expensive. If you’re looking to cut costs at the grocery store, opt for some frozen and canned foods. They have a long shelf life — no need to worry about them going bad before you can eat them.

15. Use Cash Back Credit Cards

If you typically charge your grocery store purchases, this is a great option. Many credit cards offer cash back on purchases, including the ones you make at the grocery store. To see if you qualify for these types of cards, you can check two free credit scores every month on Credit.com.

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50 Ways to Save at the Supermarket

Everyone's gotta eat. You might as well save while you do it!

Whether you’re an expert home chef making culinary masterpieces or a kitchen novice whose idea of home cooking is boxed mac and cheese, you’ve got to hit the supermarket to stock the kitchen. Grocery expenses add up, and you might be looking for ways to avoid sticker shock at the cash register.

Here are 50 ways to save at the supermarket.

1. Get a Store Loyalty Card

Many supermarkets offer some version of a store loyalty card, which can provide exclusive discounts and even custom deals based on your shopping preferences. Many loyalty cards can save you money at the pump with select gas stations.

2. Use Your Grocery Store’s Gas Rewards

If your supermarket loyalty card has a gas program, make sure to take advantage. They’re often tied to specific fuel providers, and the savings per gallon can really add up. While this doesn’t save on groceries, it will provide fuel savings as a direct result of your shopping.

3. Get a Cash Back Credit Card

Cash back credit cards earn money back on all purchases, including groceries. Some cards have special cash back rates on groceries, and can earn you as much as 6% back every time you spend at the supermarket. Most credit cards with great cash back require a decent credit score. Before applying, check your credit score for free with Credit.com to see where you stand.

4. Check Your Mail

Those flyers you tend to throw out with the rest of your junk mail may contain valuable offers at your local supermarkets. Next time you get some circulars in the mail, take a few minutes to page through them.

5. Check the Store Entrance

If you did throw away last week’s flyers, look around the supermarket entrance as you walk in. Oftentimes, you’ll find the current circular stacked up and waiting for your perusal, which is a great last-minute way to find deals.

6. Sign Up for Emails

Sign up online for emails from your supermarket of choice. They’ll send you current local deals and even personalized offers based on your shopping history if you tie a loyalty card to your account.

7. Save Your Receipts

When you get home, check your receipts before tossing them out. They may contain coupons on the back that you can use next time.

8. Look for Deals on Multiple Units

If you can save a bit by stocking up on multiple units of the same item, take advantage. You can save later by stocking up now.

9. …But Check the Unit Price

Be wary when looking at those “10 for $10” deals, however. They may simply use creative phrasing to encourage bulk buying. Check the unit price, because sometimes you can get the same price no matter how many units you buy.

10. Only Buy Nonperishable Items in Bulk

Only buy things in bulk if you can freeze them, stow them away or use them before they go bad. The best deals in the world won’t help if you have to throw away your goods before you get the chance to use them.

11. Shop at Warehouse/Bulk Stores

Bulk or warehouse membership clubs can offer great discounts. You may want to compare prices, but don’t assume that prices are lower based on the supermarket you’re in. Membership clubs tend to work best when you’re shopping for big families.

12. Look Out for Deals

Many supermarkets “flag” deals using labels that stand out as you walk down the aisle. Any time you’re hunting for a specific item, make sure to look for flags in the area.

13. Buy Generic When the Quality Is Similar

Some store brand items aren’t of the same quality as their brand name counterparts. Others are fairly equal in quality, and you can save by buying the generic brand.

14. Check the Top & Bottom Shelves

The most expensive goods are usually placed at eye level. It’s a trick that encourages shoppers to reach for the priciest items. Look up and down before choosing what to put in your cart.

15. Ask for Rain Checks

If the supermarket is out of a sale item, you can ask for a rain check, which is an IOU they will honor the next time you’re in the store. When you come back, they’ll give you the sale price, even if the sale is no longer running.

16. Make a List

Don’t head to the supermarket without a plan, as you can wind up wasting money on things you don’t need. Instead, plan your meals ahead of time and make a list, then stick to that list when you get to the store.

17. Don’t Buy Something You Already Have

As you’re making your shopping list, check your fridge, freezer and pantry. You may already have some of the items you need.

18. Plan Meals Around What You Already Have

You can also reverse engineer your shopping list based on what you already have stocked in your kitchen. Look at your existing supplies and plan meals around those, choosing recipes for which you already have some or all of the ingredients.

19. Plan Your Meals Around Sales

If you know what deals are currently available, you can plan your meals around discounts and source all your meals from sale items.

20. Don’t Shop Hungry

Shopping while hungry can lead to indulgences, and you may end up stocking your cart with things you desire in the moment. If you want to avoid splurging on ice cream and potato chips, eat before leaving home.

21. Shop Alone

Heading to the supermarket with friends and family (especially kids) can lead to unnecessary purchases. If you can, head to the supermarket alone so you can stick to your list.

22. Buy Reusable, Not Disposable

Reusable goods can reduce your reliance on disposables, which must be continuously restocked. For example, Tupperware containers will last indefinitely, while paper bowls are thrown out after one use.

23. Bring Your Own Bags

Some states, counties and cities impose taxes on plastic bags to discourage their use. Buying reusable bags once can help you avoid those taxes forever. Plus, you’ll be helping the environment.

24. Start Your Own Kitchen Herb Garden

If you have a green thumb, you may already supplement your grocery shopping with an outdoor garden. Even if you aren’t botanically gifted or you don’t have space for a garden, you can create a mini herb garden in your kitchen to complement your recipes.

25. Buy Seasonal

When it comes to produce, buying what’s in season will save cash. For instance, peaches are cheaper in the summertime. While you may be able to get peaches in the winter, you’ll have to pay a steeper price.

26. Get a Grocery App

There are many grocery apps available for your mobile phone. These apps may offer rebates, compare prices across multiple stores or help you plan recipes. Check out what’s available for your phone to identify apps that can help you save.

27. Use the Smaller Cart

If you can fit your necessities in a basket or mini shopping cart, roll with the smaller option. The large shopping carts may encourage you to fill them up with unnecessary goods.

28. Double Couponing

Some supermarkets allow double couponing, which means you can get twice the advertised savings. Not all stores offer double coupons, and those that do may only honor double coupons for certain deals or on certain days. Check with your local supermarkets to learn their policies.

29. Price Matching

Some stores have price matching policies in place if you can demonstrate that another store has a lower price. Some supermarkets will even honor competitor coupons.

30. Drink Tap Water

It’s much more cost effective to get your drinking water straight from the tap or keep a water filter in your refrigerator. In most cases, bottled water is an unnecessary expense.

31. Don’t Buy Single-Use Items

It will always be cheaper to buy an item in a large container and avoid single-use items. For instance, a two-liter of soda is cheaper than canned or bottled soft drinks.

32. Don’t Wander the Aisles

Only visit the aisles and areas that have the items on your list. If you wander the aisles aimlessly, you’re bound to see something you want (but don’t need).

33. Don’t Buy Premade Meals

Premade meals will cost you dearly for the prep work. If you’re tempted by the salad buffet or the deli’s premade pasta, remember that you can eat these meals at a fraction of the price if you buy the ingredients and make them yourself.

34. Slice and Dice Your Own Food

Whether it’s fruit, deli meats or cheese, you’ll pay extra for the privilege of buying your foods pre-sliced or pre-diced when you could cut them yourself. And while we don’t all have deli slicers at home, you can chop up your fruits and veggies in a matter of minutes.

35. Shop Around

If you shop at the same supermarket out of habit, you may want to try shopping at other area stores. Pay attention to the prices of your favorite items as you shop around. You can compare receipts from different stores to see where you’re getting the best deals.

36. Review Your Receipts

When you get home from your shopping trips, take a close look at your receipts. You may start to see patterns: unnecessary purchases, items you’re paying too much for and what tends to cost you the most. You can use this information to make frugal decisions the next time you shop.

37. Buy Frozen Veggies When They’re Out of Season

When your vegetables of choice are out of season, you can find them bagged up in the frozen aisle, usually at a cheaper price than the fresh versions.

38. Eat Your Leftovers

Depending on its size, yesterday’s dinner can provide today’s lunch or feed you for a week. Don’t pass over leftovers in favor of something fresh. It might be even tastier today.

39. Use Your Senior Discount

Senior discounts vary between supermarkets and locations, and some stores only offer senior discounts on certain days. If you’re eligible for a senior discount, make sure to ask about your store’s policy. If they don’t have one, you may want to start shopping elsewhere, because an automatic discount can really rack up savings over time.

40. Follow Supermarkets on Social Media

Already on Facebook and Twitter? Make sure to follow your supermarket. They could share deals you can’t find elsewhere.

41. Avoid Impulse Buys Near the Checkout Line

The candy, magazines and other goodies by the checkout line are meant to tempt you for one last impulse buy before you leave. When you’re that close to the exit, try to resist temptation.

42. Shop Earlier in the Day

If you shop earlier in the day, you’ll have access to a better selection of goods that haven’t been picked over. Not only will you have better options, you won’t have to choose a more expensive substitute if the store has run out of a certain item.

43. Eat Less Meat

Eating less meat can reduce your risk of preventable diseases and health conditions and reduce your carbon footprint. Meat can be also be expensive, and removing meat from a few meals a week can cut your grocery bill. If a few meals a week sounds like a lot, you can try Meatless Mondays, which are exactly what they sound like but can still save significant dough.

44. Eat Less Cheese

Cheese can be quite expensive. Removing the cheese from a few meals a week should cut down on your spending.

45. Check Expiration Dates

When buying perishable products like milk, make sure to check the expiration date. You don’t want to buy something that expires in two days and you’ll have to throw away.

46. …But Know the Limits of Expiration Dates

Expiration dates aren’t well-regulated, and are often used to indicate peak freshness, not warn you that a product is no longer safe to consume. Many people don’t understand this, with 90% of Americans throwing out food before it’s gone bad. Do a little online research to educate yourself before you toss something out.

47. Properly Store Your Food

Anything that you can freeze — such as meat and bread — should go in the freezer if you aren’t using it soon. You don’t want to forget about some fish in the fridge until it starts smelling. Properly organizing your fridge and freezer will certainly help.

48. Practice Portion Control

Eating smaller meals can be good for your figure and your wallet.

49. Take Advantage of Your Workplace’s Food

Does your workplace offer breakfast, coffee or snacks in the break room? Make sure to take advantage.

50. Hunt Down Free Meals

Free meals are a boon to the frugal. Employer-sponsored dinners, backyard barbecues and meals with a generous family member can help get you through the week. Of course, if you’re afraid of looking like a freeloader, you could ask for gift cards to your favorite restaurant for your next birthday.

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