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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