Budget Byting Principles

Over the past few months I’ve been compiling a list of principles to shop and cook by. I have identified 6 practices that have really helped me take a big “byte” out of my monthly food budget. With a little planning, a little effort and a little compromise you can save a lot of money.

BUDGET BYTING PRINCIPLES

1: PLAN YOUR MEALS

Take the time, once a week, to think about what you want to eat for the next 5-7 days. Decide on a few recipes then make your grocery list. Look in your refrigerator, freezer and cabinets to see what “left over” ingredients you have on hand that need to be used up (if you’re throwing away food, you’re throwing away money). Make a mental (or physical) list of these items, hit the internet and search for recipes that use those ingredients. I also plan my meals around items that I find on sale for really good prices. I usually thumb through the weekly sale fliers (or check them out online) looking for really good deals. Planning ahead will keep you from wandering aimlessly through the store picking up umpteen snack items because you don’t have one real meal idea.

2: USE INGREDIENTS WISELY

One of the reasons that I started Budget Bytes is because I don’t believe that you have to just eat ramen, rice and beans to eat on a budget. I love food and I don’t think that some things are off limit just because they are expensive. Often times, if you have an expensive ingredient you can pair it up with something inexpensive (like rice, pasta or other grains) to bring the cost per serving back down. Also, expensive ingredients are often the most potent so you can use them sparingly and still get a great flavor (think sun dried tomatoes, pesto, walnuts). So, choose your recipes based on the ratio of expensive ingredients verses inexpensive ingredients and use potent/expensive ingredients sparingly.

3: PORTION CONTROL

Portion control will help you slim down your waistline and bulk up your wallet. We’ve gotten used to gigantic sized portions in our country and it’s time to start reining them back in. When you eat more food than you need, you are quite literally spending money that you don’t need to spend. When you dish out a meal, try giving yourself less than you normally would and see how satisfied you are when you have finished. If you are still hungry you can always go back for more but this way you won’t be feel obligated to finish what is on your plate if it is more than what satisfies you. When I make a meal, I try to portion out the entire recipe into smaller containers as soon as it is finished cooking. If I put it all into one big container, every time I go for some I have the possibility of over serving myself. Sounds OCD but it also makes my meals “grab-and-go” which is quite convenient.

4: DON’T BE AFRAID OF LEFTOVERS

After working in the food service industry for a few years, it has come to my attention that many people these days are afraid of food if it was not prepared that day or even a couple of hours prior. What those same people don’t realize is that when they go to a restaurant (almost every restaurant), the food that is served to them was not prepared from scratch that moment. It is more convenient and cost effective for restaurants (and us at home) to make large batches and use them over a period of a few days. If stored properly, cooked food is quite safe and delicious for several days in the refrigerator and a few months in the freezer. For specifics, visit Foodsafety.gov. Sure, sometimes there will be textural changes (fried foods may become soft, for example) but many times the flavor of food gets better after a day or two! The time in the refrigerator allows ingredients to marinate and flavors to marry. In my recipes I try to address issues related to storing leftovers to keep the best flavor and texture.

5: THE FREEZER IS YOUR FRIEND

Take full advantage of your freezer, it will save you money! Last week while grocery shopping, I came across an enormous pork tenderloin on sale for only $4.99 (regularly $8.99). You BET I bought that thing even though it wasn’t on my menu. I knew that it would freeze well and I could simply thaw it out and use it for my entree another week. Also, since I cook primarily for myself, I often freeze extra portions of meals. If I can’t scale down a recipe to a size that I can consume within 5 days or so, I’ll just freeze the rest. It’s wonderful to have frozen meals just waiting for you when you are too tired, too busy or too sick to cook (or if you’re out of money and there is still a whole week till pay day! ha!). For more information on how to effectively freeze different food items, visit The National Center for Home Food Preservation and be sure to click on General Information for food that doesn’t freeze well and other basics.

6: SHOP WISELY

We all have different reasons for shopping where we do (supporting local business, a preference for natural or organic items, location/convenience etc.) but be aware of your options. Check for local or seasonal produce markets and ethnic groceries. Produce markets are almost always less expensive than produce in grocery stores and often times the quality will be much better. Ethnic grocers usually have great prices for ingredients that are not common and offer a wider selection (you might get inspired!). As you become more budget conscious and start to cook more, you’ll begin to make a mental price list of your most commonly purchased items. Soon you’ll be able to spot inflated prices immediately and you’ll know which store offers the best prices for different items. I don’t visit 4 or 5 stores every week but as I’m planning my menu I will plan which store to shop at based on where I can get my most expensive ingredients at the best price. Usually, I go to one grocery store to buy my canned, frozen or otherwise packaged foods and the produce market for fresh produce.

If you have any other tips or practices that have helped you cut your food budget, please share them! A million minds are better than one!

53 Comments

  1. Lauri says:

    Just found this site today and I’m already hooked. I’m always on the lookout for a bargain, which can be difficult since I (try to) eat clean, which means organic, natural foods. Anything that helps me stretch my recipes and still keep it simple is for me! I see quite a few that can be made “clean” with small adjustments.

  2. Tracie says:

    I’ve been using your site for about a week and I’m in love with your recipes! Thank you! I’m in the DC area, so the prices here are fairly outrageous. Just saw that you are a fellow NOLA peep. I grew up in Luling and Destrehan. Geaux Tigers (and Saints)!! Thanks for the great guidance on food shopping and flavorful food!

  3. I second the tip that the freezer is your friend! I got into this blog when I googled “how to freeze cooked rice” & you were the top listing! I started making rice in my cooker by the 2-lb bagful & have enough stocked up for a few months. Now I buy larger packages of meats, snacks, etc & portion them out in single servings so all I have to do is pick up a few to snack on at work or whenever I go out for the day.

  4. I’m loving your site. I’m sharing it on my pinterest and will mention it in my new blog when I do a recipe. Can’t wait to try the sweet potato salad!

  5. rebecca says:

    tons of great recipes here. I just pinned about a dozen and bookmarked your page. we are really trying to get into more beans and lentils.

    thank you for this site, I love the pics and am so excited to try out the recipes!

    you should have a chickpea section. 12 cans for about 6$ at Costco, but im at a loss as to what to do with them so I haven’t ventured into buying them yet.

    • Lauri says:

      You could try making homemade hummus, if that’s something you enjoy. Or a chickpea salad.

      • Luna says:

        I mix chickpea with lentils and onions, put them in the food processor and mince them, then add eggs, bread crumbs, salt and pepper and a little parmisan to taste. when it comes all together I divide the mixture in sort of meatballs, toss them in more bread crumbs for crispiness and fry them in a little oil. they are deliciuos and nobody can tell they are meat free.

  6. I am really enjoying your blog! I would like to add a tip: fill your cart up with fresh produce (fruits, veggies), and shop the perimeter of your grocery store for the freshest, least processed items. Buying ingredients vs. prepared items is often more cost effective (and healthful)

  7. Bessie Malek says:

    I have a goal for 2014 to eat healthy on a budget of $1200. That’s about $3.29 per day. Your blog is going to help me get there! The information is excellent, I can’t wait to try the recipes, and you get an A+ in web design. I like that the features on the right sidebar have a picture. I like that the recipe comes soon in the blog rather than having to scroll through 500 pictures to find it. I also appreciate the attention to detail in listing the cost of each ingredient. I’ve read a few other blogs by people trying to live on $2 per day for 5 days, and some of the things they eat don’t seem healthy or tasty. By contrast, your items seem healthy, tasty, and economical. I hope to let you know how it goes.

  8. You forgot, “keep it simple”, which is the main thing I like about your recipes.

  9. Emily says:

    I noticed you live in New Orleans (me too!)–any suggestion on best places for deals? Not to force you to buzzmarket, I usually make the rounds to most of the ones near me anyway.

    • There is a Rouse’s a few blocks from my house (mid-city) and so I go there almost exclusively! I stock up on a few things from the bulk bins at Whole Foods once in a while and Target has better prices on some dry goods than Rouse’s (but I don’t get over there much). Hong Kong Market on the West bank is pretty much incredible for produce, but I never get over there either. :P

  10. Originally I found one of your recipes manually entered in an iphone food app and hunted down where it came from by Google-ing the list of ingredients. It was the pesto stuffed shells recipe. Geez, Louise. If there’s anyone I know that hasn’t heard me talk about those shells or tried them at my house I don’t know about them. I had to find the source to pin it and I’ve stuck around for years since then trying different recipes.

    My biggest cost cutter is buying in bulk and spending a few hours making freezer meals. I work them into my monthly meal plans and grab some fresh veggies or fruit to go with whatever I pull out.

  11. Monica says:

    Here’s my tip:
    Depending on where you shop, you can get the butcher to cut that sale priced meat for you. I specifically go to Krogers when they have an exceptionally good loss leader, have the meat cut, and divide it up to freeze at home. That way the enormous pork loin turns into a reasonably sized roast and chops for the grill. I love your blog and the vegetarian recipes!

  12. Monica says:

    from a broke college student: THANK YOU! Finding your website was the highlight of my day today, and I’m so excited to start cooking and saving money. You’re amazing!

  13. Anonymous says:

    Couple things– #1, your blog is awesome. Just found it yesterday, and I love it!
    #2, Rooster sauce (AKA hot cock sauce) holds a special place in my heart. Been eating it since I was a toddler. Glad to see you incorporate it into so many recipes.
    #3, on the topic of budget buying principles: Aldi. If there is an Aldi in your area, shop there, at least for basic things. 2lb boxes of pasta are $1.29; a dozen eggs costs $1.29; a 12oz jar of marinated artichokes is $2.29; canned beans/veggies are $0.39. (I promise I don’t work there, I just shop there all the time.) They stock basic, everyday items and produce consistently, and get specialty items on a rotating basis. I once bought a 16oz bottle of balsamic vinegar for $1.99. $1.99!! Every now and then they carry goat cheese, and it’s 4oz for $1.99.
    The quality is the same as, if not better than, a lot of what you’d find in other grocery stores. If you are a fan of Trader Joe’s, you should also consider yourself and Aldi fan, since Aldi is the company that spawned Trader Joe’s.

  14. I just went shopping yesterday with three of your recipes plus one from another blog in mind. I also had to buy one or two extra things for my kids. My total was $49.49, and that it only because there were certain things that I had to stock up on that I recently ran out of like EVOO, vegetable oil, all-purpose flour, etc. What is great that It’s just me and my husband and our twin two-year-olds, so there will be plenty of leftovers for most of the meals for lunches and probable an evening meal or two at the end of the week… so basically my grocery shopping this week was under $50! I shopped at Wal-Mart because we took the kids with us and, well, taking them to multiple stores is just asking for trouble. Everything was at or below the prices you listed. I’m excited to see what my total is on weeks when I’m not having to restock on items that you only have to buy every once in a while. Oh, and I also love sriracha and already had some of that in my fridge. :) Yay!

  15. JennaJ says:

    I just purchased my first bottle of Sriracha last night! I am going to start planning my grocery store trip to cook 5 meals within the next week… you are an inspiration, your recipes look amazing, you’re hilarious and it’s very motivating!! THANK YOU!

  16. I just happened across this via Pinterest, and I am SO happy I did. I’m about to be moving into my own place, and being that money will be a bit tight, this is perfect. Especially the tips for freezing leftovers and what not. Brilliant!

  17. i just found your blog & i must say i’m already addicted. i’ve always wanted to really crunch the numbers of what im spending on each meal and your doing all that for us. and the food is REAL food. GOOD FOOD! thank you for taking the time to share all these wonderful, awesome & of course budget friendly meals.

  18. Thanks for the blog, I’ve been nervous about cooking for the longest time. My mother is an amazing cook…but growing up I took it for granted. And lately I really wanted to start cutting down lunch spending and start bringing food in. The way you broke down the recipes and with the pictures and picture description it’s inspired me to start cooking (while staying on a budget) starting from today. Thanks for the inspiration (:

  19. All of your tips are spot on to what I have learned over the years of living alone on a tight budget and with a freezer (bless my parents) to take advantage of great sales and to be able to freeze extra servings of food for another day. I never make less than four servings of anything. Two servings get eaten over the course of 2 or 3 days and the other 2 are immediately frozen away. The word ‘leftovers’ is not used in my house. Instead I have my own home made tv dinners and lunches to take to work. :)

  20. I love your blog and love your tips! My blog is similar in that I am trying to help people eat good food for a low price, based on the sales at the local grocery store. My freezer is packed full of leftovers and meat I bought on sale. I like to freeze leftovers in lunch size portions, that way my husband never has an excuse to eat lunch out or we always have a quick and easy dinner waiting.

  21. Anonymous says:

    This is incredibly helpful!!! Thank you so much.

  22. And your shirt in the photo is rad.

  23. This is a fantastic website! It has been my distraction from studying for the past couple days. I love the variety of meals and the clear instructions that come with. Not to mention the thorough photos! Basically, thanks for doing what you’re doing.

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