How to Reduce Food Costs by 20% When Food Prices Keep Rising

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How to Save 20% On Rising Costs

The cost of food has risen significantly over the past few years and seems to have really jumped over the past few months. As a result, many people are trying to find ways to cut back on their food costs without sacrificing taste or nutritional value.

There are many reasons why food prices are rising, and I won’t get into what those reasons are, but instead I’m sharing with you how you can start saving 20% and potentially even more.

Recession or No Recession, You Can Start Saving Today

No matter who or what you may blame for these times, the bottom line is for many of us, the pain in our wallets is real and there’s no magic wand to wave to make it go away or slow down.

Here in the U.S., GDP (Gross Domestic Product) has declined for two successive quarters as of today. A quarter is composed of 3 months starting in Jan. So Jan – March, April -June, July – Sept, and Oct through December.  We’ve been seeing a decline in our economy for two quarters, that means 6 months. 

We are officially in a recession. And depending on who you listen to, if we aren’t in a recession… it’s soon to arrive.

If things don’t turn around drastically, we’ll soon be living through a depression. 🙁

In this article, I want to help you by providing tips that can enable you to survive these times. Yes, there’s hope!

For some of us these tips may be intuitive, for others it’s advice they need to hear, and for others it may be a good time to be reminded of tips they once used to practice.

What You Can Do Starting Today to Weather the Storm of Rising Food Costs

How to save 20% off of your food costs

Have you ever heard of the 1% rule? The 1% rule is a powerful way of making improvements or changes in your behavior that will ultimately lead to greater achievement of a larger goal.  It’s often used to empower and motivate individuals for personal growth in business or goal setting in their personal lives.

If you can find 20 ways to improve by 1%, then the net result over time will be ultimately a 20% improvement.

I’m going to make it applicable for you for how you can cope with rising food costs by giving you 20 ways to start (plus a powerful bonus tip as well).

I’ll explain.

You Can Cut Back on Food Costs by 20% – 1% at a Time

That seems almost impossible, doesn’t it? With food prices rising at least 30%, if we could find a way to reduce our expenditures 20% (or more), that would most certainly help us survive a little easier.

The one percent rule will help you save food costs

The 1% rule when applied to food budgeting or savings means that if you can find 20 ways to cut food costs by 1% and put them all into practice, then you will have been able to cut your costs by 20%.

This means if your food costs are $1000 a month, a 20% savings would be $200. However 1% would be $10. So if you can find 20 ways to save at least $10 a month, you’ll be saving 20%.

If your food budget is $500 a month, you’ll need to find 20 ways to save $5 a month, for a $100 (20%) savings.

To help you get started, I’ve created 20 ways you can cut your food costs by at least 1%. Some of these are very tangible and may save you more than 1%. Some are immediate savings, while others are more long-term that will ultimately lead to monthly savings.

The higher your monthly budget, the more challenging this may be, but you’ll soon see that 1% added up 20 times can go a long way!

This list is by no means exhaustive. I’d love to hear your tips too, so please let me know in the comments below.

Don’t Pay More for Less

Have you noticed a package of sliced cheese being the same price but fewer slices? Or maybe not as thick as they used to be? How about your loaves of bread, notice a change in shape, size, or weight?

When looking at prices, look at what you’re getting for that price. The packaging may look the same, but the quantity or volume may be less than what you’re used to. If so, you’re paying more for less, and it may be time to give it a pass or look at other brands.

If you can save 1 % by following this tip, you’re off to a good start!

Check the Unit Prices on Foods

The unit price is listed on the price tag of each item in the store. It is also called a “price per unit” or “unit cost.”

Unit prices can be used to compare prices of different sizes of food products. I find this helpful when it breaks down the cost to ounces.

For example, you might see two bags of chips. They look like the same size but the price is higher for one than the other. Look at the price per unit, as it will show you the price per ounce. The one with the higher price may indeed be the better buy if the overall price per ounce is less, since you’re actually getting more quantity.

This is often found with items that are sold either as a single item vs smaller items sold together. Think of candy bars – when bundled together it often costs less than if you were to buy 10 single bars individually. That’s an unhealthy example, but it paints the picture well.

Make sure to look at the unit price before determining your choice. These companies know how to market their products to look like it’s more than what it is. With rising food costs, be on the lookout.

Can you save 1% here?

Shop at Discount Stores

If you’ve never been one to shop at discount stores, it may be a good time to start. I’m not referring to the Dollar Tree or Family Dollar type stores as I think these stores don’t always save you money. You spend less but you get less too.

In our area we have Big Lots and Ollies. These stores are closeout stores which means they take close-out items from manufacturers that no longer want to push certain items.

If you’re concerned about the quality of the food, don’t be. Yes, some off brands will be there that you’ll want to avoid, but you’ll also find popular name brands such as Barilla, Prego, and others at much lower prices than your average grocery store… like lots cheaper.

And if you look carefully, you’ll be able to find organic brands too which are much more affordable than elsewhere. I’ve bought organic pickles, a Nutella-like spread (can’t recall the name), sauerkraut (okay not Italian but love it with my mashed potatoes), organic canned tomatoes, peanut butter, pasta, and many other items that saved me a ton of money.

The only downside to shopping at these stores is that their inventory changes and it’s not always guaranteed. So this particular 1% tip makes it hard to follow my next tip, which is always use a list. 😊  

Always Use a List When Going Shopping

I will swear by this one. But it takes discipline, especially if you’re not shopping alone. If you and your spouse, or whoever goes with you, make sure you’re on the same page – literally. If it’s not on the list, don’t buy it.

The costs of food items are going up too much to think that a few extra items here and there won’t make a big difference. It does!

Know what you need to get, go get it, and leave. Of course, there are always exceptions, but a list will keep you focused. Meandering through the aisles grabbing what you think you need won’t work anymore. It’s too risky. Stay focused and make it your mission to stick to a list.

Avoid Distractions by Shopping by Yourself

Here’s another indirect 1% you can save.

Unless you’ve got a shopping partner as diligent as you, your shopping companion may cause you to compromise on your goals. When I shop alone I’m laser focused on my task and list. In and out.

The more hands that go shopping with you, the more likely you’re cart will end up like then when it was supposed to be a quick 3-item shopping trip.

shop alone or without distractions when food shopping.

The image above may not look like an overloaded cart, but with the increase in food prices, those items added up to nearly $400!

Shop for Sale Items to Save 1%

Look for food items on sale and clearance to save costs

If you’re not used to having an eagle eye for sales, it might be time to start. It’s not being cheap, it’s being smart. I wouldn’t compromise on health however. If you see a sale item and it’s not comparable in quality or nutrition to what you’re used to, don’t buy it.

Look for sales items on what you typically buy, so that it will save you money. You’ll find sales items in your grocery store’s weekly ads, but unfortunately many stores don’t advertise sales prices for organics. Look for close-out stickers too, not just sales.

If it’s an item that you don’t typically buy, but “dang I want that huge container of fresh mozzarella balls because they look delicious and are $1.50 off”, skip it. Avoid impulse purchases for the sake of a sale.

Also, avoid the argument of spending more to save more. In some instances, this can prove wise, but many times it’s just really crafty marketing tactics. It makes no sense to spend X amount more just to save a few dollars if that original spend will make you go over budget. It typically doesn’t compensate or even out in next month’s budget especially if it’s a constant behavior pattern each month.

Order Online or Avoid Ordering Online

So many pros and cons here I have to give both sides.

Ordering online will save you gas money and time. Online stores like VitaCost (owned by Kroger), Thrive, Amazon and others are great places to conveniently fill up your virtual cart and hit the no-wait check out line.

We do it all the time… and that’s the downside… we do it all the time.

It’s too easy and too convenient to just click ourselves past our budget.

When hit by a desire to make chocolate chip cookies and we only have 2 bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips left, it only takes 5 minutes to get Amazon to send us 5 more so we have them on hand for next time. Except we don’t just get the chips.

Amazon’s algorithms know us better than we know ourselves, and suddenly they’ve recommended an ergonomically shaped handheld cookie scooper for the perfect sized chocolate chip cookie. And for our other chocolate cravings, they’ve provided multiple selections of quick and easy to bake brownie mixes.

Shoot, the stainless steel pizza pans you’ve been watching to come down in price on just dropped $15, better snatch it up before it goes back up!

Now your cart is well over $50 when the intention was to only spend less than $10.

Order online or avoid ordering online? Will you save 1% this way? Well, only you know the right choice that will help you save on food costs.

Plan to Use Up Leftovers to Save on Food Costs

When you plan a meal, think about what you can do with leftovers. You can repurpose the leftovers with another meal, or use the leftovers as tomorrow’s lunch, making it easy to skip buying a meal at the office.

One of the best leftovers for us is chili. We’ll make a large batch and I use with my pasta many times. I’ll also set aside about half and freeze it for later. Thicken it for nachos, use it as a topping for a taco salad, or keep it thinner for a hearty sauce over spaghetti.

If ever you find a leftover that will have to be tossed in a few days if unused, but you know you won’t get to it, freeze it.

If you can save on food waste and repurpose your leftovers, you’ve certainly saved 1% if done right.

Freezing Unused Fresh Vegetables Will Reduce Your Food Spending Costs

Here’s a fantastic way to save 1%. We all love fresh veggies, and it’s frustrating when we have to throw them out because they weren’t used up fast enough.

Whether button mushrooms, zucchini, or onions, you can freeze your fresh vegetables to avoid them spoiling. This allows you to use them later when prices still haven’t come down to sanity levels.

Save yourself money by freezing celery that will go bad if not used. Chop or dice them up, put in a freezer bag and freeze it. Use it later in a soup or broth when needed.

For zucchini, do the same thing. If they are going soft, cut out any bad spots, and slice them in half moons or chop them in half-inch cubes. Despite what some people say, you don’t have to blanch them if you don’t have time. Just freeze them in freezer bags, we do it all the time. They still give a wonderful flavor to your pasta when you add them in with some fresh tomatoes or even sauce.

As for how long veggies will store, I’d say at least a year if we’re being fully honest here. I just used some celery in a pot of chili that was fantastic. The celery had been in the freezer for 18 months!

Learn to Cook from Scratch to Avoid Paying High Food Prices

Another 1% (or more) in this tip!

Don’t feel overwhelmed if you’re not a Martha Stewart, I certainly am not! But a 5 lb bag of flour can give you bread from a bread machine, biscuits, cookies, pancakes and waffles, that if priced out is much cheaper than buying from a store.

Learn how to make easy recipes at home

Find some recipes for the food items you enjoy eating, and that you eat frequently. Will it save you money? Do the math. Start small if you’re new and give yourself plenty of time when trying something for the first time. It’s okay.

If you love pizza, try making your own pizza dough. It’s super easy – just check out my recipe.

With that said, cooking from scratch does take time. So plan accordingly and do what you can. You will save money, but not necessarily time.

Don’t Forget About What Food Items You Already Have at Home

This may take practice to get into the habit but checking what you already have in your home before you head to the store is a huge money saver. It’s easy to forget what we bought six months ago, and if you have a large pantry, it’s good to do this regularly to rotate stock.

But with the times we are living through currently, it will pay to use what you have on hand before it goes bad. If anything it will help you monitor your budget and help narrow down your meal choices if you base them on what you already have.

Resupply your stock with the items you find items on sale or clearance.

Loving these 1%’s?

Start Growing Your Own Herbs, Fresh Spices and Vegetables.

basil in container

Herbs can be expensive and add to your grocery bill. Growing at home will save you a healthy 1% for sure.

If you’re growing herbs in your home garden, you’ll be able to use them instead of buying them at the store. Basil, parsley, and oregano are just a few. You also have rosemary, fennel and other delicious herbs you can grow. But grow extra amounts for sole purpose of freezing or drying them for the winter months.

You can check out my video on freezing basil in ice cube trays here.

If it’s during the winter months, hopefully you dried what you grew during the summer, but if not, you can always consider growing your herbs indoors. I have a great video that shares how you can grow basil indoors without soil (aka hydroponically) at very little cost!

Learn how to grow lettuce at home and start saving money!
This is fresh lettuce I grow in my hydroponic system. I haven’t bought lettuce in over a year!

You don’t need fancy growing systems to grow herbs indoors, but there are some nice ones you can buy . It gets addictive, so be forewarned!

Make Homemade Broth from Chicken, Turkey or Beef Bones

Making homemade broth from the bones of chicken, turkey or beef is not only easy to do, but also cost-effective. When you buy cartons at the store, the costs can add up. Making your own broth from the carcass bones will cut costs and you have greater control over the quality of ingredients and amount of sodium you’re consuming.

I seriously don’t recall the last time I bought store-bought broth.

You can also buy bouillon cubes, which you can use to help add flavor to your own. A little goes a long way and we have some in our refrigerator that we rarely use. But it’s good to have on hand when our homemade broth is lacking flavor.

Tip for reducing sodium:  Dissolve the bouillon cube in a measuring cup of water and let it sit for about 10 minutes. What you’ll see is the salt particles settle on the bottom of the cup. Then slowly pour the liquid into your pot leaving the salt behind.

Do Not Shop with an Empty Stomach – Dangerous

Big time 1% savings here.

Worst thing ever is to shop with a full stomach as this leads to impulse buying. Everything looks delicious, especially prepared frozen foods. Suddenly Stouffers Lasagna somehow looks authentically Italian enough to eat when you get home. (Gasp!).

Replace Fresh Produce with Frozen Produce to Save 1% or More

Although we all love fresh produce, the bottom line is the bottom line. The reality is that frozen vegetables cost less than store bought fresh produce. A bag of frozen blueberries is still expensive in my opinion, but it is still less than buying small pint size cartons of fresh blueberries that will go bad in just a few days.

Plus, you’re more likely to find more store coupons for frozen items, not fresh produce. Frozen items still have nutritional value, and much more nutritional value than canned goods from the store.

Another 1%.

Eat More Beans, They Have a Long Shelf Life

Not only are beans a good source of protein and fiber, but they also aren’t expensive, especially if you buy them dried. Whether it’s canned beans or dried, they are great additions to meals and can easily substitute for meat – such as my chili example above.

Lentils are great for food storage and cutting costs

Consider legumes such as lentils. These are super easy to prepare and can be boiled or soaked. If you like raw foods, soak them for a few days until they begin to sprout – making sure to change the water daily. These make deliciously healthy snacks and additions to salads.

Add boiled lentils to soups such as vegetable soup or add into chili or meatloaf. These are very inexpensive when purchased dried, try for the brown or green varieties, both are great (and super healthy)!

Sprouted lentils vs buying store snacks or peanuts to snack on… mark it down for another 1%.

Buy in Bulk When it Makes Financial Sense

Buying in bulk can help you save money on the things you use frequently. If a specific item is an essential part of your diet, it’s worth buying in bulk if that purchase would be cheaper than purchasing small quantities throughout the month. 

Just make sure that it won’t spoil or go bad. Items like figs and dates which can be purchased online from various suppliers can be much more financially advantageous than purchasing in a smaller quantity at a local store. Same goes with pasta and other foods. It may take time to search online but you’ll find something.

You can also talk to your local grocery store’s manager and see if they would offer a discount if purchased in bulk. We’ve done this with bread where we’ve bought a “carton” of 6 loaves for a discount than buying 6 individually.

Do it right, and you’ve got another 1 % to be proud of.

Plan Meals in Advance and Save

Use a meal planner to stay organized and on budget

Planning meals in advance can help you save money and eat healthier. The reason for this is that it helps you avoid impulse buying which I’ve mentioned a few times throughout this article.

An easy way to meal plan is to make a chart that includes breakfast, lunch and dinner for each day of the week. Write in your meal and any sides. Don’t forget to leave some empty spaces for leftover meals. Take inventory of items you already have in stock and make a list of items you don’t.

If you can’t make it to the store, then save those meals for another week. Otherwise, try to use what you have in your pantry or freezer.

Having to be creative and think up a meal when you’re hungry and tired just doesn’t work. Creativity and inspiration go out the window and you’re either dialing up our local pizza delivery store or eating cereal for dinner. Neither of these are good healthy choices and we typically regret them every time.

Take the 30 minutes a week and meal plan – you won’t regret it. You’ll realize you’re saving money when notice fewer impulse delivery meals. Keep to it, and another 1% saved.

Try Less-expensive Cuts of Meat or Reduce Your Intake

I don’t even like to offer this as a suggestion because I don’t want you to interpret this as me telling you to choose less healthy meat choices. I’m not.

What I am saying is that choosing to purchase sirloin instead of filet mignon will save you money. Not the same I know (I love filet mignon), but with the right recipes it can be just as good – think stews.

Meat prices are going through the roof, and it’s very painful to experience. A great way to fight this and save another 1% (or much more!) is to simply cut back your meat intake. Use more fillers like breadcrumbs in your meatballs and meatloaf. For meatloaf try adding in rice and oatmeal.

Cut back on your deli meat and try hearty vegetable sandwiches, yes you can make hearty veggie sandwiches which are satisfying!

When making recipes like breaded chicken breasts, or chicken parmesan, cut the breasts lengthwise so you’re in essence using thick cutlets so you get more servings. Get more servings from a single chicken breast. You’re not doing any harm – we all could learn to cut back a little with our meats anyway.

Compare the prices of what you would have bought vs what you are now buying… 1% saved.

Buy Meats on Clearance Can Lead to Big Savings

You can make some amazing meals with quality meats that you’ve purchased at a discount. Here’s the thing, you need to look for these clearance items every time you’re at the store. This will surely help save 1%, maybe not upfront but in the long run yes.

I know that goes against my rule of only buying what’s on your list, but the payoff can be great down the road. Prices won’t be going down to normal levels anytime soon, and honestly it’s just a good tip no matter what life brings us.

Buy the meat and put it in the freezer. I have filet mignons in my freezer that I paid a fraction of what they are going for today. Same with chicken breasts. Stock up on your meats if you must have meats on hand but do it when the price is right.

It’s getting too crazy to pay regular prices anymore.

Talk to the butcher and ask when they will be marking items down. You’ll want to get there first before others. Is it in the morning or night? Is it on the weekend or in the middle of the week?

Keep your eyes open and try to get some insider info from the butcher on staff.

Bonus 1% Tip:

This tip will save you 1%, it certainly has me.

If you travel locally or enjoy taking weekend rides with friends or whoever, consider packing a lunch. Pack some sandwiches (use baguettes to make it special), bottled water, and use a thermos for some coffee. Making and traveling with your own coffee vs buying it at Starbucks or other store is a HUGE saver.

Make sure to add in some nice snacks too that you enjoy.

This will keep you from making impulse decisions to stop at the nearest eatery like you may normally do. Even if you do stop somewhere with friends, you will be more likely to order less since you’ve already been eating.

In the past, it was normal to pack a lunch for Sunday drives. Why not keep the tradition alive? After all, this will save you at least 1%!

I’ve given you 20 (err… 21) ways to help cut back on food costs while they continue to escalate. You probably have some tips you’d like to share, feel free to let me know in the comments below because I’m always looking for ways to save too.

Remember the 1% Rule

I hope you’ve found this article helpful and informative. I wish you the best as we live through these times and I’ll continue to offer tips and suggestions to help make life in the kitchen (and with our budgets) easier and enjoyable.

Your friend –

Liz

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How to Reduce Food Costs by 20% When Food Prices Keep Rising

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