5 Very Doable Tips And Strategies For Keeping Your Grocery Budget As Low As Possible (Now That The Cost Of Food Is At An All-Time High)

    "Up until recently, I was saving a ton of money. Like, I'd easily slash $1,000 in dining expenses every single month by cooking instead of dining out. Now, inflation is killing me with these grocery prices. I could order takeout every night of the week and probably break even with what I'm paying for groceries these days, and I'd save time and effort by doing so..."

    Hi, friends! Ross here. I'm a food writer and recipe developer who's incredibly passionate about helping home cooks feel as comfortable as possible in their own kitchens. Welcome back to Cooking Conundrums, where I take super-specific food questions from BuzzFeed readers and answer them in ways that'll apply to basically anyone who's ever cooked.

    This time around, I heard from someone struggling to keep their food costs down amidst rising grocery costs. Here's what they asked me:

    "I was laid off from my job in tech in March 2020 — I know I won't have to explain why — and although I had some money coming in through unemployment and stimulus checks, I knew I'd have to make major lifestyle changes in order to afford my expensive Chicago mortgage. I crunched some numbers and realized that my biggest monthly expenses almost always pertained to restaurants and takeout. Before the pandemic, I regularly dined out 4–5 times a week and usually ordered in on the nights I wasn't eating at a restaurant."

    Person accepting a food delivery order in a brown paper bag

    "Like most laid-off people during the first wave of COVID, I used my free time to finally learn how to cook. I'm still not a chef by any means, but ever since 2020, I've been cooking and meal-prepping almost every night of the week, and I grew to really love it. Up until recently, I was saving a ton of money, too! Like, I'd easily slash $1,000 in dining expenses every single month, which opened up my budget to other areas I was totally missing out on. I even did a DIY renovation of my kitchen with those extra savings!"

    Woman topping a plate of spaghetti with sauce in her kitchen

    "But now I need help. Inflation is killing me with these grocery prices. I realized the other day that I'm no longer saving that much money by buying and preparing my own food. Like, I could order takeout every night of the week and probably break even with what I'm paying for groceries these days, and I'd save time and effort by doing so. I tried out some budget cooking blogs to find new cheap recipes, but that didn't work at all; I don't live near a Trader Joe's or Walmart, so all of their 'estimated' grocery costs and meal totals were probably a quarter of what I ended up paying. I'm so disheartened by how much I'm spending at the grocery store that I'm in a total cooking rut. Spending my valuable time cooking when everything is this expensive makes no sense to me!"

    Women shopping at the supermarket and looks at receipt total

    "My question for you is: What can I do as an OK-ish cook in a big city, who doesn't live near a budget-friendly grocery store, to continue cooking for myself amidst these horrible grocery prices and actually save money? Do you have any strategies for shopping on a budget that ACTUALLY works in this economy? Is there any hope for me and my wallet?"

    First of all, I want to be abundantly clear that you are far from alone in this struggle to keep your grocery costs down these days. Amidst all this talk of inflation cooling down, food and groceries are outliers; as of this past May, grocery prices alone jumped nearly 6% compared to last year, and the food companies responsible for setting prices definitely aren't struggling to stay afloat. To put things in perspective: Cal-Maine Foods, which owns popular brands like Egg-Land's and Land O' Lakes, reported a 718% net income increase over the past year — from $40 million to $323 million. Fun!

    Until these profits cool down, it feels likely that we'll continue to see our grocery costs increase. That's why we could all use a shift in our food-shopping strategy. I can't tell you exactly what you're doing "right" or "wrong" here since I don't have those specific details, but I can definitely recommend some helpful tips based on the methods that have saved me the most money in recent months and years since I A.) also live in a big, expensive city, B.) stores like TJ's and Walmart aren't the easiest to get to, and C.) I love to save money — and cook!

    TIP #1: Start ordering your groceries online. Even if you'll pay delivery fees and tips, there are so many reasons why it'll save you more money in the long run.

    can use Italian herb blend i already have at home and save $4 if i use store brand tomatoes, to save $10 total

    TIP #2: Eat less meat. Before the carnivores click out of this post, let me explain as a person who once ate meat every night of the week (and now only has it once or twice, max).

    lentil curry in a bowl with text saying that I swapped the chicken for high-protein lentils

    TIP #3: Plan meals around ingredients you already have on hand — or "free ingredients," as I call them — instead of starting from square one every week.

    various ingredients in author's pantry with rice and orzo circled and text: "free ingredients" = the base for next week's meals

    TIP #4: Always include at least one recipe in your weekly plan that can be bulked up with the starch of your choice (and stretched until the very last bite).

    last night's grilled shrimp + whatever veggies I could find = today's shrimp tacos

    TIP #5: Cooking from recipes is always more expensive than just cooking with a few ingredients that sound good to you.

    salmon and rice bowl with text saying the fewer ingredients you need to buy, the less money you'll spend

    That's all the cooking knowledge I've got for today! I hope this helps you escape your cooking rut and get back into the kitchen as cheaply as humanly possible.

    If reading this post made you think of your own kitchen dilemma you need help solving, write to me through this anonymous form and your question might just end up in the next edition of Cooking Conundrums.