A few years ago, I wrote a thing about how you can feed yourself for a week on $20. At the time, I thought it was great – I still do! – but I honestly never anticipated the level of negative feedback that it would generate when it went viral.
I get it, the cost of living in some areas is more expensive than others. But there are ways to keep your grocery bill low – low enough to be worth while even if they do take a little bit of work and planning.
How To Save Money When You Live In An Expensive Area
- Go back to basics. You’ll find that basic food staples tend to have a lower price point, or cost per calorie, than prepared, premixed, or value-added food of any kind. I’m not even talking about convenience foo here! Think pancake mix, cornbread mix, salad mix, bags of mixed fruit… All of these are going to be more expensive than flour, cornmeal, heads of lettuce, or dried beans over canned. Sure they save a little time, but just a little. It will take you less than five minutes one morning as you’re making pancakes for breakfast, to mix up a large batch of pancake mix that will last you several breakfasts.
- Buy groceries in bulk. Check the price per ounce (or equivalent measurement) on everything you buy, and you will most often notice that the price is a lot cheaper when you buy in bulk. For instance, I buy frozen broccoli in five pound bags at a price that’s up to 45% less (per ounce) than some of the smaller bags. It’s takes up a little room in my freezer, but that’s a small price to pay – beside, we can easily consume an entire bag every week, so it doesn’t even make sense to get smaller bags.
- Buy frozen veggies. This is a drum that I’ll most likely beat till the day I die. Frozen produce is many times cheaper than fresh, plus it’s preserved during it’s peak, vitamin-rich ripeness. Two birds, one stone. Three when you consider the fact that frozen produce is already cut and prepped, saving you time.
- Grind your own flour. If you’re gluten-free like my family, there’s just no way you can buy rice flour (as well as some other flours) cheaper than you can grind it yourself. Of course, it’s nice if you can order rice to grind with a bulk food co-op, but even if you just buy a package of rice off the shelf at Walmart, you can expect it to cost you less than $1 per pound. At that price, the investment of a home kitchen mill (grinder) won’t take long to pay off.
- Learn to cook from scratch. You can buy a jar of gravy off the store shelf, or you can stir some cornstarch into broth from the meat you just cooked. It may take an extra minute, but it’s so much cheaper! The same goes for other pre-packaged foods. Almost anything you can think of, you can make yourself.
- Find out what you can buy online at a better price. Whether it’s Amazon Subscribe and Save, or walmart.com, or even eBay, keep an eye on online prices. Using http://camelcamelcamel.com is hugely helpful in getting the lowest possible prices on Amazon, and I’ve been thrilled to score some serious deal on things like diapers and parmesan cheese.
- Just do what you can, and don’t sweat the rest. I wholeheartedly believe in good stewardship of resources – money – and am appalled by American consumerism, but sometimes, enough is enough. You have to stop putting so much pressure on yourself, and realize that there’s only so much a person can do. As Crystal Paine says in her book Say Goodbye to Survival Mode, any time you put something onto your plate, you have to take another things off to make room for it, and there will be times that we’re not willing to remove something in order to bring on another something. It just won’t make sense in that season of life, and that’s fine.
Whatever else you do, remember that different things work for different people. Maybe a $20 menu plan isn’t for you, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work for others, right?