There are a million and one budget tips and tricks out there but these are mine that I try to live by. I am a living, breathing, extremely poor student and these are from my own experiences!
Tip #12: Don't forget to splurge every once in a while.
Eating on a budget doesn't mean you have to make sacrifices, just compromises. So every once in a while, it is okay to make a special meal that includes a great cut of meat, or a really fancy cheese or whatever. Being able to treat yourself here and there will allow you to stay on budget the rest of the time a whole lot easier. Whether it is for a special someone, or even just for yourself, splurge! Life is about living and enjoying food is one component of that.
Tip #11: One ingredient, Two purposes.
Try doubling the use for your ingredients to avoid having to buy more. For example, I use plain natural yogurt in place of sour cream in tacos! That way, I didn't have to buy sour cream JUST for tacos. Plus it is healthier too!
Tip #10: Cook with friends!
An easy way to have a great meal at a low cost. Have you friends over and have everyone bring an ingredient or two. This way you can up the ingredient list without breaking your own bank. Plus you will have a blast together in the kitchen and an even better time enjoying what you have made together.
Tip #9: Cheese Please!
Oh dear, I would eat cheese everyday all day if I could. Seriously. But that is definitely not happening with no cash in the bank. So, try using cheese that has a lot of big flavour and just use less of it. Try blue cheese, goat cheese, munster, swiss, so on and so on. Although I am not bashing cheddar, mozzarella or marble...because I love them just the same.
Tip #8: Eat like a vegetarian...sometimes.
After my big long rant about saving on meat, sometimes it really isn't plausible to eat meat everyday. And coming from parents who live in the meat/potato era, this may be a big deal for some. But really, you don't need to eat meat everyday, you can get protein from other sources such as beans, legumes and tofu - all which happen to be quite inexpensive.
I personally am not a huge tofu fan, but since it is so cheap you will see me begin to experiment with some recipes in the future. We can try new things together!
Tip #7: Protein!
If you are not a meat-lover, then this does not apply to you. But for those of you who are, I am sure you have had this problem before. I love watching cookings shows on tv, but a lot of the recipes include expensive cuts of meat. And while I am sure they are amazing, I simply cannot afford to buy tenderloins, organic chicken breasts or racks of lamb on a daily basis. I have a few tips to share to shop for meat on a budget (besides Tip #5 where I suggest buying it on sale and freezing it).
Steak: Hey now, a good steak is great every once in a while (especially when I visit the parents tee hee!), but not for the thrifty gal. If you want to include more beef in your diet, try buying cuts like grilling steak where you can marinate it for a while to infuse some great flavor and enjoy it in a stir fry or sandwich. Flank/skirt steaks are also known to be a cheaper cut of meat, however they usually come in bigger portions.
Chicken: Eeeeeverybody loves skinless, boneless chicken breasts, but guess what, they can empty your wallet quite quickly. Try buying bone in and cutting it off the bone yourself when you get home. Or try cuts such as thighs and drumsticks, not only are they usually significantly cheaper, many great chefs will argue they have a whoooole lot more flavour.
Pork: Around here, pork tends to go on sale quite a bit. But what I look for is the big pork loins/tenderloins. I leave them whole for when I have people over or before I freeze them, I slice them and make pork cutlets.
Seafood: I always thought buying seafood was a write-off because there was no way I could ever come CLOSE too affording it. But you know what, the frozen stuff really ain't so bad. Bags of frozen shrimp especially are not so bad, and cooked properly they can still taste pretty good. Also, a bag of mussels are only about $5 and I always feel fancy when I eat a dish that has mussels in them.
Tip #6: Don't always be fooled by sales!
This may sound a bit contradictory to my previous tip, but this is more directed at the small sales. For example: If you need to buy some blueberries, and there is a sale of 3/$5, you need to ask yourself "Do you really need 3 pints of blueberries?" If the answer is yes and you know you will eat all the blueberries before they go bad, then by all means go for it. But if you don't think you will, then just get 1 package. Grocery stores are tricky like that, they sucker you in to spending more money by flashing sale prices in front of you.
Remember, just because it is on sale, it doesn't mean it is a good deal for you. I know this because I do this with shoes all the time =P
Tip #5: When there is a HUGE sale, buy it and freeze it!
If you have room (and especially do not have to pay utilities), get yourself a second fridge/deep freeze. When meat goes on sale, it goes...on...SALE. Stock up, get some freezer bags and individually wrap them when you get home and freeze it for later. Trust me, this will significantly decrease your grocery bill.
It doesn't have to be just meat you do this with. Today my favourite bread was on sale, so I bought a couple loafs and threw them in the freezer. Oh ya... and in the summer when fruit and peppers were on sale, I froze that too!
Just don't forget that you put it in the freezer.
Tip #4: Prepare what you can, when you can.
I personally enjoy doing my shopping on a Saturday when I have a free afternoon so I can take care of business. As soon as you get home, wash and clean you produce right away. Cut them up if you can and put them in individual bags so you have some grab-and-gos. Definitely better than running to the campus Tim Horton's during a study binge.
Sometimes when I know I have a busy week ahead, I even cook up a couple chicken breasts for the next night as well. Or make extras so I have leftovers for lunch the next day.
But the trick to eating well on a busy schedule is, to do as much as you can when you can. It will save you a lot of time in the end. Oh.. and it may even help you out with the problem proposed in Tip #3! Awesome.
Tip #3: Buy what you eat and eat what you buy
Seriously, I don't know how many times I have gone to the store, stocked up my cart with goods and loaded up my fridge, only to find a week later, half my produce has gone rotten. At first, I never much thought about it. I would just throw it out and buy the same stuff the next week. Not any more.
When shopping, try to think about what you are ACTUALLY going to eat that week. Don't buy things just because you always do, or because you may or may not want it later. Even if you do buy things you may want, try to be conscious of it during the week. When you see that something is starting to go bad...EAT IT!! Don't let it go bad. Trust me, this is so much harder than it sounds.
I have been trying to master this technique for years. Let's face it, sometimes its Friday night and you just don't want to eat that head of broccoli. Meh, it happens. But there are times when you simply cannot afford to waste food. My tip is to try and be a little more aware of what you have and try to eat a little of the healthy stuff everyday. Don't buy more than you need. You may end up avoiding the disaster altogether.
Tip #2: Learn what is IN Season!
In Ontario, you can pretty much buy whatever fruit or veg your little heart desires at any time of the year. But if you are watching your wallet and shopping on a budget, you will be utterly surprised by how much money you can save when you focus on using seasonal produce. Hey I am just as guilty as the next and I will admit to indulging in butternut squash in the spring or buying bushels of asparagus in the winter. But by being a little more aware of what is coming from the earth and at what time can not only satisfy your taste buds but your wallet.
Tip #1: Stock you pantry with SPICES!!!
Spices... what can I say, they spice up your life! Spices can take your basic recipes to the next level with a simple pinch and shake. Not only are the super SUPER cheap to buy, but they store for a long time and are extremely easy to work with. As you begin your cooking career, you will begin to learn which combination of spices work together, which ones you can use more or need to use less of and which ones will be your favourite.
My suggestion is to go to your local spice store and stock up! Bulk Barn has pretty much every spice you will need (go on a Wednesday and get a student discount with your student card - well in Ontario at least). Also, most local markets will have at least most of your desired spices. Or even get one of those pre-prepared spice racks.
Here are some staples that I suggest you have on hand.
- Cumin (ground or seed)
- Cayanne Pepper
- Chili Powder
- Garlic Powder
- Onion Powder
Honestly, I prefer to use fresh herbs whenever I can, but lets face it, not many people have time to go to a grocery store every day and many of us live in apartments with no garden. During the summer I have a small herb garden on my balcony but since I don't have great luck when it comes to growing things they don't usually last long. There are some cases when it is important to use fresh herbs but I will make it clear for you! But having all these basic spices on hand will make life a lot easier and a lot more fun!