This article is not about downloading apps, stacking coupons, timing sales, registering for rebates, or joining rewards programs. There are tons of articles out there if you want to play these types of games. I find such maneuvering tiresome and frustrating. Furthermore, learning to include money-saving grocery items in your weekly shopping is a long-term solution.
Money-saving grocery list summary:
- Brown rice
- Chicken thighs
- Store-baked bread
- Popcorn (old-style)
- Frozen veggies
- Tilapia fillets
- Fresh sausage
- Bananas (and/or apples)
- Sour cream
Why you should care about a money-saving grocery list
We are extremely fortunate when it comes to food costs. Americans today have the cheapest food costs in the history of the world. We spend a smaller percentage on groceries than any other nation and spend a smaller percentage than Americans in the past.
That being said, food costs are one aspect of your household budget where you have great control. Your rent, transportation costs, and health-care costs may be fixed, but your grocery budget is not. By habitually buying high-value items, you can dramatically cut the cost of groceries.
Related post: Top 7 Grocery Store Rip-offs
Money-saving item 15: Sour cream
I don’t know why sour cream is so cheap, but it is. My wife and I use it in soups, sauces, side-dishes, and baking. Not only is it tasty and versatile, it also has a decent shelf-life in the fridge, so don’t feel like you need to consume mass quantities.
I like to use a big tub of it to make french onion or ranch dips for football get-togethers. Take a tub of sour cream, add some of that powdery mix stuff and a few veggies, and you are ready for kickoff.
Related link: Sour cream dip recipes
Money-saving item 14: Onions
I have one drawer in my kitchen reserved for onions, potatoes, garlic, and shallots. I am never without onions when I am making pizza, grilled skewers, salad, breakfast skillets, tacos, etc.
You can buy onions individually, but it is much cheaper to buy the big bags. If the bulbs come in plastic bags, make sure to remove them so that they will last longer. A big bag of onions for five bucks will last you a long time when stored properly.
Money-saving item 13: Bananas (and/or apples)
The photo above shows that bananas are only 49 cents a pound and only ten cents more for organic. In the fall, apples are almost as cheap, so there is no excuse not to have some fruit included in your lunch.
Environmentally speaking, should people in New England be able to buy cheap bananas year-round? Probably not. But there is no denying that bananas and apples are economical on a daily basis.
Money-saving item 12: Pasta
I am not trying to get you to revert to an all pasta and ramen noodle diet as you did in college, but you can include pasta in your weekly shopping without becoming a culinary low-life.
Typical dollar-a-box pastas can be very good when dressed up. Try making your own sauce with fresh tomatoes. Make a pesto sauce with fresh garlic and garnish with basil leaves. Try adding some spinach, kale, or spiral-cut squash. Make a bruschetta and spoon it over your pasta with some extra olive oil. Do not feel like you are stuck with boiling the noodles and dumping on some Ragu.
My Favorite additions:
- Pressed garlic
- Black olives
- A splash of red wine vinegar
- Goat cheese
- Walnuts or almonds
- Arugula (Careful! It’s powerful.)
Money-saving item 11: Cabbage
Never buy store-made or commercial coleslaw. It can be slimy and/or loaded with sugar. Keep a cabbage in the fridge and make your own coleslaw or even sour kraut. Stuffed cabbage leaves and boiled cabbage (New England boiled dinner) are also in my rotation.
Slaw-some weekly coleslaw
- Rinse a cabbage and remove the outermost leaves (too tough and bitter).
- Cut the cabbage in half, and put half back in the fridge.
- Carve out the hard, rooty base of the cabbage.
- Shave off slices of the cabbage with a sharp knife, cut the shavings into your desired sizes, and toss them into a large bowl.
- Use a vegetable peeler to shave short strips of carrot into the bowl.
- Add vinegar, mayo, salt, pepper, and other spices to taste.
What could be simpler? I like the vinegar to dominate the taste, and I avoid the sugar completely.
Money-saving item 10: Fresh sausage
Nobody thinks it is very special to have hot dogs for dinner (except me, because my wife doesn’t allow them in the house.) Grilling up some fresh Italian sausage, on the other hand, makes a great dinner.
Meat is expensive. It should be expensive (because we eat too much of it and it has a huge environmental impact). However, when you want meat, some well-made sausage can be almost as satisfying as a thick steak.
Money-saving item 9: Tilapia fillets
I am determined to eat more fish, but I am not very good at cooking it, and it can be pretty pricey. In addition, there are always concerns about freshness and whether or not it was harvested responsibly.
I like to eat tilapia fillets because they are cheap, tasty, healthy, and farm-raised. I typically buy a bag of them to keep in the freezer. They are pretty thin, so they can thaw out between the time I get home from work and when I am ready to make dinner. I usually use an egg-wash and some seasoned bread crumbs before baking or frying them up.
Money-saving item 8: Oatmeal
I will admit that I do not want to eat oatmeal porridge every day for breakfast, but it really hits the spot on a cold, winter morning. Adding some dried fruit, yogurt, or nuts makes for a big improvement.
Money-saving item 7: Eggs
Even though the price of eggs has spiked recently as compared to many other food staples (up about 20%), eggs still represent a very inexpensive source of nutritious protein. They are so cheap you can even upgrade to free-range or organic.
It is easy and delicious to include more eggs in your meals. Even on busy weekday mornings I still have the time to poach eggs in the microwave. (It only takes about a minute.) Hard-boiled eggs are great with lunch. Have a fancy chef’s salad as an easy and satisfying dinner.
Related link: Poaching eggs in the microwave
I even put eggs on pizza. Crack the eggs right on to a pizza when it is about 6 or 8 minutes from being completely baked. Eggs on pizza go great with feta cheese, bacon, Kalamata olives, spinach, hot sauce, and lots of other goodies.
Medical science has largely redeemed the beloved egg. The cholesterol in eggs does not go straight into your system as previously thought; it is digested in your stomach. In fact, it looks like eggs raise good cholesterol more than bad cholesterol. Eggs are very nutritious, and some recent studies indicate that even eating an egg every day does not increase the risk of heart disease.
Related Link: “Is It Really OK to Eat Eggs Every Day?” from Health.com
Money-saving item 6: Frozen veggies
There is no substitute for fresh, local veggies, but frozen veggies come pretty close. While canned vegetables are economical, they can have a stale, weird taste. Frozen veggies taste great and can hide in the back of the freezer for a long time just waiting to help out when all you have planned is kielbasa. (Don’t just eat a whole kielbasa for dinner; you will not feel good about it.)
When it is my turn to make dinner, I typically try to put a protein, a starch, and some veggies on a plate together. (What can I say? I’m boring.) Frozen veggies fill out the plate cheaply and easily. I would love to meet the person who invented “steam in the bag” and buy them a drink.
Money-saving item 5: Potatoes
Maybe it is written into my Irish DNA, but I love potatoes. I love them at breakfast (e.g. home-fries), lunch (e.g. potato salad) and dinner (e.g. potatoes au gratin). They are as cheap as they are versatile. I have even been known to give potatoes top-billing at dinner time with my epic baked potato bars. (Don’t forget the sour cream).
Caper crusader potato salad
- Cube several potatoes (to the size you like in your potato salad).
- Boil the cubes to medium-softness.
- Drain the water and let the potatoes cool in the fridge for a while.
- Put the cooled potatoes in a large mixing bowl and add the following to suite your taste:
- apple-cider vinegar (just a bit)
- salt and pepper
- chopped red onion
Money-saving item 4: Popcorn (old-style)
Snack foods are typically very expensive by weight. Old-style popcorn is easy, cheap, and healthier than most other snacks.
Making old-style popcorn is superior than microwave or pre-popped in almost every way. Once you go old-style, you will never go back. It is so easy, and you don’t need a special popper.
- Coat the bottom of a large pot with corn oil. (I like to add the salt to the oil so it is dispersed evenly on the popcorn.)
- Pour the kernels into the pot. Add enough so that you have a single, even layer across the bottom; every kernel should be touching the oil.
- Put on the cover and give the pot medium heat. The popping action will automatically stir the corn and prevent scorching.
- When popping slows, turn off the heat.
- Once popping has stopped, stir the popcorn so that the popcorn touching the metal doesn’t burn.
- Add flavor. (My go-to addition is a bit of onion powder.)
Money-saving item 3: Store-baked bread
If you have ever tried to bake French or Italian-style bread at home, you know what a great bargain store-baked bread is. The quality is often excellent, and the store is saving you hours of effort for a buck or two.
A fresh loaf of bread makes any meal a special feast – even it is just some massive hoagies.
Money-saving item 2: Chicken thighs (or drumsticks)
Our society is fascinated with breasts. (Have you ever heard a commercial for a chicken sandwich that wasn’t bragging about their breasts?) Since chicken breasts and white meat are so desirable, chicken thighs (and drumsticks) are a great bargain.
Dark meat is flavorful, juicy, and hard to over-cook. I often buy chicken thighs (with skin and bones) for 99 cents a pound. (How is this possible?) I usually remove the skin of a large family pack of chicken thighs and put much of the meat in the freezer.
Weeknight chicken dinner (as shown)
- Remove the skin (leave the bones) and put the chicken thighs in a large, oiled pot.
- Add 3/4 cup or so of your favorite marinade. (For the meal in the image I used Lowry’s Sesame Ginger marinade.)
- Cover and put on medium heat
- Remove the cover occasionally to release steam and stir the chicken.
- It is hard to over-cook dark meat, but you can check with a thermometer if you wish (165 degrees is cooked for chicken).
Money-saving item 1: Brown rice
I do not want to hear anyone complaining about the cost of groceries if they do not have a huge bag of rice in their cart. In some cultures, everyone (not just the lower class) have rice with every dinner.
Whole-grain brown rice is incredibly healthy because it retains the grain’s fiber and endosperm (where the nutrients are). The enriching process (as in flour) removes these nutrients because it makes the product more shelf-stable. The bacteria does not have what it needs to flourish (but neither do you).
Because the nutrients are intact, whole-grain brown rice is less shelf-stable. It is more difficult to find large bags, and you may not want a large bag anyway as it is more likely to spoil if you do not consume it quickly enough. Never fear, a five-pound bag will cost you about three dollars and last a long time.
Related link: Health benefits of brown rice
Money-saving grocery list conclusions
Spending money on groceries is almost always cheaper than eating out. Further, once you are used to money-saving grocery list, you can probably justify getting some fancy steaks, seafood, cheeses, etc. (I am making myself hungry.)
On the day that I took some of these photos, I happened to be shopping at Wegman’s in Montgomeryville, PA. That fact is unimportant, as I tend to rotate between different grocery stores. These items are good deals regardless of where you are shopping.
You probably noticed that big bags of frozen burritos, take and bake pizzas, and the like are not on the list. Not only are processed or prepared foods unhealthy, they are more expensive.
There is nothing revolutionary about this list. Your grandmother knew that these items were a good value and so do you. It is likely that these items will continue to be affordable for the foreseeable future.