7 Easy Food Budgeting Hacks

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It seems to me that we’re about to go through some financial snags in this country that no one had planned on dealing with. We’re being asked to stay at home as much as possible at the moment. People are being laid off, losing their jobs, and groceries are not as easily available. I see a lot of people struggling and in need of support as well as advice. 

James and I spent the better part of our young marriage barely making ends meet. We had to use food stamps (now called EBT or SNAP benefits) when we first started out with our eldest son as an infant and even as a child when we had little to no income. With the boys, I was on WIC (Women Infants Children) program staples just to get by. Those programs are there for helping out when people cannot help themselves. Everyone pays into it, just in case they wind up in those shoes. 

The point is, we had to feed ourselves and our children on very little. We did it and we overcame our financial struggles for the most part. As our own children got older, we tried to teach them how to be frugal, but we also have made the mistake of not letting our children want for much. I grew up poor, but that helped me understand how to survive. I don’t know that our kids are going to be the same. I can only hope that some of my frugality has made its way to their minds. 

I cook for 6 people. My kids have moved back in with us due to financial struggles (one never left). So, I speak from not only experience, but as a mom who currently has to consider the budget and the needs of the entire family. I try to keep all of my meals at $15 or less but able to feed 6 people. If I can get my meals for cheaper, I will. There is no shame in a good meal for your family, even if it’s cheap. I have never understood the way people look down on others for what they can and cannot afford. Most of the time, a bad financial situation is not their fault. Everyone is just trying to get by.  

That being said, I’m going to share some shopping and cooking strategies that might help out those who need it. 

Coupons and Cash-Back Apps

Coupons and Cash-Back apps are your friend! I have put off doing this for way too long. Not coupons! Coupons have been part of my life for years. My mom couponed and I have. But the Cash-Back apps available these days? I only just started using those in February. I’ve gotten back over $100 already! So be sure to look up what you want of them.

My favorite is Ibotta – it’s just so easy to use and covers so many stores and online shopping. Plus, it actually gives you cash back – like MONEY into your PayPal account or bank account (if you prefer). The link above is an affiliate link that you can use. Just be sure to use the Referral Code: gvuecql when asked during sign-up. This helps support the website and we really appreciate it.

he others are usually based on sending you a check or store cards. Fetch Rewards is cool because it also gives you the best gas prices in your area. Checkout 51 is another one. I’ve not used this one yet, so not sure about it. Shopkick is more like a game than anything else. You get points for going to a store, for scanning various promoted items in the store and you get the most points if you actually buy those items. All of these points add up to being turned in for store cards.

What I like most about the apps is, you can also use manufacturers’ and store coupons on top of the app. The coupons save you money up-front (at the time of purchase) and the apps give you money after the fact. So you still have to be able to pay for that package of rice before you can then get the money back for it – hence making it “free”.

Also, Coupons.com allows you to use digital manufacturers’ coupons, so you aren’t always cutting things out or having to buy papers. However, there can be some drawbacks, so remember that paper coupons do have their place. Ibotta and Rakuten as well as Honey all can be added to your web browser and used for online purchases as well. 

Be Frugal with Processed Foods

Shopping is healthiest if you keep as much as possible out of processed foods. However, it’s unrealistic to believe that a family on a budget can escape processed foods completely. So, it’s better not to shy away from them, rather, know what to look for on the labels and know how to add or take things away that can adjust these foods to a more healthy standard.

Ramen, for instance, is one of the easiest, well known, and cheapest forms of sustenance we have. You can get them easily for 4/$1.00 or sometimes less. The packet that comes with it is high in sodium, so that might need to be adjusted. It’s also just a carb, so adding things to the noodles is a necessity. Check out my article on 5 Ramen Meals for Under $5!

Frozen foods and canned foods are  missing some of their minerals and vitamins due to the processing they go through, but they are cheaper than fresh in most cases. And they haven’t lost enough healthy goodies inside of them to make them invalid for consumption! 

Shop the International Aisle

Shopping from the International Aisle in an American grocery store can also be a game-changer. I can get so many things from that aisle, that are twice as expensive only two aisles away – same product; different company.  Speaking of this, have you ever shopped in ethnic markets? We shop at a local Indian Market called the Spice Bazaar. All my spices are much less expensive from this store, and they have the best fresh street food for sale there, too! 

We go to LiMing’s Asian Market nearby for the best prices on oils, sauces, produce, tofu, and noodles. Plus they have some of the best seaweed snacks and milk tea I’ve had! And yes, they also have a dine-in area. Yum! Have you ever stopped to think about Dollar Stores? Dollar General works with Ibotta and also accepts manufacturers’ coupons (their in-store coupons are actually manufacturers’ coupons that they’ve pushed to digital for their app). They have some great deals.

Dollar Tree has upped their game as well. They have freezers and food pantry items. So long as you know what the best prices are, you can confidently go in and get food for a great price. As always, I love farmers’ markets best, but I do know that the prices may be expensive – UNLESS you are buying something that is so in-season that they want to be rid of it. I’ve gotten various squash and greens and potatoes and tomatoes at a great price from our local farmers’ market.

Also, you can go at the end of the market and maybe get better deals to buy a bunch of things from someone who doesn’t want to take it back home. No matter what you buy there, you’re helping sustain a local farmer, and that’s great. 

Make Things Yourself

Be willing to make some things yourself. Some things are just cheaper to make yourself. If you can spare the time, do it. We’ve become so focused on time here in the United States that we do not like to wait on anything. But good things come from being patient – or at least when it comes to food, that’s the truth. You can spend twice as much or MORE on food when you want that food to be ready quickly. I’m guilty of this, I’m not judging. If I find a sale on instant rice, you think I won’t get it?

Some of those pouches are premixed with quinoa and you can toss them in the microwave for 90 seconds and voila! Done side carbs!  But it takes 2 of those packets to cover a meal for the family. That’s a price of normally $1.00, give or take. For that, I could buy an entire bag of brown rice or long grain rice that could give me 5 meals worth of side carbs or more depending on the size of the bag.

However, the opposite can be said of juicing. It costs more and you get less when you juice your own fruit. It also takes up your time. So, my habit is to look for juice already available to me at the store, make sure it’s 100% juice, and accept it. 

Best Quality is not Always Best

Accept that the best quality is not always what is needed. The oil game is a prime example of how to get lost and become easy prey to higher prices. Have you seen how many types of oils there are? Have you seen how many types of just olive oil there are? Yeah. It’s crazy. But do you really need EVOO for every dish? No. Do you need a specialty oil for every dish? No. I actually buy an EVOO + Canola Oil blend to offset the price. I use that or just canola oil for most of my cooking.

I will break out the “good stuff” when I have something to prepare that will actually benefit from the flavor of the oil. Otherwise, why waste the pricier oil? Salts are the same way. I have sea salt and smoked sea salt available to me. Do I use it all the time? No. I will use plain table salt if I know that the recipe is going to swallow the flavor anyway.

For instance, I use plain table salt for baking. It’s there to flavor and for a reaction within the baked good. Why would I use anything more expensive on that?  

If You Grow It…

If I can grow it, I do. If I can freeze it or can it myself, I do. Also, if I get a good deal on something, I take it and store it for later use or for sharing. Even if I don’t often use something (meat products) – if someone is giving me anything, I will take it and find someone that can use it. But you won’t often find yourself the recipient of such gifts. Growing your own food is rewarding and keeps you on budget.  I’ve not done this in a long time, but I’ve got the gardens up this year and I’m hoping for a good season.

Tomatoes, carrots, spices, onions, peppers, squash… things we will either use up as the season wears on, or that can be stored for later use. I’ve had a rosemary bush pretty much everywhere we go. I love the smell of the leaves and it acts as a bug repellent as well as a spice. I don’t just use rosemary in cooking. You can make syrup using the sprigs in a water and sugar mixture that can be used in a lot of recipes. I just love it in coffee, to be honest.

Spices have so many uses, and they are difficult to kill. So even people with no farming abilities can usually keep them going. I have a huge rosemary bush, a thyme plant, and mint that needs very little care at all. I just reap the rewards of having planted them in my yard. Though, the mint went a little wild. Be careful of that – it spreads. 

Prioritize the Expiration Date

When you cook, use ingredients that are close to going bad. Don’t waste so much! Don’t overbuy fresh produce. It doesn’t last. Don’t forget things in the bottom of the freezer. Periodically get stuff out and figure out what you can use it with. USE…IT…. 

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve wasted food in this house because no one wanted to use the leftovers or because produce sat around too long, or because something was purchased and then just overlooked. Once a month, I clean out my freezer and meal-prep around what I find. Once a week, I gather the left-overs and use them up before moving on.

One pot meals and casseroles are your friend! Soups and stews, too! You can mix all kinds of crazy up in there and people will love it, never knowing that you used leftovers or that package of peas and carrots that were frozen to the bottom of the deep freeze for a month or more in it. And if you can’t think of something – see if you can freeze whatever you’ve got left for use later.

There’s an entire website dedicated to figure out ideas for meals based on what you have in the kitchen. It’s called Fridge to Table. Give it a go! It’s basic, but it’s just for ideas. Google is a great tool in and of itself, not to mention imagination and creativity! 

So much to take in! I know. But then, this comes from someone that did her own shopping from age 15 onward, someone who has been through hard times, someone who has learned to grow her own food and how to make ends meet when you have very little money and multiple mouths to feed.

It encompasses nearly 30 years of experience in making what we can afford and what we have – work – for a family of 5 plus friends and other family that showed up. As the days wear on, I plan on going further into depth about each of these sections and I’ll be giving you recipes based on budgeting with both time and money when it comes to food.


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