50+ Ways to Slash Your Food Budget

Man checking his fresh food delivery


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Man checking his fresh food delivery

A Lot to Digest

Americans spend a lot of money on food — $7,316  in 2020 in the average U.S. household, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a drop as eating habits changed drastically during the COVID-19 pandemic. But a recent surge in inflation has consumers looking for ways to save money. From grocery shopping to cooking to dining out, these tips and tricks can lower expenses and contribute to a lifestyle that's healthier for the body and the planet.

Related: Simple Kitchen Hacks That Save Food and Money

Grocery Shopping

Opt for Store Brands

Many store brands offer essentially the same quality as popular names brands but at a much lower price. In fact, many store-brand foods have beaten their name-brand competitors in blind taste tests and amassed significant customer testimonials. Here are dozens of examples.  

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Leave Kids at Home

Leave Kids at Home

While it's nice to get the entire family involved in meal preparation, shopping trips can be tedious with one or more kids begging for expensive and unhealthy items. Leaving the kids at home will let you focus more clearly on the task at hand: comparing prices and picking quality products. If kids do come along, stick to a rule of only one extra item per shopping trip to set realistic expectations and not overspend.  

Grown Your Own

Grow Your Own

Growing foodstuffs at home can mean anything from planting a thriving, year-round garden to cultivating a few potted herbs. However big or small the operation, it will yield enjoyable home-grown food for a tiny initial cost. Gardeners can also save seeds and swap plants with other green thumbs.

Linda Hughes/shutterstock

Plan Potlucks

Communal meals allow everyone to make just one dish and partake in a feast. Scheduling a monthly or even weekly potluck with friends or neighbors can be an exciting way to diversify meals and get recipe ideas while saving money on food.

Cook 'Takeout' At Home

Cook 'Takeout' at Home

Cooking is generally less expensive than eating out or ordering food to go, and it can be just as quick and convenient. Learning a few dishes to satisfy a craving for takeout, such as pizza or sweet and sour chicken, can help cut spending on food.

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Know Your Inventory

Stock the Pantry During Sales

When shelf-stable food such as jars of marinara sauce and dried pasta go on sale, take advantage of low prices and stock the pantry. Having convenient food to prepare at a moment's notice will ensure there's always an inexpensive meal option on hand.

Salty snacks

Cut Out Snacks

Americans spend a lot of money on snack foods, most of which don't contribute much to a nutritious diet. Cutting out chips, pretzels, cookies, and the like will help save money and encourage healthier eating.

Plastic container for food and vegetables and fruit

Bring Food on the Road

Food on planes, trains, and highways costs more, because vendors know travelers have limited options. Keeping granola bars or some almonds and raisins in a travel bag can save from spending a lot more on a snack bought on the go.

Frozen vegetables
Save Leftovers

Always Save Leftovers

Whether it's a serving of potatoes from a home-cooked meal or a side of vegetables that didn't get eaten at a restaurant, saving leftovers is a money-saving idea. The small portions can be enjoyed as a snack or light meal rather than tossed in the trash.

Reuse Leftovers

Get Creative With Leftovers

There are also plenty of ways to turn leftovers into exciting new dishes. Repurposing food for meals to come is often easy to do, and key to avoiding waste.

Set a Budget

Set a Budget

Setting a food budget may be challenging until it becomes a habit, but it is one of the best tools for keeping finances in order. Having a spending limit will encourage practical purchasing and hone your ability to spot a good deal.

Sunday Roast Pork
Go Vegetarian (Even If It's Only Part-Time)

Go Vegetarian

Meat is one of the most expensive ingredients in many meals. Focusing on meatless meals helps save money while diversifying nutrition. Some of the savings can be put toward higher-quality meat to consume in smaller quantities.

Simple Ways to Cook Eggs
Aimee M Lee/shutterstock

Make Your Own Stocks and Sauces

Sauces, stocks, and broths are costly when bought from the store. To pave the way for an easy homemade stock, save vegetable scraps such as mushroom stems, herb stems, ends of onions, and stray carrots in a bag in the freezer to use as the base. Freeze the finished stock in ice cube trays and put in freezer bags for easy use.

Eat Seasonally
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Eat Seasonally

Although most stores offer all kinds of produce year-round, out-of-season fruits and vegetables are higher in price and lower in flavor. Rework recipes to feature seasonal ingredients to get the best value, nutrition, and flavor out of every dish.

Plan Menus

Plan Menus

Planning meals for the week helps keep unnecessary items off grocery lists while maximizing the ingredients that are on hand. Remember to work in dishes made from leftovers and straggling ingredients.

Related: Meals You Can Make for Under $5

Cook for the Week

Cook for the Week

Go one step further: Choose one or two days to do the bulk of the cooking for the week. It can help streamline the use of ingredients, and large batches of food ready to be eaten as meals and snacks make it easier to avoid tempting takeout and pricey snacks.

Vitaly Korovin/shutterstock
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Propagate Produce

Many foods can actually be planted straight from the grocery store. Herbs, for example, can be placed in water until roots grow and potted for the rest of the season. Potatoes can also be planted and used to propagate an entire patch.

Master Bread Pudding
Yeko Photo Studio/shutterstock

Alter Recipes for the Ingredients on Hand

If a recipe calls for basil but all you have is parsley, try the substitution. Chances are, it will work. The same goes for dishes that call for a variety of vegetables or meats. Use what you have on hand, rather than make an extra trip to the store to buy more ingredients.


Invest in Produce-Saving Sheets

Modern technological advances have made their way to the produce drawers of refrigerators everywhere. Sheets such as Fenugreen FreshPaper ($10 for eight) extend the life of produce, some say, allowing more time to use ingredients and cutting down on waste.

Make Seltzer at Home

Make Seltzer and Soda at Home

Soda is a daily indulgence for many people, and aside from the health concerns, it takes a toll on a budget. For people who drink a lot of the stuff, replacing canned and bottled drinks with a countertop seltzer maker cuts the cost per drink and allows control over how much sugar goes in.

Shop Online for Deals

Shop Online for Deals

These days, many of the best grocery deals can be found online. In addition to obvious sites such as Amazon, check retailers such as Nuts.com for shelf-stable staples and pantry items. Delivery is often free or low-cost for members and orders over a certain price threshold, which saves time, gas, and the hassle of going to the store.


Use Cash-Back Apps

Take advantage of apps such as iBotta and Checkout 51 (which sends checks at every $20 step) to rack up cash back on grocery purchases. Users accept offers at certain stores, send a picture of the receipt, and sometimes scan a product's barcode to earn rebates.

Pre-Portion Snacks


Portioning out snacks and meals is invaluable when trying to budget food expenses. Using individual containers to store ready-to-go snacks and meals shows how much food is on hand at a glance and prevents overeating.

Skip Drinks When Eating Out
Make it BYOB


For the pleasure of pairing food and wine without high markups, seek out restaurants that allow diners to bring their own bottle. Even when there's a "corkage fee," which can range from $5 to $20, it's often cheaper than buying a restaurant bottle.


Enjoy Restaurant Food to Go

Restaurant meals have advantages, and sometimes the convenience or a particular craving justifies the splurge. Enjoying the same food as takeout avoids the need to tip for tableside service, which these days adds a standard 20% to the cost.

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Pick Up Food to Avoid Delivery Costs

When ordering food, pick it up instead of getting it delivered whenever possible. Tipping the delivery person adds 20% or so on top of any delivery fees.

Eat Out for Lunch, Not Dinner
EM Karuna/shutterstock

Eat Out for Lunch, Not Dinner

Eating out is a fun indulgence, even for people trying to cut down on food expenses. Going out to eat during lunch provides the restaurant experience at a lower price. Lunch menus tend to list cheaper prices than dinner menus, and feature special prices or less expensive prix fixe options.

Related: Cheap and Easy Brown-Bag Lunches

Use the Right Card

Use the Right Card

These days credit cards come with many different reward options, including cash back and points redeemable for purchases such as groceries or dining out. Using a rewards card for food expenses can ease some financial stress.

Take Advantage of Happy Hour

Take Advantage of Happy Hours

Restaurants and pubs often have happy hour food specials alongside their drink specials. Taking advantage of low-priced appetizers and meals is a cheap way to fill up on restaurant food for less.


Go to Buffets

All-you-can-eat buffets — while not the healthiest option— are a good choice when you want to fill up. For the price of one entree, restaurants offer a wide variety of options in unlimited quantity. Go hungry and eat slowly to maximize the opportunity.

Strawberry & Rhubarb Jam (Pectin Free)
Find Kids-Eat-Free Restaurants

Find Kids-Eat-Free Restaurants

Many restaurants offer kids-eat-free promotions on certain days of the week. Taking a family out to dinner and paying only for the adults can be even cheaper than cooking at home. To avoid monotony, find a few restaurants in your area with this promotion.

Supermarket shopping grocery sale bonus

Plan Meals Around Sale Items

Scour grocery store circulars for discounts and plan weekly meals based on what is on sale. Start from the produce section for the main part of the meal and use supporting on-sale spices, condiments, and grains to flesh out the menu.

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Use Dried Herbs Instead of Fresh

Fresh herbs are expensive and turn bad quickly, which equals money in the garbage. Dried herbs are less costly than fresh and last longer. A one-time purchase can add layers to your cooking for months.

A woman grocery shopping
Seek Out Social Media Promotions

Seek Out Social Media Promotions

Following favorite restaurants on social media can bring discounts and giveaways. In an effort to expand their reach, many restaurants offer discount codes through platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Places with a Yelp listing also sometimes offer freebies for people who "check in."

Join Restaurant Mailing Lists

Join Restaurant Mailing Lists

Signing up for emails from favorite restaurants does more than keep diners abreast of special events and seasonal menus; it often gives access to special pricing. Read the newsletters to uncover discounts and other offers divulged only to those on the mailing list.

Hitting the Gig Time

Use Delivery App Coupons

Delivery apps allow searches for restaurants filtered by preferences— including availability of coupons. Choose among the places offering deals to cut down on delivery and takeout costs.

Have a Cup of Tea

Drink Tea

Tea has long been used as a natural appetite suppressant. Drinking a few cups during the day can help you consume less food between meals without the feeling of deprivation. Tea is flavorful but has virtually no calories — even with honey. (Plain old water also does the trick for some people.)

Related: Chains Where Drink Refills Are Free


Eat More Fiber

Fiber is an important part of any balanced diet. Eating a diet rich in fiber, especially from whole fruits and vegetables, will make you feel full longer, curbing cravings and the need to reach for pricey packaged snacks.

Grains and Legumes
AN NGUYEN/shutterstock

Start With Dry Legumes

Dried legumes such as lentils and beans are cheaper than pre-cooked versions. They also last indefinitely, and dried beans have a much better texture and flavor than the salty canned versions.

Caribbean-Style Jerk Rub
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Check Price Matching Policies

Check Out Clearance Sections

Most stores have a small area — usually tucked in a back corner — with clearance items costing up to 75% off. Sometimes food is on sale because of a quickly approaching expiration date, but often it's still perfectly fine to eat.



Take a page from our ancestors and look to the land for food. A patch of wild berries discovered on a hike may be the most delicious, and totally free. Of course, always be careful when foraging for mushrooms and other edibles to ensure they are not poisonous.