Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Feb 21, 2012 12:23 PM

What's the best way to grocery shop cheaply?

Really can't expound on it much more than in the title. I'm a college undergrad soon getting ready to move out and transfer out of state. Things are going to be tight, depending on whether or not I decide to get a part-time job or not.

But I've always wondered about the logic that buying from scratch-made items and making your own is REALLY cheaper than buying the already pre-made substance in the store. (For instance: i 5lb. bag of flour versus already-made bread product or raw/canned tomatoes + spices vs. pre-made bottled marinara)

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I don't think it really matters if you are cooking for one. Economies of scale. Family of four? Definitely.

    I'm lucky to have a grocery store with really cheap produce. $1/ 5 lbs of onions. Awesome produce on specials. Not that great of a meat/seafood department. So I can leave with multiple shopping bags for under $10.

    3 Replies
    1. re: jaykayen

      Oh okay. So buying from scratch only matters if you have more than one person you are cooking for?

      Stll A little confused... but I guess that can make sense if I really think about it.

      1. re: achilles007

        stocking a pantry can be a bit spendy when starting from scratch. for example, you may spend a few bucks on dried herbs, but a jar will last you many many dishes. you use a pinch, ya know?

        cooking at home is always cheaper than eating out or buying prepared foods.

        1. re: hotoynoodle

          If you can find a store that sells spices and baking supplies in bulk bins, you can start a pantry a little more cheaply.

    2. a bag of flour is a few bucks. a decent loaf of bread is at least $3. if you're not a baker, that's a moot point.

      part of the problem is buying just enough which can be tricky for just one, and for somebody who has never really done it, because you don't want waste. do you cook? or will you be relying more on convenience foods like ramen noodles and tuna?

      eggs are super cheap and easy to fix. quiches and stratas can be made in big batches and frozen into portions. same with soups and stews. you use can cheaper cuts of meat in these long-cooked dishes too. but again, if you don't cook, this ain't gonna happen.

      buy on-sale and don't be afraid to buy certain store-brands like frozen veggies.

      1 Reply
      1. re: hotoynoodle

        +1 on the value--nutritionally & cost-wise--on eggs. I'd also add beans as a cheap, easy, and versatile pantry staple. If you have time, dried beans are ideal--you control the sodium and spicing, and you can divide a big potful into various sized frozen portions. A smallish crockpot would be a good investment for those lower-cost meat cuts--cook forever, let 'em get tender, then they, too, can be frozen in useable-for-one-amounts.

      2. I think it depends on what you're prepared to put up with eating.

        When I was in graduate school, I budgeted $20/week for groceries (and that wasn't very long ago, so this isn't like your grandma telling you how bread used to cost a nickel). I waited for sales, got store-brand pasta 3lbs/$1, $1 cans (yes, cans, not jars) of spaghetti sauce, 50 cent loaves of store brand white bread, the big $3 canisters of oatmeal, and the 8-packs of ramen that cost like $1. Oh, and don't forget Tina's burritos, which you can find on sale for 25 cents each. Mmm... red hot beef!

        The point is, I stuck to that budget. But I ate almost the same $%#@ thing every $%#@ day for 7 years. The only reason I'm not diabetic and 50 pounds overweight is because I also didn't have a car and both school and the grocery store were over a mile away -- in different directions.

        So if you're willing to eat crap, yes, it's cheaper to buy cheap pre-made processed food. If you're willing to (a) gradually build up a collection of spices and (b) spend a little more than crap costs, then you can eat cheaply preparing your own food. You'll spend less preparing decent food than you would buying prepared decent food for yourself. For instance:

        A bag of flour costs $2-3. A pound of yeast (buy it in bulk at a health food store for the best price) costs maybe $5. That pound of yeast, in a freezer, will last you almost a year. Assuming about 3 cups of flour for a single loaf of bread, you can get 6 loaves out of that bag of flour. Even factoring in the yeast, you're down to crappy wonderbread prices in no time.

        You can often buy a lot of chicken parts, etc for low prices. Watch the sales and pick up one of those big family packs. Portion it out into freezer bags and thaw as needed. A big value sized bag of rice, those chicken parts, and some spices will create a whole host of meals.

        When you have leftovers, portion them out and freeze them. Or take the leftovers to work as lunches.

        Watch the sales. When something is on sale, stock up on it. Buy produce and milk wisely. When your milk is nearing its expiration date, use it in a dish: hamburger gravy or a pudding or something like that.

        If you're smart about it, you can cook cheaply. You'll be healthier and you'll learn something too!

        1 Reply
        1. re: overthinkit

          i often cook for one and although my pantry is full of all sorts of spices and condiments, i don't spend much more than $25 per week on food. i eat LOTS of eggs, lol. i buy meats on sale and prefer "other cuts". so i buy pork butt instead of loin or chops. chicken thighs, not skinless boneless breasts. usually i cook off 4 and use them over a few days. 85% ground beef, instead of super lean.

          veggies out of season from far away will be pricey and flavorless. if you have access to asian markets, you can often get great deals on produce and spices. dollar stores sell dried herbs and tinned stuff like tuna and sardines.

        2. Random thoughts: 1) Make a list and stick to it. 2) Freeze left overs. 3) Have "theme weeks" as a way to use up ingredients/spices. 4) Since I find it easier to cook for two/three than just one It might be interesting to see if you can find other students/friends on a budget and see if they want to cook share with you. That way you aren't cooking every night. 5) Even if you are on a budget, I would set aside some money so that you can have an "extravagent" dinner once a month where you splurge.

          1 Reply
          1. re: viperlush

            And find a way to repurpose leftovers or use all of something. Take a whole chicken. Can seem kind of expensive, but you roast it (1 meal). Save the fat the chicken releases while roasting and use it to cook potatoes for another meal (Potatoes, a little shredded cabbage, some onions, some chicken fat and maybe an egg on top = all sorts of awesome). Eat some cold chicken meat on a Caesar Salad for another meal. Get the last of the chicken meat off the bones and use it in a curry with apples and onions for another meal. And then use the bones to make stock, and the stock to make risotto. That expensive chicken starts to look like a bargain!

          2. Buying prepared foods only really makes sense if they are on sale and you have coupons for them. The double dip price reduction takes a bite out of the paying for pre made item.
            Need to start getting an idea what a good "rock bottom" price is for foods you like and only buy them when they are at that price (hopefully w coupon) and then stock up on them.
            Buying cheap produce is no good if you don't eat them in a timely manner so they do not end up spoiled in the garbage with your money.
            Cooking from scratch only makes sense if you will make decent size batches and then eat the leftovers for few days ( ie chili).
            The worst strategy is to go to the store with no practiced eye and just start grabbing prepared items off the shelf and paying full price for them.

            PS..utilize your freezer to take advantage of meat you can defrost them (in the fridge of course) and eat them on your schedule..and not pile too much meat in the fridge at once. Find basic recipes to prepare these meats to your taste.

            1 Reply
            1. re: rochfood

              <Buying prepared foods only really makes sense if they are on sale and you have coupons for them. >

              You always see articles online saying that the average person spends $5/dinner serving (or whatever $). So the frozen dinner or sub for only $4 seems like a bargain. And when you can split that between lunch and dinner, it's an even bigger bargain. I think that's how people come up with prepared food as a saving. Or when you don't bake a lot a basket full of ingredients can seem like a lot when all you want in a couple cookies.