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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)

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  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 specials..so 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.

            2. Agree with everything hotoynoodle said.

              I have spent a lot of time shopping and cooking for 1, and I think basic raw ingredients are almost always cheaper than their processed counterparts (even when just cooking for 1)*. It's best to be able to do one big shop at the start just to get the pantry stocked with spices, sugar, flour, etc., but then you only have to replenish things every other month or longer.

              The main things are to look at your weekly flyer and plan out all your meals and shopping lists based on the big sale items. For ex., if whole chickens are on sale that week, I'll plan to have roast chicken, chicken topped salad, chopped chicken / broccoli (or whatever veg is cheap that week) / blue cheese omlette, chicken noodle soup that week. (Bonus of having only to roast a chicken once for all those meals!) The lettuce, cheese, broccoli, eggs go on the shopping list. Seems a bit boring maybe, but this way you buy what's cheap, and perhaps more importantly, you know exactly what you need and don't have the chance to get tempted by the pricier items.

              Yes, learn to use the cheaper cuts. (I actually prefer them now, the recipes tend to be much more forgiving and adaptable.) Also, whole cuts are almost always cheaper than processed ones (e.g., I saw a striploin roast a while back, and cut it into 6 steaks for the price of 3 normal strip steaks. I was cooking for a bunch of people then, but could have easily frozen the excess had it just been for me).

              Try to prep all your stuff right when you get home from the grocery store. Separate the bulk chicken thighs or ground beef into meal-sized packets and freeze. Wash and peel/cut up the broccoli and carrots. Peel and cube the squash. It's so much easier to use things throughout the week and prevent them from spoiling when it's all ready to go.

              *For me, the exception to this is those pre-boxed mixed greens. I can go through one of those before they spoil, but to buy all the different greens and make the salad myself means a higher cost (for more portions, granted, but most of it will go bad before I can finish it).

              1. Can you grow a few herbs--windowsill pot, or potted plants on a patio both work fine. Grow basil, dill, thyme, whatever you like. Seeds can be had cheaply, even from WalMart, or small plants are only a couple of dollars. That way, you'll get fresh and delicious taste variations for whatever you decide to cook.

                1. Have a list.
                  Then be prepared to alter that list depending what's on sale. If you will get the sale flyer ahead of time, you can make a list for those sales.
                  Some prepared foods are great, and cheaper, easier, quicker. If time is an issue, then it can be worth it. Frozen ravioli, for example, is a food that I wouldn't normally make from scratch. I have, and can, but the frozen cheese stuff is pretty good, and quite versatile.
                  A whole fryer is cheap, but not as convenient as frozen breasts or other parts. If you can cut up a chicken, and use every part of it, then it is economical. But then, sometimes a nice 8-piece baked chicken from a deli might do just the trick, and serve it with simpler home made sides.
                  So, there are lots of things to balance, your lifestyle plays a huge role.
                  Make a budget, some lists, and go from there, maybe make some notes on things that worked and things that didn't. Experience is your best teacher.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: wyogal

                    "So, there are lots of things to balance, your lifestyle plays a huge role."


                    emphatically agree. with classes, studies, perhaps a job, and socializing, how much time will you really spend cooking? be honest with yourself about this because tender baby lettuce is delicious but lasts a day in the fridge.

                    this weekend i bought 2 bags of chicken feet and a bag of chicken heads in chinatown. under $5. tossed all that gnarly stuff in a pot with carrots, onions, garlic and parsley. less than $2 there. simmered for many hours. i have 6 quarts of gorgeous golden bone broth in my freezer now. so for $7 i have about 25 servings of soup. i often have egg drop soup, with some wilted greens in it, for breakfast . that's breakfast for about 40 cents and it sets me up for hours. but is that something the op will do? when i was in college, i sure as heck didn't!

                  2. I'm single, live alone, and like overthinkit above I had a self imposed $20/week grocery budget not to long ago.

                    The internet is your friend. Some recipe websites will easily scale down recipes for you. You can also search for recipes that only make 1-2 servings. Grocery stores also post their sale ads online, which I find much easier than chasing down hard copies.

                    Learn to love leftovers. I usually cook a 4-6 serving dish on Sunday evening, and have it to eat for several days. I also eat pretty much the same thing every day for breakfast and lunch.

                    Homemade/scratch vs. store bought depends on the item and how much you value your time. I like baking bread, but it isn't a money saver for me when I count the value of my time. Basic marinara/tomato sauce for pasta is very fast and cheap from canned tomatoes (buy dried herbs/spices from the bulk bins at Whole Foods - cheaper and better quality than the jarred stuff). You will need to play around some to figure out what things are worth making from scratch for you, and what isn't.

                    My basic strategy during the very lean times was to get $20 cash from the ATM, and that was it for food for the week (I also gave myself a second $20 bill for entertainment and/or restaurant food). All of my local stores start sales on Wednesdays. On Wednesday evenings I'd sit down with my laptop, look at the ads, and search for recipes using what ever meat/vegetable was the best deal that week. Breakfast was always bread + peanut butter + fruit. Lunch was a salad + cheese + bread/crackers + fruit. Snacks were fruit + nuts/cheese/yogurt. Specific items varied depending on what was on sale. Dinner depended on the meat and vegetables on sale that week. If I managed to get in under $20, the extra went in a jar, to be used for special items or to stock up during really good sales of staples. I never bought or used ramen, and only bought blue box mac and cheese when I have comfort food cravings. It's been 5 years since I had to budget like that, and I have more disposable income now. I still use this approach, but with a little more flexibility now.

                    1. You've gotten a lot of great advice so far, but I wanted to offer some ideas, too. Money was really tight for me for the six years that I was in grad school, but I learned to cook from scratch and to think about ways to stretch my budget. Planning is really important, but make sure you're realistic. Think about how you can rotate leftovers so you're not eating the same pot of chili for a week. Chances are either some of it will go to waste or you'll be so sick of chili you won't want to eat it again for a year!

                      Think about how you can repurpose some staple dishes. Every few months, I'd make a big batch of marinara sauce (canned diced tomatoes, canned tomato sauce, onion, celery, garlic, oregano, cayenne pepper, a little honey or sugar to cut the acid, and some wine [a bottle of white wine was a splurge for me--if I used one of those rubber vacuum sealing corks, it could last for months]). I'd let it simmer for a few hours while I went off and did homework (but don't forget to stir it!). I'd eat some that night, then freeze the rest the next day. From that sauce I could have pasta, lasagna, meatball or sausage sandwiches, eggplant or chicken parmesan, pizza, or stromboli.

                      Likewise, think about how you can repurpose leftovers. Pasta dishes, casseroles, quesadillas, pizzas, stirfries, and curries can all be a great way to use up bits and pieces of what's left.

                      Learn what ingredients will stay fresh longer and what you have to use quickly. Carrots, for instance, keep well, so you can buy the bigger bag for a better value. Rather than buy baby carrots for snacks, peel and chop your own. Salad greens, on the other hand, should be used in the first few days after you buy them. Apples and oranges keep well for awhile; bananas usually ripen and then spoil quickly (though freeze overripe bananas--they make a great ingredient in homemade smoothies, pancakes, etc.).

                      Think about the styles of food you like the most and start to build your dried herb and spice collection from them. I'd say salt, pepper, oregano, cayenne pepper, chili powder, cumin, and maybe rosemary or thyme are good all-purpose starters. Fresh garlic and ginger are usually very affordable and can last a long time if stored properly. Rather than stocking up all at once, maybe once or twice a month buy a new herb or spice.

                      Make sure you join your grocery store's reward/discount/bonus card program, and comparison shop a little when you're starting off. You might also buy a Sunday paper so you could clip coupons, or else ask a family member to save coupon flyers and mail them to you.

                      Good luck!

                      1. When in the store, stay away from the inside aisles & just shop on the outside perimeters. The outside walls will generally have all your essentials there, like dairy, toilet paper & meats, & veggies.

                        The inside aisles will have all packaged goods....you will certainly pay for the convenience of packaged.

                        Those boxed pasta thingys that say something like "pasta with broccli & cheese"...think about it...you could buy a whole box of pasta, a small amount of fresh broccli & a very small portion of cheese, add some milk & make the same dish yourself. You will have practically a whole box of pasta left to make another dish, add a different veggie to the pasta or just some garlic & spagetthi sauce & keep on keeping on. If you had purchased the ready made box, you would have had an inferior meal & probably very little left over for another meal....which those things do not taste good after heating up once. This is just an example to help you look at really how expensive those packaged items are when you can purchase the items individually & have multi meals that taste better. Think before you grab one of those "middle aisle" boxes of anything.

                        Don't buy those fancy bottles of spices, like "Chicken Spice Rub"...big waste of money...look on the internet for spice rub mixes & make some up yourself...that fancy spice rub may just turn out to be onion powder, garlic powder, salt & pepper & maybe some paprika & a ton of unmentionable preservatives. Why pay for that?

                        There is a pretty good book out called "Make This Buy That" or something along that line...check it out of the library if you can....oh yes, use your library for cookbooks, browse for free.

                        11 Replies
                        1. re: cstout

                          "When in the store, stay away from the inside aisles & just shop on the outside perimeters. The outside walls will generally have all your essentials there, like dairy, toilet paper & meats, & veggies."

                          This is great advice; it also works for health reasons. This was the exact advice my grandmother gave me -- it was how she shopped when she went on a strict heart-healthy diet (this was the 70s, when her only heart medication available was nitro). It served me well for cost and health when I got out on my own making very little. I would veer off into the pasta aisle, though. But the outside of the supermarket plan worked very well to keep me away from relying on the frozen/prepared/canned things and I learned to cook tasty cheap food.

                          1. re: lsmutko

                            It's a great way to get the fresh stuff, but there are great, inexpensive, and healthy items within the store, canned and frozen vegetables, for instance. If someone gets fresh vegetables, but doesn't have the time to prepare them, or they've been on a truck for who knows how long, the frozen and canned items can actually be healthier.
                            Again, it depends on one's lifestyle. Food that starts out nutritious, but goes to waste is not a savings. If one is in college, one usually does not have the time it takes to make everything from scratch. That doesn't mean that they can't get good food. If one is faithful about eating leftovers, and can use up the fresh stuff before it goes bad, great. But, that may not be the case with a busy college student. Having canned foods that are easily prepared, that require no refrigeration (therefore no mystery stuff ending up in the garbage after sitting for a couple of weeks in the back of the fridge), is a great alternative for the busy college student.

                            1. re: wyogal

                              A friend used to work in grocery store mgt, and she relayed not only the "shop the perimeters" idea, but also noted how stores have been re-configured, so that you have the long, store-length aisles so you must peruse the whole aisle to get to the back of the store--no more 1/2 aisles you could cut across. All to get us to see more products and buy more of what we don't need.

                              1. re: pine time

                                of course they do, but one needs to be a savvy and smart consumer and one won't fall into those traps. That said, having been in college, having been in grad school, the convenience of an inner aisle product outweighs the initial cost, and the waste that may accompany cooking everything from scratch (not using up leftovers, not using up fresh ingredients quickly enough, because one can get detained by classes, study groups, etc...) can lead to waste.
                                Balance. Which one can achieve by utilizing all the aisles of the market.

                                1. re: wyogal

                                  Agree completely with you; friend's info was just interesting to me, shows my grocery-store innocence, I reckon. As poor students when Mr. Pine and I married, I swear I don't know how 90% of my recipes were supposed to taste, since I'd just leave out whatever ingriedents we couldn't afford.

                                  1. re: pine time

                                    pine time...I have sorta the same problem. I have never eaten Indian food, I see a recipe & decide to make it, well, how do I know if it turned out or not? Just by my own personal taste, but if an Indian person might taste it, they might say, what in the world happened here?

                                    Yes, we will never know about some of those recipes.

                                    1. re: cstout

                                      Mr. Pine is FROM India, and I'm not sure how authentic some of my Indian recipes are! I'll ask him "does this taste right?" and he'll waffle. Hey, maybe Indian waffles (would that be a dosa)? Actually, from cookbooks, his relatives, and lots of Indian restaurants, I've developed my own version of many Indian recipes, be they authentic or not--we like 'em.

                                      1. re: pine time

                                        pine time..in the end it really does not matter as long as it is liked by you & your loved ones...that's what cooking is all all about. Thanks for easing some of my fears about trying the be "authenic".

                              2. re: wyogal

                                I agree with this-that "shop the perimeter" axiom is interesting and food for thought, but it really doesn't hold up to close scrutiny. Off the top of my head, the aisles tend to have rice, dried and canned beans, canned vegetables (I don't eat a ton of those but I wouldn't survive the winter without canned tomatoes), spices, pasta, oils, flour, vinegar, frozen vegetables (among other frozen junk, granted), nuts, juice, dried fruits, sauces/condiments, and tuna. The perimeter has the produce section, meats, and dairy, but also includes baloney, hot dogs, lunchables, Sunny Delight and its ilk, a bunch of sugared up yogurt products, processed cheeze food, gunky deli potato and macaroni salad, and sometimes the chip/soda section. There's a fair amount of variability from store to store, and I'm sure stores do try to funnel us toward high profit margin items, but I certainly couldn't get by without going down a good number of the aisles and I make the vast majority of what we eat from scratch.

                                The trick to avoiding those impulse buys the stores want you to make is to have a plan and a list, for me at least. You don't have to be rigid about it, but it is really hard to go into a store and try to buy ingredients for more than a couple of days without a game plan. You're likely to wind up with too much or not enough, missing items you need, and random things that you don't really have a use for.

                                Dried beans are one of the best bargains in the grocery store, in my opinion. They sound like too much work if you're pressed for time, but it's almost all hands off, and they're cheaper and tastier than canned. Dried lentils are also great and the cooking time is less. If you have any freezer space at all, the about-to-expire meat bin is invaluable. I've eaten and fed my family plenty of discounted meat and no one has ever suffered the slightest ill effects.

                                1. re: ErnieD

                                  ErnieD, inner aisles, I should have been more specific & went into detail as you just did about some very good food items in there with all the cardboard boxes of dried yuk.

                                  Having some sort of plan & a few recipes for the next few days is a very big help before stepping into the store. If you don't have a recipe item list , "comparison" shopping is useless. Stick to the ingredients needed to make the recipes.That is very important! (as you already said). Don't impulse buy or think you need to purchase something since it is on sale...just keep moving & keep the list right there in sight.

                                  Once you have a list of the recipe ingredients, THEN you can do a lot of comparison shopping. Simple scenario, one ingredient you need is corn...is it cheapest to buy a couple of ears fresh, or go for the canned (look through the "dented" basket) or get frozen(generic)?

                                  Yes, the "marked" down meats are an excellent buy. I found it is best to shop real early in the morning to grab those though. When you get in the store, go directly to the meat area & check it out...those things go fast..so get ahead of the bunch.

                            2. re: cstout

                              It's called "Bake the Bread, Buy the Butter" with cost (and taste) analysis about which way makes more sense.

                            3. The economy of home-made vs pre-made varies a lot depending on the price you can get ingredients for, and the quality you want in the final product.

                              For example, cheap grocery store bread and bottled marinara sauce are going to be cheaper than pretty much any bread or tomato sauce you make at home. However, home-made bread can be cheaper than buying *good* bread at the store, and as far as I'm concerned, jarred tomato sauce is absolutely dreadful and you couldn't pay me to eat it on a regular basis. :-)

                              For a single person and cheap grocery shopping I would suggest...

                              1) Find the grocery stores with the best prices, and make sure to factor in transportation costs (gas, bus fare taxi). There can be a significant difference between stores in the cost of basics groceries.

                              2) Skip the pricey convenience products. Buy a head of lettuce instead of a bag of pre-washed greens, a bag of carrots rather than baby carrots. Same with things like pre-shredded cheese, veggies that are cut up into pieces for you, meat that's already marinated and threaded onto skewers, Lunchables, microwave in the cup soups, etc.

                              3) Buy your spices in bulk, or the stuff in plastic bags rather than in jars. Never buy an entire bottle of herbs or spices (or another condiment) for a single recipe. If money is really tight, buy condiments and seasonings strategically.

                              4) Buying in bulk is not a good deal if you don't use it up before it goes bad, even if it seems cheaper.

                              5) Pay attention to relative prices of things like produce and meat, and buy what's affordable. If lettuce is $5 a head in winter, don't buy lettuce. If cauliflower is cheap, you eat cauliflower (probably two or three times to use up the head). Go for cheaper cuts of meat - chicken thighs rather than breast, stewing beef rather than steak. Don't buy out of season fresh blueberries.

                              6) Other ways of saving on ingredients - use dried beans rather than canned. Buy generic brand rather than name brand as long as the quality is okay. Get a Brita filter instead of buying bottled water.

                              7) Strategically work canned and frozen goods into your cooking. Canned tomatoes are usually cheaper than fresh, and often taste better for cooking. Frozen vegetables, some fruits, and seafood are often high quality, and can be much cheaper than fresh, particularly out of season, or away from the ocean.

                              8) Pay attention to sales, particularly for non-perishables like canned broth, tuna, tomatoes, pasta and rice.

                              9) Find a good Asian/ethnic market in your area. These can be a good source of cheaper groceries, particularly for more exotic stuff.

                              10) Avoid waste. Eat what's left in your fridge before buying more. Have a leftover day once a week, or toss leftovers in the fridge.

                              If you really want to tighten things up, I'd suggest tracking your shopping and usage for a month. Keep track of what you buy, how much for each item, and what you throw away. That makes it easier to see where the money goes, and you can work on cutting down the areas that are highest.

                              1. achilles007, how much time do you have along with that budget? You bring up a great starter point about bread. In a college setting, buying bread is far cheaper than the time and $ to make it....good bread can be purchased in so many places.

                                The number one recommendation I would make is get to know your new neighborhood and then game plan. Knowing where the bargains are for the basics, fresh produce, ethnic ingred. like spices, whole chickens, etc. is really the place to start. Will you receive store circulars in the mail? Do you have any grocery store apps on your cell phone? Do you have some basic kitchen space to store/freeze and keep purchases more than a week? Once you assess your situatiion then budget per week and decide how your dollar will stretch the best.

                                During college I food shared with fellow students in the same boat as me-love food, need helpers. We would share the cost of a big pack or box of something and split the cost. Less waste, more of what we liked. We found out the sales days of every market and shopped together on those days. If something is 10 for 10...find five people to share the bargain with!

                                Good luck!

                                1. A few things to keep in mind. Eating healthy (lots of fruits and veggies) can be pricey, so pick and choose you really need to have and mix it up week to week. Here are some rules I've used since being out of work.

                                  1. Check the circular and make sure you have whatever supermarkets you go to value cards. Sometimes it's a few bucks, but when you see at the end of the year you've saved a few hundred its nice. Plus, there are a lot of 2 for 1 specials usually.
                                  2. If you like eggs, it doesn't get much cheaper.
                                  3. Stay away from cold cuts...aside from health, they are pricey.
                                  4. By large jars of condiments. I find it amazing that people ever buy the smaller ones being they are half the size and only about 20% less money.
                                  5. Look for cheap quickie meals. I love Celeste Pizzas. Perfect meal size (with a small salad) and they cost a little over a dollar.
                                  6. Stay away from junk food and soda.
                                  7. If you're a water freak, buy a bottle with a filter not bottled water.
                                  8. If you do takeout, may I suggest Chinese. I usually spend $25/week on Chinese food and it last me about 4-5 meals.
                                  9. Not sure what state you're in, but check for coupons. Sometimes you can get stuff for nearly nothing.
                                  10. Don't fall prey to the signs that say 5 for $5. You don't need to buy 5!
                                  11. Frozen veggies and canned veggies are pretty cheap and usually can last two meals.
                                  12. If you like to cook, cook wisely. Cooking in advance (making a batch of stuff) can be bad, because you might eat more than you had planned. Open packages and divide them into meals.
                                  13. Pasta is about the cheapest dinner you can make. 1lb is about a dollar. That's 2-3 meals easily.
                                  14. Don't shop when you're hungry. Sounds silly, but you tend to pick up snack food.
                                  15. Finally, if it's possible. Walk to the supermarket. You'll only buy what you need to if you have to carry it home.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: jhopp217

                                    Oooh, good point on resisting the 5 for $5 "deals". Not sure how it works in your state but in our stores, 5 for $5 also means you can buy 1 for $1 or 2 for $2, unless the price tag specifically says otherwise.

                                    1. re: CuriousCat

                                      10 for 10 does not mean you must buy 10 at most grocery stores. And if it does, the items are clearly marked on the shelf.

                                    2. re: jhopp217

                                      Quick note! I just went shopping and was burned by this assumption! 3 for 3.99, so I picked up one... and was charged 2.99 for it. Always check the fine print!

                                      1. re: thinks too much

                                        It depends on the store policy. At my grocer, you will get the special price prorated for the single item. At Walgreens, not. I agree--know what the store policy is. And that you understand by reading the fine print.

                                    3. Find the ethnic markets...they can have some amazing deals on meat/produce/spices, particularly if you're not afraid to try new things.

                                      And the Indian market near me has hot samosas for 75 cents! Two of those make for a pretty good lunch. The Mexican market I frequent has 99 cent authentic tacos; again, a couple of those are a decent lunch or even dinner. Possibly cheaper than making them yourself, if you consider your time as having value.

                                      I would say to be flexible. A $4.99 rotisserie chicken from Costco or a grocery store can feed one person for 3-4 days, usually cheaper than buying a raw chicken.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: coney with everything

                                        Like you said, coney ethnic markets offer produce at better prices and that's the way to go especially on a budget!

                                      2. Since you are asking for advice mine is to put 'eating healthy' at the top of your priority list. When you see some of your class mates wolfing down junk foods you can pretty well tell who is and is not going to be mentally and physically healthy enough, over the long run, to be able to absorb the information they must understand in order to excel in whatever discipline they or someone else is paying tens of thousands of dollars to receive. Sorry to sound 'preachy'. Note how more and more schools/colleges and universities are removing vending machines that basically sell sugar/salt and fat in thousands of forms. There's nothing like a 2:00 pm 'sugar crash' to essentially stop ones ability to function effectively.
                                        If you can cook buy the basic ingredients to make and then freeze soups and sauces. Eat lots of fresh fruit and veg. Avoid fast foods like the plague. I assume because you are on this forum you have some interest in food. That's a great head start. Good luck. :)

                                        22 Replies
                                        1. re: Puffin3

                                          Puffin3, while I completely agree with you about the return on the investment of healthy eating, from a money standpoint, it is completely impractical to eat fresh fruit and veggies if on a budget. I don't know where you shop, but every week I buy a head of lettuce, five vine tomatoes, two avocados a large red onion and a baguette. It is basically two sandwiches and 2-3 salads worth...so four or five relatively small meals. The cost if nothing is on sale is $13 (since veggies rarely see sales in season). On sale I could buy 13 Celeste Pizzas, 13 cans of Progresso soup, 13 packages of frozen or canned veggies, God knows how many packages of Ramen Noodles. I agree health should be important, but sometimes money matters. Just saying.

                                          And one "trick" I've found is when I order Chinese food, I order 3 egg rolls and an entree (like General Tso's Chicken or Mongolian Beef. I order the combo lunch special which is slightly smaller and it costs me $7 and actually comes with soup or an egg roll. So I have an egg roll, about 1/3 pint of soup, and 1/3 of the entree. 3 meals, very filling for about $2.33 per meal. Not bad for a 3 course dinner.

                                          1. re: jhopp217

                                            jhopp217, might work for you (and more power to you if it does) but the OP was asking about the best way to grocery shop on the cheap and a number of fellow CH's have outlined how to buy produce on a budget.

                                            1. re: jhopp217

                                              as one person, i can't finish a head of lettuce before it goes bad. i almost never buy it. tomatoes out of season are pricey and flavorless. i will only buy avocados if i can get them for less than $1 each. but your grocery bag makes 4 meals at about $3 each. not terrible, i suppose, but i can think of other ways to go about that.

                                              i always have frozen spinach in-house though, and stock up when it goes on-sale.

                                              i don't like frozen pizza or canned soup AT ALL. same with american chinese food.

                                              we all have different ways of eating frugally.

                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                Please tell me where to get avocados for under a $1...I will be indebted to you forever. I don't love frozen pizza, but pizza in general has become so terrible, that to pay $4.25 for a slice when I can get this alternate for a 1/4 of the price is an option. I actually agree with you on the lettuce...I'm always throwing the remains of the lettuce away.

                                                1. re: jhopp217

                                                  I regularly find $1 avocados at the Hispanic market, but I must admit, they are often not very good.

                                                  1. re: caviar_and_chitlins

                                                    Aldi's sells beautiful bags of 3 avocados for $1.99-2.49 every week.

                                                    1. re: caviar_and_chitlins

                                                      +1 on the Hispanic market, just bought a couple for 79 cents each

                                                    2. re: jhopp217

                                                      unless you live in boston like i do, my sources won't be of much help, lol.

                                                      trader joe's usually has bags for under $1 each and i just bought a bag of 5 for under $5 at sam's club. in-season, market basket will have them for about a buck. i love them, but won't spend more than a dollar on them.

                                                      i can also get good slices for $1.50 and excellent pies for $10, so don't ever think about frozen pizza as an option. it's just awful.

                                                      processed foods have so much sodium and so much other junk they simply are not an option for me.

                                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                        Boston is my favorite city, but $1.50 slices of pizza? I wouldn't eat pizza at most places where it's regularly priced. Pretty awful from my experiences. I'll have to try my local Trader Joe's. Although I went shopping tonight and the avocados were $1 a piece...yippee

                                                        1. re: jhopp217

                                                          i hate to tell you but price isn't always indicative of quality. plenty of crap slices can be had here for $4 too.

                                                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                            I was agreeing with you...I live in NY...and more $4 crap slices....the places with slices under $2 are awful

                                                      2. re: jhopp217

                                                        I can get even organic avocados for $1 usually, but I live in southern NM. Non-organic small ones are easy to find for 4 or 5/$1

                                                          1. re: jhopp217

                                                            Yeah, I've got a Pro's Ranch Supermarket by me and their produce isn't organic (although I work at an organic co-op, so I generally buy stuff both places) and they have really fresh, cheap produce. Overall, it's an amazing supermarket. I've been shopping there less, though, because they won't let me bring my backpack in anymore...and since I ride a motorcycle and use the backpack to carry groceries, they're making it very difficult for me. Personally, I fail to see how it's any different than a large purse or bringing your own shopping bag. They also want me to keep it in a shopping basket next to the front door, which I do not consider safe at all.

                                                            1. re: Jackie007

                                                              Jackie007, I've been shopping at the Ranch Market in Albuquerque and not only is it a blast to go there (mariacchi music while you're shopping!) but they have avocados from Peru for 99 cents. Peru has banned all GMOs and I am a while food/organic shopper so compared to unripe "organic" avocados at Whole Foods for 3x the price, this is a bargain. I love Ranch Market for certain items and ithey are very good at labeling the country of origin.

                                                              1. re: sandiasingh

                                                                The Las Cruces one has a mariachi band and sometimes a random Mexican midget clown.

                                                                We don't have a Whole Foods or TJ's here (I miss TJ's) but the organic co-op is nice, plus I work there so I get a huge discount (plus employee perks like free monthly massage).

                                                    3. re: jhopp217

                                                      Tomatoes are outrageous unless it's summertime, and avocados are one of the more expensive vegetables (unless you happen to live in California and they're in season). You can buy fresh produce on a strict budget but it requires more flexibility in the produce you buy. In the winter, a head of cabbage is often cheaper than a head of lettuce, and can be both shredded and eaten raw or cooked. The winter is all about root vegetables and squash; carrots are often very inexpensive, and onions are underutilized and very inexpensive. You can get more variety for better prices in the summer. Not saying there's no room for convenience foods in a budget, but budgeting requires more flexibility in eating than someone who can spend freely.

                                                      1. re: Savour

                                                        I like veggie sandwiches...hard to use root veggies for that. Although red onions are finding there way into everything I eat.

                                                        1. re: jhopp217

                                                          I see that. But then your tastes are still trumping your budget. I was just disputing that you can't eat fresh fruits and veggies on a budget.

                                                          1. re: jhopp217

                                                            Obviously what you're paying is worth it to you, or you wouldn't be buying it. But I've been on extremely strict budgets where spending a bunch on out-of season veg is not really an option. This is where you have to have some flexibility if you want fresh veggies-root vegetable sandwiches are not really feasible, but roasted root vegetable wraps are delicious.

                                                            Your point above about throwing out lettuce is a good one-some things are hard to consume as a single person. Sometimes a couple of handfuls of bulk spinach (if your store has it, or even from the salad bar) might be worth it. The per-pound price is astronomically higher, but if you're just using a few pieces on sandwiches or wraps it becomes more economical than buying a head of lettuce and tossing most of it. My budget is not so strict anymore, but I still do some things like this. If I just need a handful of olives, I get them from the olive bar. The big jars are cheaper, and it seems to make sense to just get one of those and save the rest for a later dish. But the truth is, every time I open the fridge I'm going to grab an olive or two, and the jar will be gone long before I need to make an actual dish with them again.

                                                          2. re: Savour

                                                            Hate to tell you, but I got large, ripe avocados today for 50 cents each. In So. California.

                                                            1. re: pine time

                                                              I think it's the start of the CA avocado season. The ones I've been getting have been really awful watery Mexican avocados, but I think CA avos are starting to ship.

                                                      2. Count me as one of those former starving grad students who survived a tight budget. IIn addition to everyone's good advice above, I'd like to add a few things.

                                                        Regarding bread, I remember trying to gag down the cheapest house brand plastic-wrapped Wonder bread alternative - ugh that sawdust taste is still in my mouth. So, if your local grocery store has a bakery, find out what time of day they mark down the fresh bread to a reduced "day old" price. At our local store, that's usually in the evening. So what if it was baked 12 hours earlier - still very good fresh bread at usually half price or better.

                                                        Regarding spaghetti sauce - I don't like jarred or canned, and I agree that it can get expensive buying the tomatoes etc to make your own. I compromise with canned tomato sauce and add my own spices, green pepper, mushrooms, etc to taste. Much cheaper and less fat too. An 8-oz can of tomato sauce locally costs me less than a dollar, sometimes on sale 2 or 3 cans for a buck.

                                                        Regarding cooking vs pre-made - eat enough of that pre-made stuff, and your sodium levels will go through the roof (along with all the other nutritional problems). Check out the ingredient list on a box of scalloped potatoes, for example. I don't like the idea of that in my system.

                                                        Lastly, if you feel time is a factor in preventing you from cooking, it is possible to eat very well with some go-to techniques that take 30 minutes. For example, a basic white sauce is easy to learn and can be endlessly changed up to suit whatever ingredients you have on hand. Add chicken and broccoli and serve over rice. Or add whatever cheese you like with pasta and it's macaroni and cheese.

                                                        PS - when I'm in the mood for lasagna, I cook nine noodles, make 2-3 cups of sauce, shred 1 lb of cheese (or however much I feel like), and layer it in a bread loaf pan. Four pieces, perfect when you have the taste for lasagna but don't want to drown in a big pan of it. (I don't like freezing and reheating lasagna). For me, it's worth the work. Yum!

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: shaja

                                                          shaja, love your idea about lasagna....am going to do that this weekend...let's call it "Breadpan Lasagna"...wonder if the noodles will lay flat in the pan...that really would be neat. Thanks.

                                                          1. re: cstout

                                                            Don't worry about trimming to fit. Put two side-by-side in the pan, then curl the long ends underneath themselves. Then put a third noodle on top of the two to cover the gap where they lay together, and curl the end under again. The sauce weighs the folded-under noodles down quite nicely so everything lays flat. Yum ...hope yours turned out well and you saved leftovers for me :-)

                                                        2. and put grocery store gift coupons on your list for relatives!

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: wyogal

                                                            Awesome suggestions. I am on a pretty strict, but managable budget. So I love getting Whole Foods and Trader Joes Gift Cards. They give me the freedom to impulse buy non essentials when I want to treat myself.

                                                            1. re: viperlush

                                                              Grocery store gift cards are a great idea; I used to give them to my Mom, and didn't know until years later how they really made such a difference (she could even use them at the in-store pharmacy, when her meds were outrageous.)

                                                          2. Seriously - on a full stomach. Never go shopping hungry.

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: nvcook

                                                              If hungry, stop at the drive thru & get one of those dollar meals, eat on the way to the store & you will be much more selective in what you purchase.

                                                              1. re: nvcook

                                                                I always hear this as advice and have to say that for me, the opposite is true. If I go shopping when I am hungry, I will buy very little.

                                                                For the OP, the best way to shop cheaply is to start paying attention to the prices of your commonly purchased items. That way you know when they are really on sale, and when the store is trying to pull something on you. Save up a little of your budget after a good week so that you can clean up when the chicken goes on sale for 49 cents a pound, for example.

                                                              2. 1) Find out which supermarket offers low prices. Hint: it won't be WholeFoods. 2) Every week check out the store's ads. Most are now online, for the big chains. Plan around the loss leaders---if chicken is 59 cents lb this week, that's what you're eating; if eggs are buy a dozen, get a dozen free, plan omelets, etc. 3) Make a tentative meal plan before you go to the store, but allow for flexibility if you see a good deal. 4) Shop with a list. 5) DO NOT SHOP WHEN YOU ARE HUNGRY. 5) Re your question, scratch vs cook, remember that if you are going to school your time may be limited. On the other hand, buying one frozen dinner of spaghetti with meat sauce for $3, vs making spaghetti with meat sauce for $6 and thereby producing enough for eight dinners, illustrates the situation. You can certainly freeze some for future reference.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: Querencia

                                                                  OK, I get that you have to be really selective when you shop there, but depending on where you live Whole Foods has really good prices on certain things! Of course, I'm in a city with a high cost of living, so all of the grocery stores are expensive. But my local WF has the best prices in town on bulk legumes, nuts, dried fruit, cereal (their store brand cereals are as little as half the price of the equivalent GM/Post cereals at other stores), butter, and organic milk. They also have good deals on the less popular meats and seafood (sausages, large bone-in cuts, mussels, clams, squid, snails). And yes, they do have frequent sales.

                                                                  This all depends on your location, of course. But the point is, BE PRICE CONSCIOUS. If you have the ability to shop at more than one store (I go to three, plus a summer farmer's market), take note of the regular prices and buy each item where it's cheapest. And hell, even non-food stores will have good deals from time to time, like when CVS has 4 for $6 sales on cereal or crazy markdowns on canned soups, frozen food, milk, etc.

                                                                  The price differences may surprise you :)

                                                                2. To add to others' great ideas:

                                                                  Check out "dented can" discount food stores for exotic spices at a fraction of the price. (Make sure all items are reasonably within date and unopened). Dented cans are OK if not bulging or badly dented on a side sealing seam.

                                                                  Big Lots stores sells discounted, good bread at bargain prices.

                                                                  In the mornings, supermarkets mark down close to "Sell By" dated meat. If it's a good price, buy, prepare for cooking, and freeze what you don't need right away.

                                                                  Freeze leftovers rather than get tired of eating them night after night.

                                                                  Some stores (like health food) sell spices in bulk. That's the cheapest way to buy many of them.

                                                                  Best wishes and good luck!

                                                                  1. Best way to grocery shop cheaply? Uhhh.... shoplifting?

                                                                    Not that I would recommend that. Having a well-prepared shopping list and a full stomach is the best advice I can give. Also, bring only enough cash.

                                                                    1. Re shop lifting: The other day I was going through a large grocery store check out. When my turn came I started unloading my groceries. There was a liter of coke mostly drunk and an empty chocolate bar wrapper where you put those sticks that separate the groceries. I said to the checkout woman "those aren't mine". She smiled and said "don't worry it happens all day long here and we can't do anything about it because it's too busy and there's only so much security". So if you don't care about your ability ever to get a descent job this might be the answer to your hunger pangs. LOLOL.

                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                      1. re: Puffin3

                                                                        this is horrible advice... shoplifting? really? weighing the risk of getting caught vs. maintaining an ethical but frugal lifestyle... if this guy is in grad school, i'm assuming he's smart enough to realize that this could jeopardize any professional standing he might aspire to; not to mention having to live with himself... we do realize that shoplifting losses are factored into increased costs of groceries for everyone, right? bad enough costs arerising because of increased transportation costs, let's discourage people's bad behavior that also adds to increased costs!

                                                                          1. re: betsydiver

                                                                            Oh come on! Don't you know what 'LOLOL' means? Lighten up. It was obviously a joke.

                                                                            1. re: betsydiver

                                                                              Is this angered response tongue in cheek? I hope

                                                                          2. Great ideas. I am especially fond of shopping with a list but remaining flexible to scoop up bargains, and shopping at asian groceries, particularly for fresh and inexpensive produce. Also, be sure to check out the "last chance" or remainder shelf at your market. I recently got a 10 lb. bag of pinto beans for 75% off and 4 eggplant for $.50 (they had brown spots). Terrific deals if you have the time and inclination to cook them up into something that can be frozen, like ratatouille.

                                                                            1. In the long run it really IS cheaper if you consider the price of processed foods. The math is pretty easy....a bag of flour here is three bucks, and a loaf of good bread is four...so adding in the yeast, salt, water.......definitely less expensive.
                                                                              Just a tip on shopping more cheaply, period: make a menu plan, and make a list. Stick to the store perimiters, and check "endcap specials" very carefully. Look high and low on the shelves; the brand-name products are stocked at eye level but the store may carry a store brand that's just as decent. Shop in bulk; the jars you'll need to store the stuff are worth the investment.

                                                                              5 Replies
                                                                              1. re: mamachef

                                                                                Even in a shared apartment or house rental it's not always easier, cheaper or possible to store bulk items; like the reference to jars. Sometimes housing closes during school breaks and food stuffs will get tossed. I'm not sure what the OP's living arrangements (on/off campus, roommates) are but generally college housing creates limitations on food storage and space.

                                                                                1. re: HillJ

                                                                                  I didn't even think of that. The frat didn't close, ever - during the Summer session they took in boarders to keep the house going - but waste was definitely a problem. Thanks for calling this to my attention.

                                                                                  1. re: mamachef

                                                                                    i am an adult, living in a condo and i don't have the space to buy huge bulk boxes and jars of anything. there simply isn't storage space for it. besides, giant amounts of one thing will take me a lifetime to ever get through.

                                                                                    for inexperienced cooks making a menu plan could be just a list of booby traps. by not knowing what's in-season or what is value-priced they could really shortchange themselves. there are staples i buy often, but if i'm in the mood for beef, and pork ribs are on killer sale, i will get those instead.

                                                                                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                      You make a good point, as in the one above. But I respectfully submit that if you make use of the weekly supermarket flier, a menu plan is the easiest and best way to avoid those booby traps. I veer directly for specials as a rule, but if I'm REALLY craving a steak, I won't buy hamburger but I'll definitely shop the steak specials and buy skirt steak even if I'm craving sirloin or filet. So I guess I'm vulnerable to booby traps too, but for the most part I find that having a definite plan helps me stick to the plan for the week and avoid food waste.

                                                                                      1. re: mamachef

                                                                                        I wholeheartedly agree that this is the best plan. When I shop the circular an see what is on sale plus what I have to use up to avoid waste, I spend less.

                                                                                        I make a list and stay to it strictly and I save. When I go with some things in mind but no list I end up with 100$

                                                                              2. Years of shopping on a tight budget taught me a couple of things: that I save a lot by not shopping more than once a week, that I should shop with only general ideas in mind - that way if I'm thinking "pork" I'll buy the pork that's the best deal, and not fall into the "I have to have tenderloin for that recipe" trap. And I agree with using Hispanic and Asian groceries when possible - great deals in Chinatown in Boston, and herbs/spices are usually very inexpensive at Middle Eastern markets. Then there's my mother's sage advice: eat a lot of beans and greens! (Not packaged fancy salad greens, but cheap and nutritious kale, collards, cabbage). P.S. I have been known to approach a fellow shopper at the market and ask if they'd like to split a gigantic bunch of parsley, celery, whatever it is that's too big for one and would be wasted - you'd be amazed how many people say Yes! I came home the other day with a little celery, a few carrots, and a reasonable clutch of parsley, as well as a promise to do it again next week). Once you're a regular in a good market, you can often get tips on good deals from the staff and from other shoppers. Oh yes - learn how to make soup. Have fun!

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: elenacampana

                                                                                  Oooh, the splitting is a great idea. I'll have to try that at some point. My main grocery store has bulk bins for most fruits and veg, but celery and herbs are two of the few things I have to buy prepackaged.

                                                                                2. If you can, find a food coop. How they work differs, but my son did this when he was in grad school, and it gave some deals on fresh food. If there is a strong student culture where you are going, that might be a good option.

                                                                                  It is so easy to eat junk food from fast food places. It takes discipline to prepare good food for yourself. But overall, making your own food will be less costly, and you can actually get better nutrition by cooking. It really helps if you have a few food prep skills already. If not, there will be a learning curve. Luckily there are all sorts of videos on Youtube--but you knew that already.

                                                                                  I agree that eggs are very versatile and are a good buy. If you drink coffee, take a coffee maker and brew your own, for serious $ savings. Ask family to send care packages from time to time. If the family cook does something you like, find out how to make it for yourself ahead of your move. Locate a bread outlet store for deals on day old bread, close to where you end up living. Move within walking distance to your campus and your grocer, if possible.

                                                                                  Good luck!

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: sueatmo

                                                                                    I should have mentioned taking a microwave oven with you. They can be lifesavers in a crunch. You need basic pots and pans, and you need a coffee maker and a microwave, IMO. Again, good luck.

                                                                                  2. Maybe you would want to check this out:
                                                                                    Make the Bread, Buy the Butter

                                                                                    1.Set a budget and stick to it. 2. Pastas & rice are filling and dynamic. 3. Make your own broth/stocks with scrap bones of meat, can use to make sauces and rice. 4. Stop & shop and stores like that tend to have racks with cheap cheap pre-bagged produce (just bought 2 lbs of organic Brussels sprouts for .99/lb and sat in the fridge without going rotten for 2 weeks)

                                                                                    1. I'm in my last year of undergrad and have been living away from home since I was a freshman, and from my experience it's largely about avoiding wastage and working with your own lifestyle.

                                                                                      I'm not sure what your schedule is like, but I'm lucky if I'm home for more than one meal a day during the week. This means I have to think about meals that are good for packing and eating while at school and things that are easy to prepare ahead of time. For example, I'll slow cook a pork shoulder and put the meet in tortillas with beans and cooked greens, then freeze them. They're easy to grab in the morning when I'm running out the door and reheat well. I also like to freeze leftovers as a sort of homemade frozen dinner with a bit of everything in each container. I live with 3 other roommates so I have to be mindful of freezer space which means I can't do huge quantities, but a week's worth of lunches in the freezer is usually good as back up for when I don't have time to make stuff fresh.

                                                                                      I realize that isn't really grocery shopping on the cheap but for me the key is to not let things go to waste, and having a plan for each thing you buy and freezing it or divvying it into a meal for the next day is a good way to ensure you don't lose too much to the garbage. Plus, it helps avoid the temptation of eating on campus.

                                                                                      I often buy spices from the bulk section (although they're not as fresh) which means I can get as much or as little as I need instead of being stuck with a whole bag.

                                                                                      I would check out budgetbytes.blogspot.com. She's got tons of ideas for eating on the cheap and freezing stuff, plus she breaks down what it cost her per serving so you can get an idea of what you'll be spending.

                                                                                      1. You've got a lot of good advice already I would just add that it's good to know the tricks the supermarkets use to entice you to buy things you don't need so that you can resist them more effectively.

                                                                                        These two websites have some good advice I'd never seen before (and some I had):

                                                                                        I would recommend making your own bread using the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day method: http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/201... I make it without a pizza stone and without preheating the oven, I just put the dough straight from the fridge into the cold oven. The bread may not be cheaper than the cheapest store brand but it will be much better for you and much tastier.

                                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: ecclescake

                                                                                          My son's PA college apartment oven never got hotter than 300 degrees and his French studio doesn't have an oven. So to the lovely OP figuring all this out, if you give bread baking a try-test the oven first.

                                                                                          1. re: HillJ

                                                                                            I sympathise. I live on a boat with no fridge and no oven. But I had great training. My fridge in Germany was 4 square feet and the freezer had room for two tiny ice trays. Buying fresh veggies almost daily and meat twice a week has been the norm for over 5 years. And over 35 herbs and spices and lots of canned goods. Get the supermarket brand. But I am spoiled because I have Publix.

                                                                                            1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                                                                              IND, it does force a newcomer to self-preparation (son) and to get very creative. And, he's loving the daily shop at the local Roubaix markets...but, it is a diff mindset approach to eating well.

                                                                                        2. If you are going to do any cooking as a student, then things like pasta, onions, potatoes (tubers) and a fridge are going to be your best friends. You can buy bulk meats, divide them up and freeze them for individual servings. Buy bulk toilet paper, etc and save on those, especially if you have a warehouse store in the area.

                                                                                          One package of pasta at $1, a can of tomato sauce simmered with onions and other fresh veggies ($1-$4) will give you 8 meals (or roughly 62cents per serving); so cooking half a package or even a 1/4 package of pasta can be scaled, with the rest of the sauce stored in freezer. If you go to a restaurant for one serving of pasta, that easily costs $8 or more. One frozen pasta serving will be $5-6.

                                                                                          I've been feeding a family of 4 for the last 10 years frugally this way and we do takeout on Fridays. The idea is that you are prepared to have the same meal possibly twice, or 3 times a week.

                                                                                          Once you figure which produce you enjoy the most, and fresh produce can be had cheaply even if you shop every week.

                                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: bookhound99

                                                                                            i don't see how 2 oz. of pasta makes a meal, and i just hate it swimming in sauce, if that's how you fill up? when i was dirt -broke and living on pasta i ate 1/2 a box for dinner.

                                                                                            1. re: bookhound99

                                                                                              Not sure how a college kid is going to survive on 2oz of pasta in sauce.

                                                                                              Another delicious alternative to sauces is
                                                                                              orechiette, EVOO (sorry) & bread crumbs
                                                                                              farfalle,EVOO, sausage and peas
                                                                                              Linguine and peanut butter - don't laugh it's like a sesame noodle dish via Chinese Takeout
                                                                                              Also, if buying jar sauces, stay away from tomato...Newman's own, makes a decent vodka and alfredo sauce...much better. They also make a three cheese tomato sauce. Each are relatively inexpensive and almost always on sale

                                                                                              1. re: jhopp217

                                                                                                Any student I know (including me) who has tried surviving mostly on pasta has inevitably gained weight, so if that concerns you I'd consider making pasta a back up rather than a staple.

                                                                                                1. re: jhopp217

                                                                                                  Pasta works as long as you balance it out with other, healthier food groups - that way, you can actually squeeze 8 servings out of a box. Here's my basic baked ziti template:

                                                                                                  1 lb. ziti, penne or other tubular pasta (whole wheat if you can get it)
                                                                                                  1 lb. meat (frozen meatballs, sausage, ground beef, cubed chicken, stew meat - really, whatever you have)
                                                                                                  1 jar pasta sauce (I like arrabiata, diavolo or some other spicy sauce)
                                                                                                  1 small container ricotta (8-12 oz. container, or make it yourself in the microwave - whatever is cheaper)
                                                                                                  8-12 oz. leafy greens (spinach, kale, or turnip greens, either out of the bulk bins, from the salad bar, or frozen. If you don't have greens you could get away with a frozen carrot/pea mix. But you need some veg in there!)
                                                                                                  1 large onion, chopped
                                                                                                  3-4 cloves garlic, minced
                                                                                                  1 oz. freshly grated cheese (Parmesan if you have it, otherwise Pecorino, Grana Padano, or even a block of cheap mozzarella)

                                                                                                  Cook pasta until almost done; drain, shock with cold water, and put in mixing bowl. Brown meat, add to bowl. Wilt greens, add to bowl. Sweat onions and garlic, add sauce, warm through; add to bowl. Stir everything together, then fold in ricotta, leaving it a little chunky. Layer with grated cheese (pasta, cheese, pasta, cheese) in a 9x13 baking dish, top with bread crumbs if you like, and bake for 15 minutes at 450. Rest for 10 minutes, then eat. This will give you 8 hearty, balanced portions with a lot of veggies and meat to balance out the pasta. Even my vacuum cleaner of a boyfriend fills up on this stuff. You can even halve everything and bake it in an 8x8 for 3 large, 4 standard or 5 small portions.

                                                                                              2. One thing I haven't seen mentioned here that can save a lot of time and money is a pressure cooker. I have a fairly inexpensive one, and once you learn how to use it you can cook things at almost microwave speed without sacrificing flavor. This is perfect for some of the items you can cook that will go a long way--dried beans, for example. Often I end up spending more on food when I don't have time to plan things out as well. A pressure cooker can cook up veggies in less than 10 minutes, or a cheaper, tougher piece of meat can be cooked and made into a stew or something that can give you quick meals throughout the week.

                                                                                                1. http://truefoodmovement.com/trial-and...

                                                                                                  Just came across this today and found it very enlightening.

                                                                                                  1. PLAN (before going to the store)....NOT while you are in the store
                                                                                                    Gather up your recipes that you are going to make
                                                                                                    Make a grocery list

                                                                                                    THINK (in the store)
                                                                                                    Is this the best buy for this object? (comparison shop) check out fresh, frozen or canned for the best buy
                                                                                                    Is this item on my grocery list? (Be brutal here)

                                                                                                    Before checking out....do you have everything to make the dishes? Even helps to have the recipe in front of you too, so you can plan on making any last minute substitutions if need be.

                                                                                                    Keep ALL receipts for a month & review them often so you can see what items are showing up as being the most expensive. Keep non food receipts too.

                                                                                                    Don't hesitate to return an item (fruits/veggies especially)...with receipt in hand, they will not give you too much trouble...just don't cheat & try to return an item you have had in the fridge you completely forgot about.

                                                                                                    CHALLANGE YOURSELF
                                                                                                    After reviewing your grocery ticket at home, see how you can cut it down even more. Pretty soon this hassle will become like a game to see how you can become even more frugal.

                                                                                                    Get into the habit of "comparison shopping" in all areas of your life.

                                                                                                    At the end of the day ask yourself, "have I shopped frugally today"? Remember every dollar spent before answering that question?

                                                                                                    1. I haven't read all of this thread, so this may be repetitive, but my answer to how to shop cheaply is sales, sales, sales!

                                                                                                      I read my local flyers weekly, and stock up on the sale items that I use in my cooking. When something which doesn't deteriorate is on cheaply, buy a lot of it, enough to last until the next sale. When meat is on sale, buy lots and freeze it.

                                                                                                      The result will be a big saving in your food budget over time. For example,. the pasta that I like to buy has a normal price of $2.19 a package, but it sometimes goes on sale for $1.00. So as far as I'm concerned, that pasta costs only $1.00, because that's the only price that I ever pay for it. You can apply this principle to many foods.

                                                                                                      With planning and organization over time, you will save a lot. Mind you, I enjoy doing this. If you hate shopping and looking at flyers, it would be difficult to do it.

                                                                                                      1. My shopping list is comprised of staples that I am running out of, and sales items gleaned from the supermarket flyers. I check the markdown sections in the supermarket for good deals before putting first-quality items into my cart. I almost never shop with a recipe in mind. Recipe decisions are made on the basis of what's on hand in my kitchen.

                                                                                                        I have some mobility issues which have led me to buying more dried foods than I used to. Not only are dried beans more economical, they weigh less and take less storage space. Once a year, I place an online order which includes things like dried whole egg powder, dried celery, dried bell peppers, and dried diced carrots. I buy high quality dried fruit online. I always have powdered and canned milks on hand. They last a very long time and take up little room. They also free up refrigerator space for large heads of lettuce and cruciferous veggies. I use the eggs in making muffins, cookies, pancakes, and the like. The dried vegetables mean that in winter weather, I don't have to grocery shop more than once a month. I can whip up a split pea or lentil soup when the roads are ice-covered. I don't think anyone would know the carrots, onion, and celery were dry. Dried produce is expensive at first glance but not when you realize what the equivalent amount of fresh would cost. Even with shipping, I am saving money on many of these items.

                                                                                                        8 Replies
                                                                                                        1. re: greygarious

                                                                                                          Forgive my ignorance, but I've never heard of dried veggies. Do they sell them at most supermarkets? I wish I had known about this earlier, could have helped out someone I know incredibly.

                                                                                                          1. re: jhopp217

                                                                                                            Other than the dried celery leaves sold in spice aisles, I have not seen them in supermarkets.
                                                                                                            I get them online at places like Barry Farm and Purcell Mountain Farm. But it is my understanding that businesses which sell camping supplies also carry dried vegetables and fruits. If you had a dehydrator and a vegetable garden, or access to low priced fresh produce, you could always make your own.

                                                                                                            1. re: greygarious

                                                                                                              One can also stock up on frozen veggies and dry those. It works quite well, directly from the bag from the freezer to the dehydrator trays. It's very easy. We are doing some dehydrating for summer camping. My husband is planning a 10 day backpacking trip this summer, and he always puts together his own dehydrated meals. The ones in the camping stores are very, very expensive.
                                                                                                              Good cookbook: The Backcountry Kitchen

                                                                                                              1. re: wyogal

                                                                                                                Drying frozen veggies....what a geat idea!! I am excited about that...just need a dehydrator..been toying with getting one since space is so limited, but now I know I must get one. Thanks for telling us about the frozen veggies.

                                                                                                                1. re: cstout

                                                                                                                  When we hiked the Appalachian Trail, I had dehydrated lots of our food in a plain' old oven--low and slow. Did fresh & frozen vegetables, fruits, even cooked bean soups and, of course, jerky.

                                                                                                                  1. re: pine time

                                                                                                                    My husband has dried stuff for years in the oven, but we broke down and bought the dehydrator. I find it easier to use, although bulky and noisy. We did jerky, but he prefers to use just plain, crumbled, browned ground beef. He adds that to supper. He isn't big on jerky or granola.

                                                                                                                    Dried soup, that sounds good. I'll have to try it.

                                                                                                                    1. re: wyogal

                                                                                                                      dehydrator...what is the brand you have? Do you dry a lot of other foods besides meats?

                                                                                                                      1. re: cstout

                                                                                                                        Not sure which brand, round one. I do a variety, bananas, strawberries, blueberries, other fruits, some vegetables. I don't do a whole lot, would like to utilize it more.

                                                                                                        2. Another thought, always use cash. At least for me it's easier to keep to a budget because I can visually see how much money I'm spending which makes me more aware of what is a necessity (can of artichoke hearts for dinner) and not a necessity (Lion bar).

                                                                                                          1. Hey there!
                                                                                                            I have been the the same situation and you and have found that unfortuantely, a fair number of processed foods are actually cheaper than their fresh-made or home made versions. See, IMHO you have to also consider the time, effort and energy used to make said food. Simmering sauce on the stove for 3 or 4 hours has an impact on your time, but also on your power bill. Same goes with roasting a chicken.
                                                                                                            I think the key is to figure out what you like to eat, then do your comparison shopping at that point. Is a huge Costco lasagne that lasts 4 or 6 meals (you can bake, cut in half and freeze the leftovers) cheaper than buying the lasagne, tomatoes, onions, spices, and cooking time and costs? Is roasting a chicken from scratch cheaper than buying a grocery store rotisserie chicken? Is making a pizza from scratch cheaper than buying a premade pizza or doing takeout?
                                                                                                            Only you can answer these things and go from there.
                                                                                                            Some thoughts? It is cheaper to buy something you'll actually use all of or eat all of rather than buying something and not finishing it before it spoils. Huge bins of Costco salad are a great example of this. If you can eat one of those huge bins before it rots then its a good deal. If you buy it because it is a good deal but throw most of it out? Then its a waste of money.
                                                                                                            Rotisserie chicken from the grocery store IS cheaper than making one yourself and is a good foundation for a number of meals.
                                                                                                            Costco/frozen lasagne is cheaper than making it yourself and lasts a number of meals.
                                                                                                            Farmer's markets sometimes are waaay more expensive than your grocery store.
                                                                                                            Don't be afraid to look in the "almost gone" produce section for bags of veggies that are to be used immediately. I get bags of bananas there for a dollar, but the thing is, I'm eating bananas immediately and quickly.
                                                                                                            A freezer is a great thing! Buying premade in bulk, such as lasagne, is great IF you can bake, divide and freeze immediately.
                                                                                                            Don't turn your nose up at frozen veggies. Nutritionally, they are virtually the same as fresh, provided you aren't buying them as "veggies in sauce" for example.
                                                                                                            Take the time, though, to prepare beans and lentils from dried. MUCH more flavorful and much MUCH cheaper than their canned counterparts.
                                                                                                            Try to eat seasonally if possible -- raspberries out of season are outrageously priced, but raspberries in season can be reasonable.
                                                                                                            Take the time to learn how to break down larger cuts of meat -- chicken whole and quartered/prepped by you is cheaper than buying boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
                                                                                                            Finally, try to buy things that can be used in multiple ways. Chicken bones can be used to make chicken stock.

                                                                                                            1. As a student I cooked for myself all the time and still do. I buy a lot of stuff from bulk bins - I think the important thing is to shop somewhere where you know the product is rotated fairly often. If you buy basic veggies such as onions, carrots, celery, garlic, etc and then invest in spices that you like, you've got a wide range of cooking options.

                                                                                                              I don't buy a lot of meat when trying to eat cheaply so I get animal protein mostly from eggs and sardines. I even buy organic stuff and my grocery bills are much lower than people I know who buy a lot of prepared foods.

                                                                                                              Obviously knowing how to cook is important, and once you've got the basics down it is easy and fun to experiment with different things. Get some new and different veggies when they're cheap, etc.

                                                                                                              When cooking for just myself I often make up a big pot of veggie soup or lentil stew or something like that and then eat it over a few days. Quinoa is another good high-protein food.

                                                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                                                                1. re: Herne

                                                                                                                  Agreed. I am single and have had a wholesale club card for decades. It paid for itself on dog and cat food alone, though I always bought other stuff as well. Whole-bean coffee, raw nuts in 3# bags, peanut butter, household products, vitamins, etc. I only go every 2-3 months but it's still worth it. You need freezer and storage space, though. Split the 5# of ground beef into 1# freezer bags, freeze one of the loaves in a two-pack, etc. I only buy onions and potatoes there in winter, when I have a cool enough spot indoors that they will last till I get through them.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Herne

                                                                                                                    I've found, for two of us, Costco has its purpose but we don't have the storage space to store the huge quantities that Costco sells in and we can't eat it fast enough. I think for families it may make more sense, but as a general rule, buying routinely in "family sizes" and storing the bulk of what we buy actually leads to a ton of wastage. I think the problem is worse when dealing with a family of one.
                                                                                                                    Just my 2 cents worth...

                                                                                                                2. Okay. I'll chime in. My most efffective way to grocery shop cheaply is by using the "Click and Pull" at Sam's Club. Even though I'm just shopping for one, I do buy in bulk, especially things like chicken broth, canned tomatoes, albacore, stuff like that. They offer a fairly good selection of frozen foods, fresh foods, just about everything. I can start a list the first of the month, add to or delete items all month long, then the night before I want to pick it up, I send in my order. They find everything for me and have it waiting for pick up. I don't have to look for a thing, but the most money saving feature in all of this is.... NO IMPULSE BUYING...!!! EVER...!!! I think if Sam's Club realized how much they're losing in sales on just me from that fact alone, they'd probably abandon Click and Pull! I love it!

                                                                                                                  Walmart is talking about a similar service that will include delivery for a nominal fee. I'm ready! When I don't stroll the aisles, I don't drop things in my cart simply because the look 'interesting." Someone posted a Haggis Potato Chips link for me as a joke last week. If I saw those in a supermarket, they'd be in my basket in a heartbeat. And if I didn't like them, they'd be in the trash in the same amount of time. See what I'm missing by getting them to walk the aisles for me? "Know thyself," as that old Greek broad used to say. '-)

                                                                                                                  Oh! As for store bought vs scratch cooking, except for bread, I rarely buy "ready made." I do believe it IS cheaper to cook from scratch, but even more importantly it gives me control over contents and I have a LOT of food allergies. And the added bonus is that if I don't like the flavor, it's my own fault. You mention marinara sauce... I have paid good money for some "Italian" pasta sauces that I've been embarassed to feed to my garbage disposer! And has anyone else noticed that if you buy anything "Italian" today it comes overlloaded with basil? When I make it myself, I can overload it with oregano, my Italian Signature Herb of choice. Lots of good reasons for scratch cooking!

                                                                                                                  1. My rule of thumb, only buy products, from the super market, that on on the front page (sale items), stay away from prepared foods, salad bars, only purchase from your prepared essential shopping list and hit some farmers markets if available.

                                                                                                                    1. 1) Seems silly, but make sure you eat BEFORE you go shopping (or just not be hungry) to avoid any impulse shopping.

                                                                                                                      2) Try to eat seasonally. Certain fresh fruits and vegetables can be outrageously expensive during the off season. Or buy them frozen.

                                                                                                                      3) Buying in bulk is only a good deal if you use up all of what your buying (before it goes bad, if it does).

                                                                                                                      4) Generally cooking is cheaper than prepared foods. Make large quantities and freeze it. When freezing, let it cool to room temperature before placing into the fridge and separate it into individual portions. Sometimes factoring the cost is not just the financial cost, but time.

                                                                                                                      5) Don't just look at the price, but the price per pound/ft or whatever.

                                                                                                                      1. After a career transition, I've been back to my college budget of $20 a week for food including all meals for the last few years. What I've learned-
                                                                                                                        Plan your week around whats on sale. Here, circulars come out on thurs. Whatever meat is cheapest is what I get.
                                                                                                                        The crockpot is your friend. an 8lb pork shoulder can turn unto an army of food for a week for less than $8.
                                                                                                                        I dont bake my own bread, but I do buy bread on sale for $2.00 a loaf. I don't eat a whole lot of it.
                                                                                                                        Buy staples that can be used multiple ways. Bacon can be used on a salad and the bacon fat can make an excellent sauce with some half and half (which is also used in your coffee.) I almost never buy milk- use half and half in everything because its a cream or milk sub.
                                                                                                                        I dont know what your energy costs are like, but for me running the oven for an hour cant be more than $0.30. A whole roaster chicken is around $2.50 on sale and I can get at least 5 meals off of it, plus stock in the crockpot which I can then make riscotto from for another 5-6 meals.
                                                                                                                        I NEVER buy cereal unless is on sale. Same goes for snack foods.
                                                                                                                        Spanish groceries have the best, cheapest deli sections. Here, I can get a lb combo of ham and cheese for $2.99. Thats 5 sandwiches (or omlettes, or grilled cheeses, or sliced in salads...).

                                                                                                                        I think my best advice is to stalk circulars and plan ahead. I virtually never impulse buy- i know what i need for my weeks meals and buy only whats on my list...even if it includes a pack of oreos now and then :)