1. Grow Something Edible
Planting seeds, starts or other edible living things in and around your home (wild yeast cultures or sprouts count too) are great ways to have fresh, delicious food on hand. Plus, it’s cheap. Seed packages start at less than a dollar; soil or compost can be purchased (or found) at pennies per pound, and water in the form of rain or out of the tap are both economical choices. Aside from an investment of time, growing your own food requires little else. The rewards of growing your own food are almost endless, but include: less time spent driving to the store, fresh ingredients on hand at all times, an understanding of the seasons, which can help you eat better tasting food. No matter what your living situation, it is possible for you to grow some food at a very low price.
2. Eat Seasonal Food
Food is at its most affordable when it is purchased in season. Fruits and vegetables are more flavorful and fresher when they are in season. People harvest their food mostly during the summer and fall. This is a great time of year to preserve, dry and can, but it’s also a great time to taste the bounty of fresh, delicious food that is out there.
3. Cook at Home
Food is more expensive when you eat it at a restaurant. If you can boil water, you can cook a meal at home that will be satisfying, tasty, comfortable, and cheaper than going out to eat. Plus, you can keep some leftovers for tomorrow’s bag lunch.
When you cook at home, you decide how spicy your tacos are going to be, or how much chocolate to put in the brownies, or when the spaghetti is just right. You’ve got all of the freedom, and you can eat dinner in your pajamas or a tuxedo if you want to, eat by yourself without feeling embarrassed, or have twenty of your closest friends over to enjoy a meal with you, and watch a movie later with all the money you saved.
4. Shop at Farmers’ Markets
Local food is fresher than non-local food because it doesn’t have to be picked long before its peak ripeness and shipped cross-country. If you buy food in season at Farmer’s Markets, you save money and get fresher food than if you were to shop at a grocery store.
Also, you can get to know the farmer that grows the food you’re going to eat. They’re usually happy to answer questions about their farming practices, and some farmers may even let you in on information about their harvest calendar to give you a jump on when the freshest tomatoes will be ready, or when the corn is coming to market.
5. Join a CSA
Developing a relationship with local farmers can go one step further with a harvest box from a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. In this case, farmers will sell you a share in their produce for the growing season at a flat rate, and you’ll get a box each week with whatever is freshest on their farm.
Some people go in on harvest boxes together to save money; it ensures that you’ll be able to eat your veggies all year long. Most farms even have an installment payment plan.
6. Have a Potluck
Inviting your friends over for a shared dinner, or meeting at a local spot is a great way to share good food and stay on a budget. You can get a much greater variety of good food when others join you. If you all plan to share your leftovers, there may even be enough for a late-night snack or lunch the next day.
Eating together with friends also connects us with our most basic of human needs, harvesting food and sharing it together with those in our “clan”. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years. Why not make it a regular event?
7. Buy Local Foods
Getting to know your local producers connects you with your food in a unique way. When you know what’s in season in your area, and you know the people who make it on a personal level, the food becomes much more than just sustenance, but is also a community-building event. Knowing the people that produce local food also builds ties in the local community.
By trading your money with local producers of food, you’re keeping the money in your community, not sending it off to someone who doesn’t live or work near you. You can find local bakeries, coffee shops, breweries, vegetable markets, ethnic food stores, and more that are owned by people in your neighborhood. Support your neighbors!
8. Use the Whole Thing
Cook a whole chicken. Roast for dinner one night, chicken soup from the stock the next, and pulled chicken tacos the third night, chicken salad sandwiches for lunch the third day. Four meals from one chicken, and that’s without using the bones!
This is a very money smart way to cook, and one that is totally enjoyable. These things take time, but the holidays are a great time to practice, and the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.
The point is, with a few additional ingredients, you can “stretch” the meal out to three or four day’s worth of food and not really feel like you’re eating the same roasted chicken four days in a row.
9. Dry, Preserve, and Pickle
We preserve food to survive, especially in rough climates. Pickling, drying, or freezing is something that anyone can do, and drying and freezing are two of the cheapest and easiest methods.
Almost anything can be prepared, then frozen, and many things can be frozen whole or raw and added to prepared foods after thawing. Preserving food is a great way to make your food dollars go a little bit further, and you can save your fresh produce for cold and snowy days when you miss the delicious fresh vegetables and fruits you ate during the summer.