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10 Ways I Save Money in my Kitchen

(image by Tracy Hill Photography, graphic by me)

Ever since we were married 7 years ago (we were practically babies!) we've been on a very strict budget. We're not financial experts, but we have found some things (through a lot of trial and error) that work extremely well for us & saved us money in the long run. I figured that knowledge could be helpful to anyone looking to save a bit of money in their kitchen. This, after all, IS a food blog! I make a TON of food every week, and in doing so have had to figure out how to still keep our weekly/monthly food costs within our budget.

A great deal of what I make, photograph, and share on this blog starts with the simple basics of budgeting, time-management for dinner time to prevent last-minute-eating-out, and getting the best out of my grocery visit. I've learned a lot about how to stretch that dollar as far as it can go (without spending hours couponing, etc), and I think I've locked down 10 main practices that have worked financial magic in my kitchen! Let's get started, shall we?
Before I launch into my tips on how to save money in the kitchen, I thought I'd give a little background.

We both made it through our bachelors degrees together, and right after that Ryan went through 3 crazy years of Law School. We didn't have any money-trees growing in the backyard from our parents, we didn't depend on anyone/anything financially, and we paid all our bills 100% by ourselves, so we had to figure out how to do our own finances very quickly. We did depend on Ryan's parents for three months in the summer (just lived at their home for three months while we both worked full time) between our undergraduate degrees and the beginning of law school to build up a savings buffer for baby/tuition, but after that we quickly moved to Provo for law school and were back to non rent-free life. We didn't use any credit cards (unless we knew we would pay it back right away that month/week), and we made it through our undergrads without any debt. We accumulated law school student loan debt, but because tuition at BYU Law is already amazingly low and Ryan had a 2/3 tuition scholarship, it wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been. We had our son during law school. We both took turns in the day working at our part time jobs - he worked in the afternoon and I worked at night. I feel like we were very blessed. We were smart with what little money we earned, and developed a healthy relationship with our finances. This relationship has flourished, and we've been able to continue these practices with our finances - and even save money towards our first home someday.

Every dollar earned is strategically spent or saved, and recorded on our weekly/monthly spreadsheet. I get an email once/twice a month from my husband with a little update on what we've spent and how much $$ we have left in the categories I have an influence over (food, gas, etc). Over the years, we haven't been perfect, but we have made huge strides and learned so much about finances. I've had to pay attention to 
In my years of making home-cooked meals, I've learned a thing or two about how to stretch that dollar as much as possible in whatever circumstance we were in; and stretch that dollar especially in the kitchen!!! I'm sure there are more tips out there from people who have been doing this for much longer than I have, but these are the tips I use in my family, and have worked for my family. Let's dive in! 

1. Decide on a budget & Stay within that budget.  This is the core to money-saving. Sometimes I feel like "the dreaded budget" rules our lives, but this is how you save money: using a budget. Where to begin? For starters, look at your account history on your debit (credit cards if you have them) online for the past two months. Make a spreadsheet - add up what money was spent on food at the store, fast food, and little trips to the store that were outside of your weekly grocery trip. Pay close attention to how much you ate out. See how much you spent. Chances are, everything is a little higher than it needs to be. This is where we can make changes. Set a budgeted amount for groceries (based on money you actually have without dipping into credit), divide it up by the number of weeks that month, and stick to it. For some, it's helpful to only take in in the amount of cash you've budgeted for the grocery trip. This will force you to stay within your budget. Which brings us directly to the other half: staying within the budget you've set. 

We have our grocery budget planned by month. Within that month, we split that budget by the week. Each week I have a certain amount of money I can spend at the store. If I go over, I either put something back & do without, or commit to spend even less the next week to compensate. The former is more effective. If I spend under, great! I can finally try that hazelnut spread everyone has been talking about, or carry that extra $$ over for next week when I know a family birthday cake is coming up and I'll need a little extra for ingredients. You must cling to the budget, or you will never learn how to live within your means. Every saved dollar here and there can add up in a good way, but just the same, every lost dollar can quickly add up against your budget. Stay within your allotted amount for groceries, pay attention at the check stand, put some things back if you have to and you'll do fine. 

2. Go grocery shopping ONCE a week. Just once. That's it. The extra trips to the store is what kills your budget. I know there's just one ingredient that is needed that you forgot at the once-a-week-grocery-run, or your parsley went bad, and the grocery store is right there on your way home. Do without & make it work. I know sometimes you HAVE to go there (for instance, I forgot our laundry detergent this weekend. I went back and got it, but I was under budget on my grocery run already, so the extra purchase was still within the grocery run for the week). More trips to the grocery store will most likely have you leaving the store with a couple extra things you weren't originally planning on buying. It also stretches your mind in the kitchen, and forces you to be more creative at dinnertime. Chopped, anyone? 

3. Shop in your pantry/fridge before you shop at the store. See what you have, and go from there. Look at your pantry, cupboards, fridge, and freezer; see what you have left from last week and make your grocery list from there. Leftover tomato soup in a freezer bag? Looks like you're having grilled cheese and tomato soup for dinner. Half a box of pasta leftover in the pantry? Is it enough for a full-meal or a side dish? Full meal? You're having a pasta dish this week. Side? Parmesan pasta side by some grilled chicken. A giant zucchini on your counter? Looks like you're having zucchini with your meal, or an add-in for some zucchini bread. Boom. Done. Don't ever make a grocery list without looking through your fridge/pantry. Build your grocery list from what you already have, instead of starting from scratch every week. My family often sees our pantry/fridge close to empty around Thursday. Well, Friday is grocery day, and we've used everything we had for what we had planned for dinner/meals that week. Another tip is that I make my grocery list in categories on my computer by section (produce, meats, canned, dairy, other, etc), then either print it out or write it down in those categories/aisles. Makes for a quicker trip at the grocery store. 

4. Sync your menu with your calendar. Before I make my grocery list each week, I look at our synced calendar. Which nights are going to be busy at dinnertime? Looks like I'll need something simple, or plan ahead by making the meal early and reheating it at dinnertime. Which days are so jam-packed that I'll have no energy to make dinner?  Looks like a slow-cooker meal that night for dinner. Which days are a little more flexible/free? Looks like I can try out that new recipe that afternoon/evening. I also try to make a big meal for dinner before a really busy day, so I know we'll have the leftovers for dinner on the busy day. If you plan high-maintenance meals on busy days, you're more likely to bail and grab something from the drive-through for dinner. 

5. Go bulk when appropriate. Recently we purchased a Costco card/membership. We've resisted it for so long because we couldn't figure out how a family of three could need bulk for really anything. Boy was I wrong! I've been paying close attention to the prices of things we buy on a weekly/monthly basis, learned a lot about what actually is a good deal, and what's completely unnecessary. After comparing the prices with Costco in bulk (for things we were buying consistently in smaller quantities), we actually saved a ton buying some things in bulk. Now, each week I make my grocery list for Walmart. And once a month I figure out which items I can buy at Costco. Once a month we go to Costco and buy some things in bulk. The rest of the weeks, we supplement with fresh things at Walmart (quick tip: find out when your Walmart re-stocks their produce. Ours is early Friday morning. The produce is still... Walmart produce, but is at least a bit better than say Saturday night produce there). As much as I'd like to shop at Harmons or Trader Joes, it's not realistic for our budget. 

6. Cut out eating out. Unless it's a special occasion (birthdays/holidays/anniversaries/family event) stay far, far away from eating out. We sometimes "eat out" once a week on Fridays: we buy a Papa Murphy's $5 Fave for date night and bake it at home, but that's it. It's completely planned, and I buy it hours before dinnertime. Anything other than that is completely out. Sometimes Ryan has to go out to lunch for networking/interviews/lawyer stuff, but we know about it ahead of time, plan for it, and budget for it. Eating out because of laziness is not a option. It should be reserved for special events/occasions/holidays! If there's food in your pantry, why throw your money out the window when you can suck it up and make something quick for dinner. This can be so hard sometimes, especially when you're already out, that Cafe Rio smells so good, but it saves so much money to just be smart and go make something at home! 

7. Eat in. Eat Seasonally. Eat Smart.  I make dinner for my family 6 days a week. Yes, it can be tiresome, but it's much less expensive (and much healthier) than eating out every night! The ingredients I buy are usually fresh and were found on the outer perimeter of the grocery store (produce, meats, dairy). I've learned that farmer's markets have really amazing prices, growing your own veggies in the garden saves lots of money, and eating the food that is within it's season is much less expensive. They also taste a million times better! Okay, a thousand times better. Strawberries in November? Not going to taste nearly as good as maybe late May here in Utah (and it'll cost a prettier penny when outside of it's season).

As a food blogger, I try a lot of new recipes a week (making sure they're mostly healthy, have a fruit and veggie on the side), this can get super expensive! Sometimes these recipes flop big time, so I have to have a backup (pancakes, egg-salad sandwiches, grilled cheese, omelets, etc). I've had readers think that I cook something huge 7 days a week. NOPE! I know it's not realistic to have a gourmet awesome-sauce meal every night. If we're having a more expensive cut of meat one night for dinner, we need some low-key cheap ones for the next night (mac & cheese, grilled cheese, leftovers). My picky-eating toddler can only take so much of my recipe-trying. I have one meal a week that's completely kid-food. 

8. Price Match the heck outta it. Walmart will price-match to just about any store you could find a cheaper price at. Save the grocery store ads in the mail, check over the grocery list you already made, see what's in there, and write the price and the store next to the ingredient. I don't customize my grocery lists to the sales, but then again, I don't usually buy the brands that have the sales anyways (we mostly use the generic, unless I really like a specific brand of say Baking Soda for example). Have the ingredients you're price matching at the front of the line at checkout, and read them off to the cashier. It may be pennies saved, it may be dollars, but it adds up, and helps towards saving money in your kitchen. Also, if you shop at Walmart, they have a "savings catcher" app - it's awesome. You scan your receipt within 7 days of purchase, and Walmart will do the price matching for you. If there's a cheaper deal out there, you immediately get cash back for each item. It ROCKS. After a few months, we have enough saved from the "saving catcher" that we can use it to pay for an entire grocery run. 

9. Shop with your head, not your stomach. Eat before you go shopping. I've learned that the hungrier I am, the more I buy. Why? Everything makes my stomach roar and I have to buy all the things! Bring a snack, feed the little ones a bigger lunch to carry over through the trip, have a water bottle on hand, whatever it takes. Just make sure you aren't going when you're hungry. The hungry stomach can leave you buying some pretty random stuff that might not be on your list, and attack your budget like crazy. Chewing minty gum also helps big time! 

10. Transform your leftovers. Don't let them go to waste! Transform them into dinner again or pre-package them for lunches. I used to be guilty of this food-wasting trap. You make a 9x13 of something, you eat it the day after, but somehow it gets forgotten in the fridge. A new meal is made, the old leftovers fade even further into the background. You find it two weeks later with a thick layer of green mold. Awesome. Your hard-earned money right into the trash! Lame!

What I have tried that has worked beautifully for our little family is that I make a conscious effort to use the leftovers up quickly! After we're done eating dinner, before I put the leftovers in the fridge in one big pot/pan, I get out 2-4 (one serving-ish) tupperware containers. I divide up the leftover meat/sides/veggies portions in each tupperware for my husband to easily take to work for lunches (and for me to eat at home for lunches, too). If not, you know darn well we're having it for dinner the next evening. I know there are some days when Ryan has the same leftovers for lunch and then again for dinner. But hey, he didn't go out to eat, we didn't make a new meal for dinner, and we've just saved ourselves money in our kitchen. He's into saving all the money we can, so he doesn't complain.

Sometimes I try my best to transform the leftovers into a brand new meal. I've learned a lot of casseroles can be made into a soup, leftovers can be used as a side dish at the next meal, or can even be grilled up in a tortilla with some cheese! Quesadillas and omelettes are an awesome way of using up the leftovers. Whatever you do, use up any and all leftovers quickly!!!  Chances are, if they aren't eaten up right away, they're forgotten!

*Also, I used to be resistant of this, but if you're ever at family gatherings and are offered leftover food (Thanksgiving and Christmas are a goldmine) - TAKE IT. There's dinner tomorrow night - handed right to your kitchen for free. Boom.

I hope at least one of these sounds like something you'd want to implement into your kitchen, and helps you maybe take a quick little second to think about how the food comes into your kitchen, how much you're spending on it, money saving-ways to purchase it, how you use it up at dinnertime, and how to quickly use up any leftovers afterwards. Plus =  how to save your time and sanity in the meantime.

Let me know if you have any other ideas we can implement to save money in our kitchen, or if you've used any of these ideas before with success! Sorry for the long post and change of scenery on here, but I thought it would be fun to share a little more today than the usual recipe :). I'll be back in recipe action again on Wednesday! Love you all! 


  1. What would you suggest for someone whose husband refuses to help create or stay within a budget? There have also been many stressful conversations about taking the leftovers instead of him eating out for lunch. (His argument being that the dollar menu is cheap, but he doesn't see it add up to almost $30 a month) It doesn't exactly inspire me to make many things I'd like to because I know I couldn't eat all the leftovers by myself before they'd go bad.

    1. Hmmm... let's see. Is there something you and him are saving towards? Is there a new gadget he wants, a car payment that's accumulating interest, some sports games he'd like to attend, or any bills that are getting rough to pay? I only ask because it sounds like the man needs some motivation. "Hey husband! We could have paid off our months ago if you weren't eating out every day! We could go on that awesome trip to wherever -- if you didn't eat out for the entire year! Want that new ipad or book, or whatever? Great! We can have it if you don't eat out this month."

      Another thing is maybe saying "Baby! I made you lunch today!" and hiding the leftover under chips and cookies or something. When he's at work, he'll get hungry enough to eat those leftovers, me thinks. Also, I don't know your husband, but it might be hard for him to refuse the lunch you "made" him :)

      You could also add that his health might be at risk. Eating out like (from what it sounds like every day) isn't good for his health, man!

      Also, maybe print out the debit/credit sheet for the past year or last few months. Highlight whenever he's gone out to eat. Add it all up, it will add up quickly!!! He will hopefully see how much it adds up (even if it's just a dollar here
      & there). If he eats like my husband, a $1 item won't satisfy his stomach enough - chances are, he's spending at least 3-4 bucks each visit.

      Good luck, Cassidy!

    2. Sometimes the only thing that can convince men of the wisdom of their wives is to have another man independently say what their wife has been saying all along. If your husband hears another man talking about how much money he saves by bringing food from home every day, he'll be much more likely to try it.

      It's unfortunate that as much progress as has been made in the equality of women, there are still a lot of guys out there that just don't believe that women know what they're talking about.

  2. Love it! Thanks for sharing, there was several things here that I hadn't heard before! I think #2 is what kills me! Sometimes I'm at the store 3-4 times a week, ugh!

    1. Awesome - these tips will definitely come in handy! #2 is tough, but it saves so much money if you can get it down!

  3. Awesome tips! We do most of these as well with my husband being in dental school. Also with #10 I take whatever leftovers I have (especially if there's a lot and we don't want to be eating it for days) i freeze it. That way we can wait a few weeks before we eat it again and it's always nice to have a meal in the freezer on days I don't want to cook or its a busier day, I've found a lot. An be frozen for later use. (Soups, sauces, casseroles, etc.)


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