The philosophy that saves me the most in my grocery budget is to shop less. It saves money, but more importantly, it saves time.
If you buy processed, pre-made products, once you’ve finished them, you’re out of food. If you buy raw ingredients like flour, yeast, sugar, butter and salt, you can continue to make meals for weeks. For instance, if you want a nice loaf of bread, that can cost you $4 at the store. Once you’re done with that loaf, you have no more food. But if you buy $4 in flour and $4 in yeast, you can make 6 loaves of bread (and if you store the yeast in the freezer, you will never run out). In addition to the obvious cost savings, rather than making six grocery store runs, you only need to make one.
I’ve only picked items that are really easy and cheap to make. They require few ingredients, very little time, and no advanced techniques. The only equipment required is a blender, a slow cooker or a mixer. It’s easier to use a stand mixer for some of them – but they can all be made without one.
They also all taste much better and fresher when make from scratch. No longer will you have to live with the almond butter you bought 6 months ago. You can make it ready to order and have the freshest almond butter there is, while saving money in the process.
Making stock and broth are super easy, basically free. Plus Michael Ruhlman in his book Ratio (an absolute must-read) has stated that he’d rather use water than store-bought stocks, because of the lack of flavor in them.
Toss some water, animal bones or vegetable clippings (carrot peels, onion skins, ends of veggies, etc.) and bay leaves (you can buy these in bulk at ethnic grocery stores) into a crock pot and just set on low for several hours. I make a bunch and freeze it for the future. If you’re getting all Martha Stewart-y and organized, you should write the date and name of the stock/broth on each container, but it gets used up quite rapidly.
You can use them in soups, to add extra flavor when cooking grains, for sauces, etc. It’ll make your food taste so much better if you use homemade stock. Plus you’ll save the $4/pop it costs to buy the stuff from the store.
2. Pie crust
People are always amazed that I make my own pie crust but it’s so easy. Crusts can be made with butter or lard (butter is cheaper but lard last longer) and only require flour, salt and water (and sugar if you want a sweet pie). Mix it in the stand mixer, put it in the fridge and take it out when you’re ready. Easy-peasy.
3. Nut butter
All nut butters generally are made from nuts, oil, and salt blended together in a blender or food processor. If you buy raw nuts in bulk, you can make your own fresh nut butter right before you need it. With almond butters costing as much as $8/jar, it’s quite expensive to buy premade.
This same basic technique (if putting stuff in a blender counts as a technique) can be used to make toum, a delicious garlic “butter.” Garlic, oil, lemon juice, salt and voila! Deliciousness!
I had this hummus I really loved – and it was discontinued and I’ve never been able to find it again. No other hummus ever met its match – until I started to make hummus by myself.
I make my hummus from dried chickpeas (even cheaper than canned). Soak the chickpeas in water overnight in your slow cooker. Then rinse in the morning and add more water, salt and baking soda. Cook on low throughout the day. When you get home, blend the chickpeas with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. You can also add tahini, but I’ve noticed that the difference isn’t extreme and tahini is very expensive. I like to add a ton of garlic (an alarming amount really). Garnish with pepitas and more olive oil. Dig in!
I use this recipe from Steamy Kitchen, Bread So Easy a 4-year Old Can Make It, and it’s true! I’d never made bread before but I stir flour, yeast and water together and just let it sit. Instead of the arduous task of kneading, it spends a long time sitting there.
There are so many more things that you can also make from scratch to save at the grocery store. Generally, baked goods are pretty easy to make (super easy if you have a stand mixer), taste as good or better as store bought and much, much cheaper. I’ve never had much luck at decorating cupcakes though, so that’s my weak spot. Otherwise, muffins, simple cakes and cookies, pancakes, waffles, etc. are great for saving money if made from scratch. Plus I enjoy substituting alternate flours and oils for these baked goods to be a little lighter (I’ve had mixed results). Other ideas that are cheap and easy to make – popcorn, spice mixes, tempura batter.
What items do you always make from scratch?