Everyone wants to know how to save money on real food — it’s the most common question I get. In fact, one of the biggest objections I hear about eating real food (natural and organic food, traditionally prepared), is that it’s too expensive.
But the truth is, cooking real food really isn’t expensive when you know how to do it. There are so many ways to save!
Here are my top 10 ways to save money on real food. Not all of these tips will work for everyone, but hopefully you will find some things that will be of value to you.
Top 10 Ways to Save Money on Real Food
1. Cook in Big Batches
When you cook dinner, make enough for 2 or even 4 meals. When you make bread, make 4 or 5 loaves instead of just one.
Why? Because it always saves time (which saves money — time is money) to do things in batches. And again, you’re buying in bulk which will save you money.
You can freeze the leftovers and pull them out a week or a month or so later. Nobody will be the wiser! That way they won’t get sick of it eating it night after night.
2. Start a Vegetable Garden and/or Raise Livestock
You can grow a lot of vegetables in most backyards. I grow everything from lettuce to herbs to potatoes to lemons, tomatoes and zucchini, celery and strawberries.
Don’t have a backyard? Plant in your front yard. (I’m in the process of ripping out my front yard — stay tuned for the blog post.)
Backyard chickens lay eggs that you can eat — and people say they are a lot of fun. (I can’t have any in LA — my yard is just a tad too small.) If you have room, goats, sheep and cows will provide milk which you can use to make yogurt, butter and cheese.
3. Shop with Amazon Prime
I’ve been an Amazon Prime member for years and I love it.
For $79 per year, you get unlimited FREE two-day shipping. This means Amazon will ship things directly to your door. Also, Amazon Prime items are only $3.99 for overnight shipping. So for those times when you really need something right away and don’t have time to get to the store, Amazon’s got you covered.
$79 is nothing when you think about it. Because it would cost WAY more if you actually had to drive to the store every time you bought something. Your time is worth money.
OK, brace yourself for the Time is Money lecture. 🙂
Most of us women (heck, most people, but particularly women) are guilty of not putting a high enough value on our time. And guess what? Shopping takes time. Driving to the store, wandering around the store (especially if you’ve got 3 kids in tow,) schlepping stuff home. All that time wasted — time you can’t be doing something else.
What else would you do? Oh, I don’t know… maybe get a part-time job and make some extra money. Start an Etsy store. Who knows? The point is, it’s non-productive time.
If you really ENJOY shopping, that’s fine. There are some stores I still enjoy going to and browsing around. Like REI, and even Whole Foods. I still go there. And I love going to the farmer’s market.
But stop shopping for stuff like toilet paper that you can have delivered directly to your door. I know it seems weird at first, getting giant boxes of paper towels in the mail. But you will quickly get used to it. And you can use the cardboard boxes to start a Lasagna Garden!
In addition to the free shipping, you get tons of free streaming movies and TV shows plus a huge Kindle lending library — meaning if you are a Prime member, you can borrow Kindle books for free!
4. Shop with Amazon Subscribe & Save
I’ve been a Prime member for years, but I only recently discovered the awesomeness of Amazon Subscribe & Save.
To be honest, I was scared to try Amazon Subscribe & Save because I thought if I subscribed, I’d forget and end up with too much stuff and have boxes everywhere that I had to return. But Amazon makes it really easy to keep track of what you subscribe to, and you can cancel or hold a subscription at any time.
Here’s how it works. Think of an item that you buy over and over again, preferably something that has a long shelf life and you can store in a cupboard or in the garage. Like dog food, paper towels, kitty litter, dishwashing liquid, batteries.
Now, go to Amazon Subscribe & Save and start shopping. The shipping is FREE (you don’t have to be a Prime member). If you have 5 items in your Shop & Save delivery, you save 15%.
OK, here’s the real secret about why Amazon Subscribe & Save is so fantastic… not only is your TIME worth money but your brain space is equally important!
Everybody is too busy these days and we are all overloaded with too much information. So many things to keep track of! So why clutter your brain space with whether or not you picked up the paper towels at the grocery store? Just set it and forget it. You can schedule your Amazon Subscribe & Save order to come every month, every 2 months, every 3 months, every 4 months or every 6 months. If it’s something like coffee or cat food that you use a lot of, you can get it every month. If it’s a huge bag of kitty litter, maybe you only need it every 4 months. Remember, you can always change or delay your orders.
I know you will love it as much as I do. I don’t know how I ever lived without it.
You’ll thank me later. Click here to learn more about Amazon Subscribe & Save.
5. Shop with Azure Standard
Azure Standard is a natural food co-op in Oregon. They deliver orders by truck to drop points ranging from the West Coast to states as far east as Missouri. And they are continuing to expand.
To order, just join an existing drop point. If there is not a drop point near you, you can establish your own drop point if you have enough people to make the $550 order minimum each month. Each person’s order must be at least $50 to avoid a small order fee. (I send my nanny or assistant to pick up Azure orders — see #8 below.)
I’ve done a little calculating and there are some items that are definitely worth ordering via Azure Standard. Not all items, mind you. Some things are actually cheaper via Amazon.
6. Buy in Bulk
Ordering from Amazon Subscribe & Save. and Azure Standard, are great tools to order in bulk. You do end up with huge boxes of toilet paper, big bags of wheat berries and sea salt. But that’s how you save. And most of us have somewhere we can store these things. In the garage, or in a hall closet.
It’s a good idea to buy some storage containers for bulk items. I buy dried beans, wheat berries, rice, and sea salt in bulk and store them in airtight containers. Here’s an article on how to store bulk grains.
Buying big bags of rice and wheat berries will save you a lot instead of buying smaller amounts. I also buy my coconut oil in 5 gallon buckets online (coconut oil has a super long shelf life). Dried beans are a LOT cheaper than canned beans. All you have to do is soak them. And it’s super easy to sprout your own grains and make sprouted flour at home.
I also buy pastured meat in bulk. You can save a ton on grass-fed beef when you order a half or quarter of a cow. You’ll need room in a freezer (see #7) but you could always share a freezer with some friends or a neighbor.
7. Get a Chest Freezer
I have a chest freezer in my garage. It’s one of the best investments I made. It enables you to shop and cook in bulk.
If you don’t have room for a chest freezer, you can also buy an upright freezer — or you can get a smaller chest freezer.
You can often do a layaway plan on a freezer with an appliance store. You can also get them used on Craig’s List.
8. Hire Help
We hired a part-time nanny to pick our daughter up from school every weekday and watch her after school. She also does the grocery shopping and she cooks dinner for us 5 nights a week. It takes me 5 minutes to print out meal plans each month (see #9 below) and put them in a binder.
Then the nanny takes the shopping list and gets whatever we need (everything we haven’t already ordered from Amazon and Azure). Then she makes all the meals Monday through Friday. She also does all the dishes each day.
We go out to dinner every Saturday night (date night or a family night out) so I only cook on Sundays. Which I actually enjoy. I love the tradition of a big Sunday dinner.
I know it may seem strange to hire someone to shop and cook for you. Seems like it would cost you more than it would save you. But here we go again, not factoring in the value of our time.
If you earn more than $10 per hour, and you can pay someone $10 per hour to shop and cook for you (could be a college student, a babysitter, or your nanny or housekeeper), then it’s totally worth it to outsource it. Say you get paid $25 per hour. If you pay someone $10 per hour, you should be spending the time working instead.
If you work for yourself, this is a no-brainer. If you don’t work for yourself and have a fixed salary, see if you can get extra hours at your job. Or find some part-time work you can do at the same rate. Or, even better, start that side business you’ve been thinking of launching. There are tons of tax benefits for people who have a small business on the side.
One thing I’ve learned over the years: it’s always better to make more money than to save money. Sure, you can do both, but earning more is always more important. Because if you don’t have any money, you have no leverage. The more money you have, the more leverage you have. So instead of just thinking about how to save money, use your noggin and think up some ways to make more money.
9. Invest in Meal Plans
Meal plans are critical when it comes to saving money. Planning what you’re going to cook and eat each month will save you money because you’ll be (a) more likely to cook in batches and in bulk and (b) you will spend less on last-minute splurges ordering pizza because you didn’t have time to get dinner ready and there’s nothing to eat in the house.
I spend $6/month on meal plans. That’s crazy cheap!
Again, let’s go back to what our time is worth. How long would it take you to plan meals each week? Probably an hour each week. Let’s say you get paid $25 per hour. Now it’s costing your $100 per month just to plan meals and make shopping lists.
Even if you only get paid $10 per hour, that’s $40 per month. It costs you 7 times less with the meal plans. In other words, you’re freeing up 4 hours per month that you can get paid more to work.
10. Get Good Tools
Not having the right tools in the kitchen is not only frustrating, but it wastes time. And what do we always say? Time is money!
For example, say you don’t have a good food processor and you only have a manual handheld cheese grater. It will take you so much longer to grate a block of cheese than if you were to just toss it in the food processor.
I’m going to put together a whole post on my favorite time-saving kitchen gadgets. Stay tuned!
How Do You Save Money on Real Food?
Please share your tips below!