31 Insanely Smart Ways To Save Money When You Cook
Your dinner may be cheap, but it won't taste like it.
We asked readers on BuzzFeed Community and Facebook to share their favorite ways to save money on grocery shopping and cooking.
And they definitely delivered! Here are some great ideas that you can start using right away:
1. Respect the whole roasted chicken.
"I will buy the rotisserie chickens at Costco, pick off all the meat to make casseroles, shredded chicken sandwiches, chicken salad, etc. Then I use the leftover bones to make chicken stock. The rotisserie chickens from Costco are huge and $4.99. I love getting them!" —Lynn Huynh-Luke
"Find a way to use a large or inexpensive ingredient multiple ways through the week: a roast chicken for dinner, chicken salad for lunch, chicken stock/soup from the bones later in the week. A whole bird goes much farther than just pieces." —Shalynn Marie Cook
"I'm always baffled that people buy canned chicken broth and throw out the remains of rotisserie chickens. It only takes a few minutes the next day to throw the bones in a pot with a couple litres of water, some roughly chopped onion and garlic and seasonings and simmer it for an hour or so. Strain it and freeze it in 500 ml containers. The seasonings in the rotisserie chickens makes a much better broth than the store bought stuff and 2 litres of broth covers a good part of the cost of the chicken!" —Deanne Lamb Hancock
2. Cook less meat, in general.
"Eat less meat — it can act as a condiment and take a smaller role. You can use a little bacon for flavor, make a bibimbap with little shreds of meat and tons of vegetables." —Scarlett Koller
"Eggs, peanut butter, and beans are fucking sweet protein. You don't need meat every day — I buy it for two meals a week." —Sarah Kerby
"I use beans as a filler when making meatloaf, tacos, etc. I'll use 3/4 ground beef or turkey and 1/4 beans. It saves on meat and is a good source of fiber." —Vickie Simpson
3. Cook dried beans instead of buying canned.
"Buy dried beans instead of canned — less sodium and CRAZY cheaper! They just take a little more prep, but you will save buckets." —Deborah Barbi
"Cooking bulk dry beans in a slow cooker saves me a ton a money. With black beans and chickpeas I can make a ton of dishes. I also freeze all my leftovers after they cool into portion sizes." —Jacquelin Richards
4. Learn to love eggs.
"Eggs. Learn to cook eggs…scrambled, omelets, fried, poached. They go well with veggies or fruit or just with a piece of toast. They taste great in sandwiches. A dozen of regular eggs is still less than $2. They have about 100 calories each and 6 grams of protein. If you're trying to lose weight and short on cash, eggs + steamy veggies = a great, cheap meal." —Katherine Grandstrand
"Breakfast for dinner! Eggs are cheap and you can bulk them up by adding anything from fresh veggies to cold cuts or left over roasted potatoes." —Carol Cutter Gonzales
5. Use your slow cooker.
"Cheaper meat cuts can still taste fan-freaking-tastic if cooked right. A crock pot does WONDERS for cubed steaks (chewy with gristle if not cooked long enough)." —Chassity Baker
"I throw leftover grilled pork tenderloin in the crockpot before work with BBQ sauce and have pulled pork the next night." —CarrieAnne Clemens
"You can eat oatmeal as a sweet or savory dish and if you put steel-cut oats in the crock-pot in the morning, they will be ready by the time you get home. Steel-cut oats bought in the bulk section of the grocery store where I live are 60 cents a pound." —Katyna Singleton
6. Buy big cuts or packages of meat and stretch it out over multiple meals.
"I learned how to break down whole chickens. Usually you can get whole chickens for less than a dollar a pound. It's way cheaper than precut chicken breast (for example) and the giblets and neck are great for stock." —kristenm32
"I buy chicken in family packs and package them individually with marinade to freeze & thaw as needed. Not only is the chicken more flavorful when you freeze it in marinade, I also save $3/LB." —Maddy Clark
"I have a large family. I use 5lbs of hamburger meat to make meals for 3 nights. First night is taco night, leftover meat is used the 2nd night for Chili and 3rd night is Chili-Mac or Frito Chili Pie." —Chelsie McKinney
7. Divide and freeze any meat you won't use within the week.
"I buy huge pieces of meat and cut them up in portions to use throughout the week, freezing what I won't be able to use right away. For example, rather than 5 individual packages of beef, I buy the largest pack of ground beef, or the largest London broil. I get the same amount of meat as the individual packs, but for about half the cost." —Erin Shusta Carter
"Invest in a vacuum sealer. They're not too expensive but can save hundreds (or more!) in food costs over the year just by allowing you to not throw out everything. Buy meat in bulk and freeze it, buy cheese in bulk and freeze it...you get the idea. Every time I go to Costco to get produce or meat, I break it out and seal up what I won't use within that week." —Kaitlin Kelly
8. Make big batches of whatever you cook and portion out the leftovers to fridge or freeze for later.
"Big batches of "multi-purpose" foods, such as pork shoulder cooked in the crock pot, can be the starting point for so many different meals. Chicken breasts, lentils and cheaper cuts of beef are also good candidates for this. If I make a 2 pound batch of any of these, I can freeze half for later use and eat the other half as my main ingredient for the week. This saves me from cooking a different protein each evening and potentially wasting leftovers. Serve over pasta or rice, make a quick pizza topped with pork, mix into a casserole or simply with tortilla, I never get bored for the week." —Leslie Streff
"Make a big batch of soup or stew and freeze it in manageable serving sizes. Whenever you feel like it, steam some rice, heat up the soup or stew, and pour it over the rice. If you want to get crazy, add fresh kale to the soup and cook until the kale is soft and/or add a fried egg on top. It's yummy, healthy, and cheap!" —Robert Trujillo
"When a 10-lb bag of onions goes on sale for $3.99 I caramelize 9 lbs of them! After they have cooled, I shape into patties (about the size of a hamburger) and put individually between pieces of parchment (about 5) then into freezer bags. I use them in omelets, quiche, on burgers and especially delicious tossed with pasta or mixed into mashed potatoes." —Jessie Deans
9. Freeze food that you'd otherwise throw away.
"I found that most of what I was ditching was freezable. A bell pepper with a soft spot can be cleaned up, diced and frozen in a zip bag. Add to eggs, chili, spaghetti sauce, etc. Bananas too ripe? Cut them up and freeze for smoothies." —Krystle Nobles Pomory
10. Buy frozen fruits and veggies.
"If you're a big smoothie person, buy the more expensive ingredients (like berries) frozen instead of fresh. Costs way less and they last longer." — Eleanor Cameron
"I buy giant bags of frozen peas and carrots on sale, break open the bags and store them in Ziploc containers in the freezer to save room, and I rarely run out. Many vegetables that you could buy fresh (broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, snap peas, etc) you can buy frozen, and if you thaw them properly, they taste just as fresh and are just as easy to cook with." —Kaitlin Kelly
11. Buy lots of produce when it's in season and can or freeze the extra.
"Visit your local farmers markets and buy veggies that are in season. We buy in bulk and can/freeze them for future use." —juliet
"I participate in a co-op, (Bountiful Baskets is the best in my area, IMO) and they offer affordable produce for the week, plus they will have cases/flats of in-season fruits or veggies sometimes. The "conventional basket" is only $15, the add-on packs are always reasonably priced, and recently I got 28 lb. of green beans for $21. I pickled a ton, ate them fresh with every dinner for a week, and then blanched and froze the rest. A vacuum sealer will be your best friend when freezing fruits and veggies!" —Katy Arneson Hunter
"Buy fruits and vegetables that are in season — they will cost a lot less and be fresher and better for you!" —Alice Colbran
12. Take time at the beginning of the week to plan out what you're going to make.
"Write out a grocery list of everything I need. Get home, then meal prep and store everything for the week. That way I know I have food waiting at home and I don't get tempted to go out to eat." —Amarah Dodson
"Menu planning is key. I plan my menu for the week on Monday and buy what I need that day. This keeps me from making multiple trips to the store." —Lisa Tate Gerodimos
"I use Plan to Eat to plan almost all my meals, streamline my shopping and eliminate unnecessary trips — and frivolous purchases — at the store." —Sharyn Bernard Mulqueen
13. Sign up for store memberships or discount cards wherever you go grocery shopping.
"ALWAYS sign up for a store discount card (and along with that, have zero brand loyalty). Oftentimes, grocery stores will run sales on their merchandise, regardless of whether or not it's generic store brand or brand name, so it really pays to look." —Kaitlin Kelly
"I use my Kroger card. You can load coupons online to your card, and they will snail mail you promotional coupons and coupons based on your most frequent purchases." —Jessi Norwood
"Get the damn rewards card for your local grocery store. I saved $200 last year from May-December just from my card." —Jenna Ballinger
14. Shop based on which groceries are on sale.
"I always read the ads looking for deals and plan my meals according to what's on sale. Buy big and freeze. Wait for after holiday sales; after Christmas ham goes dirt cheap, or after St. Patrick's day, cheap corned beef." —Staysha Barranco
"I love Parmigiano Reggiano, but it's $16 a pound! I wait until it's on sale for half that, then buy a good half-pound chunk, which lasts forever if you wrap it well." —Nikki Ourand Lambert
"I set a budget and try to meal plan according to what's on sale at the grocery store (gathering coupons if possible), then I write out my list and round each item up to the nearest dollar. I like to buy fruits/veggies/meats on sale and freeze them." —Ari Gee
15. Compare prices for different groceries at different stores.
"I divide up my shopping based on the deals at various stores. One of the shops near my house has the best deals on good quality meat, so I don't buy it anywhere else. I hit Costco for things like flats of canned tomatoes, pasta, rolled oats; anything that won't go bad before I use it all. I buy spices and empty jars from Bulk Barn for WAY less than you can find jars of spices. And I hit Asian superstores for cheaper big-ass bags of rice." —Lindsay Bridgeman
"I use an app called Favado. Every time I have my list set, I type in what I have down and see where it's cheapest. Luckily I have 3 grocery stores within a 3 mile radius, so I don't have to go far." —Ashley Norris
16. Buy spices, baking supplies, and other dry goods from the bulk section.
"Lots of stores are adding bulk buying sections and you can get pasta, grains, nuts, dried fruit, and baking goods. It really cuts down on the costs." —Katyna Singleton
"BULK BINS. I cannot stress this enough. Spices are a fraction of the price in bulk. Same for nuts and flours." —Jenna Ballinger
17. Shop at specialized stores instead of regular supermarkets.
"Restaurant/chef supply stores. YES. Where else can you get a pound of pretty dang decent quality butter for 99 cents? Without a membership fee? In my experience, these places are WAY cheaper than Costco or Sam's Club, and the ingredients are better than bargain bin Aldi scariness." —Felonious Monk
"In my neck of the woods, Asian markets are inexpensive and have an awesome selection of produce and specialty foods." —Nikki Ourand Lambert
"I go to ethnic grocery stores. Things like spices and dried peppers are always cheaper at Mexican or Indian grocers (and sold in larger quantities!), Asian markets with butchers or meat freezer sections have better deals on less desirable cuts to make soup stock or throw in stew. Asian markets will also have good deals on a much better quality of instant ramen if you're feeling super lazy. The Eastern European deli may be out of the way, but I can get a variety of wursts and sausages for 60-75% of the price of a chain grocery store." —Celaeno
18. Check the "ethnic" aisles of your grocery store for better deals.
"At my grocery store (Wegman's), both beans and rice (a frugal staple that's also nutritious and filling) are both cheaper in the ethnic section than they are in the regular section." —tabbycat31
"I can often find small packs of spices such as star anise, cinnamon sticks and whole cloves in the ethnic food aisle, next to the Mexican products. It saves so much compared to buying a whole jar you'll never use in the spice aisle." —julial11
19. Go to Costco.
"One word: Costco. They have everything in bulk. Buy non-perishable items (and some perishable items) there. Saves me so much money not having to go back to the store once a week for pasta or something." —reesekatej
"COSTCO!!" —Patricia Pangelinan
"The roasted chicken at Costco is a really good deal. I serve half of it the first night , use most of the remaining meat for a less meat intensive meal as stir fry or enchiladas the next night , then boil the bones and remaining meat for soup. Three meals for two for only $5, you can't beat that. The chicken is a loss leader for them so you are basically getting it at wholesale. The chicken is delicious, too." —whatdreamsmaycome
20. Hit the grocery store on Wednesdays.
"I only shop on 'double ad Wednesdays' — where the deals from last week and this week are both valid." —Kelsey Greenberg Young
"I go grocery shopping on Wednesdays because the sales from the previous week end on that day and the sales from the new week begin on that day." —Vanessa Victoria
21. Don't let yourself impulse-buy groceries.
"The hardest part to saving money is buying in bulk and resisting the grocery store after work, but when you make a weekly visit opposed to more often, you can save a lot!" —Kayla McDonald
"Eat before going to the supermarket. If you are hungry you will buy way more than you should." —Rebecca Betts
"If you're the type who always grabs certain staples at the store and then gets home to find that you had enough to last a lifetime, write what you DON'T need as well as what you do need. This is especially handy if you have trouble sticking to a list." —Marissa Garcia
22. Shop later in the evening, when stores will be trying to get rid of perishable foods.
"I'll wait until 9pm at the French baker to get 50% off on all their bread. I do it on Monday so that I'll have a week's supply of bread. Make sure to refrigerate to make it last a week." —Loryne Rubio
23. Don't pay extra for packaging.
"Buying spices can become expensive. Spices in resealable bags tend to be MUCH cheaper than those in glass/plastic containers. You're paying for the packaging." —Aldora Kwong
"Don't be afraid of store brands! A lot of people think they taste different/worse, but the truth is many store brands are made in the same place with the same ingredients as national brands — all they do is change the packaging." —Mariah Masell
24. Make your own sauces, dressings, and seasonings.
"I make my own taco, ranch, and Italian seasonings. I never have to buy the packets — they're always on hand in large shakers in my spice cabinet." —CarrieAnne Clemens
"We stew and can our own tomatoes once a year and never need to buy sauce." —Michał Pietrasiewicz
"Salad dressings can be expensive. All vinaigrettes are 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. Combine the vinegar with whatever spices and herbs you like, then drizzle in the oil while whisking. You can make as little or as much as you want." —Nikki Ourand Lambert
25. Put your foraging skills to good use.
"I scavenge as much produce as I can from a local fruit map app. People mark on a satellite which stuff is ready when to help yourself to. Within 5 minutes from my house are apples, tomatoes, herbs, silverbeet and peaches." —Sarah Kerby
"Some orchards will let you pick fruit yourself for cheaper than buying what they picked." —sarahg86
26. Be your own butcher.
"Learn how to butcher different cuts of meat. If you go to places like Costco, you can typically buy a huge cut of meat and butcher it from there. Also learn how to break down a chicken." —Faith Karwacki
"Cow- or pig-share. I have a group of friends that go in on a whole animal from our favourite butcher or farmer, then we split it up amongst ourselves. This way we get grass-fed, ethically and locally grown meat CHEAPER than anonymous grocery store meat. In a very expensive and major city." —Kellybeanz
27. If you can, grow your own vegetables.
"I started my own garden. I know most don't have that opportunity but if you do, plant things you'll actually use, like tomatoes and onions." —maud8675309
"Garden. For less than the price of one bunch of every vegetable, you get a season's worth of them. And you can freeze tomatoes so you don't end up buying gnarly winter tomatoes or settling for the same canned ones every time." —Jason Brent
28. Repurpose as many food scraps as you can.
"Bread ends and crusts can be double-bagged and frozen; when you have a sufficient amount, make stuffing or bread crumbs. Those crumbs at the bottom of the tortilla or potato chip bag? Save them in a mason jar. They make tasty breading for fried food." —Nikki Ourand Lambert
"I make my own vegetable stock with leftover trimmings that I save throughout the month. I keep a gallon-size ziploc bag in my freezer, and whenever I chop carrots, celery, onions, and the like, I throw the ends in the bag. When the bag is full, I empty it into a stockpot with some water and a little salt, and let it simmer for a few hours. Sometimes I'll throw in some chicken bones, which add great flavor as well. After about 3-4 hours, I've got two quart-size containers of fresh, homemade stock that I can use in soup, gravy, and everyday cooking!" —Lara Ngai
29. Store delicate greens the right way so they'll last longer.
"Wrap lettuce, herbs, greens in paper towel and stick in zip top bag. I got two months out of a batch of parsley without wilting this way." —Jason Brent
"Put bunches of herbs in glasses of water in the fridge (think flowers in a vase). Use the bag they came in to LOOSELY sit ontop creating an umbrella. Keeps it fresh for 2 weeks instead of one!" —Jill Rickert
30. You can regrow some vegetables from the roots and use them again.
"When I buy celery I keep the bottom and replant it. The stalks grow back!" —ellemobb
"Green onions can be regenerated twice. Cut down to white, then place in a glass with water and they will grow back in a few days." —Jill Rickert
31. Designate one night of the week for using up leftovers and things in your fridge.
"I like to have one night out of the week where I try and use every left over thing at once. We had a pizza night a few weeks ago where we used whatever veggie, cheese and sauces in the fridge that were on their way out. I braised a small bit of left over meat last night and tossed in a 1/4 full jar of salsa and fresh herbs that were too soft. I also tossed the left over take out beet salad with fresh spinach. I just hate wasting food." —Lauren Pavin
"I do a leftover meal. Once a week I go through leftovers, things that will go bad soon, or almost-done items and put them together. Sometimes it's mac 'n' cheese with real cheese. Other times it's an odd stir fry with Indian leftovers and eggplant." —ellemobb
Live alone. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
"I live alone, which is helpful, but I make one meal for the week that will last for the week and eat that every night. Some people think it's boring, but it's easy, and the food is still delicious, and it saves money so I'm not buying a multitude of ingredients." —Samantha C. Sullivan
"My #1 tip to save money on food is don't live with a man. Your weekly meal prep will turn in to their afternoon snack." —Katie Fernandez
"Stay single." —Jason Chester Schweizer