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6 Ways to Cook (and Eat) Well on a Budget

Nov 12, 2021 4 min read Amy Freeman

Key takeaways

  • Cooking classes and online resources can help you whip up low-cost cuisine.
  • Where's your next cheap meal coming from? Check your pantry.
  • Get creative in the kitchen when you can't find certain ingredients.


Everybody has to eat; the trick is to do it well without going into debt—especially given the recent spike in inflation. These six tips for frugal eating can help you keep your belly—and your wallet—full.



  1. 1. Hone your cooking skills

    The first step to producing impressive and healthy meals is knowing how to cook them.

    One way to improve your cuisine expertise without spending too much cash is to power up your laptop and try out a virtual cooking class. Two options: You can learn from famous chefs Alice Waters and Gordon Ramsey through MasterClass Opens in new window, whose $15 monthly subscription, by the way, gives you access to far more than just culinary courses. And if you’re starting completely from scratch, a 30-day program from Foodist Opens in new window can help you master the basics. It costs $99 for a lifetime's worth of knowledge.

    If you don’t want to pay for a class, the internet has lots of of sites that can help you handle fundamental cooking techniques and learn easy recipes. For example, Basically Opens in new window from Bon Appetit is full of recipes that are simple yet far from basic.


  2. 2. Cut your grocery costs

    Taking the time to clip coupons or search for online deals may not be appealing, but the potential savings are enough to make this a worthy investment. Coupons.com Opens in new window has printable manufacturer’s coupons and will connect you to digital coupons that you can link to loyalty cards at your preferred stores. You can also find digital coupons from supermarkets you shop at regularly, such as Kroger and ShopRite.

    If coupons just aren’t your thing, there are other ways to save. You could try a rebate app, like Ibotta Opens in new window, that gives you cash back when you shop online, in-store or by phone. Similarly, Fetch Rewards Opens in new window hooks you up with gift cards when you upload grocery, restaurant and store receipts.

    Services like Misfits Market Opens in new window and Imperfect Foods Opens in new window cut your food costs by shipping you “ugly” produce. It might not be pretty enough to sit on a supermarket's shelf, but it’s tasty and healthy enough to eat, and it helps minimize food waste. And 2Good2Go Opens in new window helps you fight waste with end-of-day leftovers from local restaurants at super low prices.


  3. 3. Prune your pantry

    Frugal eating means not just spending less outside but also avoiding food waste at home. The best way to save on meals is to cook with ingredients that are already in your pantry. At the end of every month, try a pantry challenge Opens in new window to use up what you have: You cook and eat only what’s in your pantry and fridge. This might mean getting creative with recipes, but you’ll save money while reducing food waste (which, unless you compost, also contributes to global warming Opens in new window—so you’ll help save the planet too).


  4. 4. Store food properly

    Fruits and vegetables are the staples of a healthy diet and tasty recipes, but they can spoil quickly, especially if not stored correctly. Tossing wilted vegetables and brown fruit is a waste of good food—and money. So, learn how to store your produce Opens in new window and other foods Opens in new window for maximum freshness and freeze anything you won't eat right away.

    Some foods, like tomatoes and onions, keep better at room temperature, while others need to chill in the fridge. While not all fruits and vegetables freeze well, many do. You can take advantage of the end-of-summer bounty at a local farmer’s market by buying tomatoes and other fruits in bulk, then freezing them.

    Try these quick tips for freezing fruits and vegetables Opens in new window to keep your kitchen well stocked year-round.


  5. 5. Buy in bulk

    It makes good sense to buy nonperishable foods in bulk—provided they're things you cook and eat regularly—and the cost of the bigger package is less than buying the same amount in a smaller size. For example, a 64-ounce jar of pasta sauce might cost $5 while a 25-ounce jar sells for $2.50. If you buy two 25-ounce jars, you’d pay the same ($5) for 50 ounces as you would for the 64-ounce package. Tip: Always check the unit or per-ounce price of products when shopping to see which size is the most cost-effective.

    Also keep in mind: Only buy bulk ingredients you know you’ll use and that have a long shelf-life. If you get a lot of one product but it goes bad before you can use it all, you won’t have saved any money—and you'll end up with waste.


  6. 6. Embrace flexibility

    Here’s a scenario: A recipe calls for a particular ingredient, but thanks to recent supply chain issues, you can’t find that ingredient on most store shelves—and where you can find it, it costs more than you want to pay. Solution: See if a similar item is on sale at your supermarket that week, even if it lacks the specific ingredient you want. Making substitutions when needed can help you cut your costs without torturing your taste buds.

    For example, once you’ve mastered the basics of cooking, you can flex your creative muscles. Are fresh tomatoes too expensive this week? Swap in a can of diced ones instead. Is the price of ground beef too high? Try crumbling some tofu. In some cases, the resulting dish might be fine if you leave out a pricey or unavailable ingredient, such as a certain spice or hard-to-find fresh herbs.


What you can do next

Chowing on a budget doesn't have to mean skimping on good food—if you know where to look, when to shop and how to put it all together. Take advantage of the wealth of recipes on the internet or on cooking apps. Sign up for a cooking class to gain new skills and new recipes. Rather than buying more, use what you have on hand. And at the least, sign up for rebate apps that pay you back when you shop.


Amy Freeman is a Philadelphia-based writer who specializes in personal finance, real estate, and healthcare topics.


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