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Confession: I am a foodie.
And groceries? They are my nemesis. I can rack up a £100 shopping bill in the time it takes you to say “Do you really need the Cerignola olives?”
Extra virgin olive oil drizzled over my tomato, basil, mozzarella and spinach salad. Potatoes roasted in rich, buttery ghee. The nutty deliciousness of hemp oil married with a treacle-thick balsamic vinegar. A golden-yellow rapeseed oil for frying my battered fish.
I’ve already spent a small fortune and we haven’t moved beyond ‘oils and fats’.
However, I have discovered it is possible to save money on my grocery bill without living on ramen. It takes a bit of inventiveness, and some self-discipline. But I have worked out how to eat delicious food with high-quality ingredients for a fraction of what I used to spend.
How I save money on my grocery bill is part of the Month of Money: October’s financial makeover.
How I save money on my grocery bill: budget recipes
The thing about being a foodie is that you can embrace simple food cooked well. Yes, there’s a place for a charcuterie board studded with olives… but there’s also a place for mushrooms on toast.
These budget recipes help me save money on my grocery bill by making use of cheap, simple ingredients. But these meals don’t lack in flavour or texture.
1. Embrace the bean
Pulses, lentils, legumes. Sing their praises. They are infinitely varied, can be cooked in a wide variety of ways, soak up whatever flavours you can throw at them… and they are cheap, cheap, cheap.
Here are some of my favourite pulse-based recipes:
This mainstay of Indian cuisine is made from mung dal. It’s comforting, creamy, spicy and delicious… and mung dal is sold in bulk 5kg bags*. It’s pretty darn cheap. (I do not buy my dal in 5kg bags, because I live in an apartment the size of a shoebox. However. They do also sell it in smaller bags.)
Snert (aka Dutch Pea Soup)
I discovered Snert on a holiday in Amsterdam. We found it in a restaurant called Rembrandt Corner and both me and Phillip were besotted. It’s a soup thick enough to stand your spoon up in, and makes use of delicious smoked sausage. Perfect for a cold, wet day.
It took me a long time to sell Phillip on the concept of vegetarian chilli. He’s from Cincinnati, and in Cincinnati they have a specific kind of chilli. Cincinnati chilli is delicious. It’s also strong on the beef mince and light on the veg.
However, he has gradually come around to the idea of a more wallet-friendly and just as tasty type of chilli. Chilli that is made from beans. Shocking, I know.
Soup mix soup
This isn’t really a recipe.
It’s a base of soffritto (chopped onions, garlic, carrots and celery) with a bag of soup mix soup* in the slow cooker with some high quality stock. As long as the stock is well seasoned, you’re good to go.
But if you really want a recipe, this one looks very similar to what I do:
Vegetarian Split Pea Soup
Another pea soup? Really?
Ah, but this is where the beauty of the pulse really lies. This split pea soup is an entirely different beast to the snert listed above. Whereas the snert is hearty, porky, and thick, this pea soup is light, zingy and spicy. It’s finished with a drizzle of olive oil, smoked paprika and lemon zest.
2. Learn to love offal
Meat is expensive. A good steak is a thing of beauty, but it’s also going to empty your pockets.
However, there are ways you can get a meaty fix without spending a fortune. Simply look for the less popular parts of the animal. Offal is usually cheap, and it’s more environmentally friendly to eat ‘nose to tail’. Plus the flavours are interesting and unique. Tongue, heart, cheek, liver… find them in a good butcher, or most large supermarkets.
Ox cheeks are a lot like a braising steak and need to be cooked low and slow. Perfect for slow cookers or casseroles.
Chicken livers are quick to fry up, making them the original fast food. You can get them in the frozen section of most major supermarkets for less than a pound.
Forget bland, soggy tripe and onions. Tripe soaks up flavour, so pair it with sharp flavours and spice.
3. Curry is magic
I love curry.
Curry requires bold, powerful flavours. Yes, it can be burn-your-face-off spicy. But it can also incorporate freshness and creaminess from things like coriander, coconut and ginger.
The best thing about curry is that you can take almost any ingredient and elevate it to something sublime. Invest in your spice cabinet, buy a few cheap vegetables, and you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.
There’s been a weird backlash against the humble potato in recent years. However, potatoes are a nutritional powerhouse of potassium, vitamin C, B6, fibre, magnesium… the list goes on. And they are cheap as chips. (Cheaper, actually.)
Cauliflower Tikka Masala
Cauliflower is such an incredible vegetable, and yet we so often only see it soggy and sad after being boiled half to death. Introduce yourself to a whole new side of cruciferous veg with this tikka masala (you won’t miss the chicken).
Spinach and cheese. Cheese and spinach. How can you possibly go wrong? Paneer can be bought from most supermarkets these days. Or go a step further and make it yourself.
Thai Green Curry
You either love coconut or you hate it. Personally, I love it. Thai green curry is perfect dish to carry spring vegetables.
How I save money on my grocery bill: try and plan meals around a base recipe
The ability to create a ‘base’ food that can be used to create several different meals over the course of the week? A game changer.
A base food is one that you can make in bulk, and which can then be used in multiple different meals throughout the week. It’s great for taking advantage of ‘buy one get one free’ deals, even if you don’t have a big family. The key is to try not to make it feel like ‘leftovers’, by dressing your base food up in completely different ways each day.
Roast one chicken, eat it all week
Roasting a chicken for your Sunday dinner, and living off it for the rest of the week? It’s practically a cliché. Try the post below for inspiration. Or use the meat in any of your favourite chicken-based recipes.
Bolognese is more than just a spaghetti topping. Use it in anything from tacos to jacket potatoes to stuffed peppers. Mince is frequently on offer, so take advantage of deals.
I love pulled pork. It’s perfect for the slow cooker, I can make it as tasty and as spicy as I want, and a pork shoulder is hefty enough to feed the two of us all week (and then some).
How I save money on my grocery bill: go for the homemade option
Making stuff from scratch is not always cheaper than the pre-made version. Homemade peanut butter, for example, is around double the price of store bought. However, there are some things where the price difference does work out in favour of the homemade version.
Pizza is tastier when it’s homemade, and the dough is easy to make and much cheaper than buying pre-made pizza. You can also make pizza dough in a batch and freeze it, so you’re always ready to whip one up.
As an aside, you might want to keep your toppings under control. Mushrooms are budget friendly. Olives are possibly not.
This glorious dip can be served with pita and veg to make a great lunch. Make hummus in a big batch, and chomp on it all week.
Why would you buy the processed glop that pretends to be salad dressing, when all you need to do is combine a good oil with some great vinegar?
Okay, my oil and vinegar collection is a little out of control. But still. Salad dressing is far tastier and cheaper when freshly made.
Pesto is one of those superstar ingredients that can turn a mundane tray of roasted veggies into a glorious weeknight dinner. It’s also dead simple to make. If you grow your own herbs (which you can do on a window sill) it’s also very cheap.
Okay, I have never done this myself. But it holds a certain fascination, and is on the list of things to try once I get more kitchen equipment (e.g. ‘thermometer’).
How I save money on my grocery bill: summary
We covered the following ways I save money on my grocery bill:
- using pulses and legumes as the base for my meals,
- turning to cheaper cuts of meat like offal,
- investing in bold flavours to dress up inexpensive vegetables,
- planning my meals around a dish that can be turned into multiple meals,
- making convenience foods at home instead of buying them.
I hope this has given you some ideas for how you can save money on your grocery bill. I would also love to hear what you do – what tips and tricks have you found help you spend less and still eat well?