10 Ways to Stretch Your Food Dollar (Whether You’re On or Off the Road)

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1 Us Bank NoteThe Man is always amazed when I come out of the supermarket and tell him how little I paid for the food in the cart. I get a big kick out of cooking healthy and delicious meals on the cheap. The Man said I should share my money saving ways with my readers, so today I present 10 tips on stretching your food dollar, whether you live in a van, RV, apartment, or house.

#1 Don’t waste food. Don’t buy something if you’re not dedicated to eating it. If you buy food, eat it, even if you don’t particularly like it. Being adventurous is great, but throwing away food is a waste of money.

Often, not wasting food requires planning. You have to eat fresh food before it spoils, which can be tricky if an item is distressed or if you’re on the road and have only a cooler or no refrigeration at all. Before I plan a meal, I take stock of what fresh food I have and what’s likely to go bad in the next day or two. I cook what I’m most in danger of losing.

#2 Be creative with what you can buy cheaply. One time I encountered whole pinto beans marked down to less than 30 cents a can. I don’t particularly like pinto beans with rice or whole pinto beans on burritos, so I turned the beans into my version of refried beans. They were delicious!

If you find something on super sale, think of all the different ways you can consume the item, especially if you have to use it up fast. Maybe you don’t want to eat six cartons of plain yogurt, but maybe you can eat some with berries and crunchy cereal, use another portion in your pancake recipe, and throw the rest in the blender with other ingredients to make smoothies.

#3 Eat what’s cheap, not necessarily what you’re in the mood for. I finally had an oven, so I really wanted to bake a pizza at home. I picked out a jar of pizza sauce and thought about toppings. I knew I had a can of olives (bought for 50 cents at a scratch and dent store) in the cupboard, so I tossed a can of mushrooms into my cart, and figured I could round things out with half a chopped onion. Then I found the store’s cart of reduced canned goods. As I rooted through I found a can of pasta sauce marked 49 cents that I thought would work just as well as something labeled “pizza sauce” (I was right—it worked great) and a can of asparagus spears for 79 cents which became the delicious splurge that made the pizza extra special.

The lesson here is that if I’d had my heart set on artichoke hearts for the pizza, I would have either spent a lot more money, or I would have felt disappointed and lamented my life of poverty. Instead, I got a good deal on something delicious. Also? If I hadn’t found the asparagus spears, the pizza as I originally envisioned it would have still been mighty tasty.

Booth, branding, business#4 Watch for sales.  Check out weekly sales online before you shop or read the sale flyer at the front of the store. You can also just pay attention to prices while you shop. If you see a bargain on something you would use anyway, stock up.

#5 Buy store brands. Store brands typically cost less than name brands and taste as good. (Some people may taste a difference between name brand items and store brand items. I typically do not, except for ‘Nilla Wafers. I don’t know what it is, but ‘Nilla Wafers taste markedly better than any generic vanilla wafer I’ve ever tried.)

#6 Remember that convenience foods typically cost more. As much as possible, cook from scratch. How much time are you really saving by using a cornbread mix or precooked rice? And what do you have more of, time or money? One of the reasons most of us live on the road is so we can have lots of free time. Often more free time means less money. When it comes to cooking, you can often use your free time to save money. If you’re living in a sticks-and-bricks, maybe saving money will mean you have to work less or you can get on the road sooner, if that’s what you’re hoping for.

#7 Don’t eat more than you need to. I frequently make the costly decision to eat when I’m not really hungry. I often overeat because food is delicious and comforting. However, eating reasonable portions means you’re getting more meals for the money you spent on food.

#8 If you’re in a town with a senior center, check into the lunch program for seniors. Even small towns out West offer these lunches. They usually cost $2 to $3 for a complete meal. Age requirements to qualify for the inexpensive meal vary, but I’ve heard of people as young as 50 being considered “seniors” and eligible for the lunches. Younger people are considered “guests,” and their cost per meal is usually around $7

I’m still too young to eat cheap senior lunches, so I’ve never participated. From what I’ve heard, they can often be a good place for socializing and meeting people. Musicians often perform at one senior lunch program I know of in a small southern New Mexico town. Another new program in a small southern Arizona town is promising Bingo.

#9 Investigate free meal options. Maybe the town you’re in has a Food Not Bombs chapter that serves free vegan food in the park. Maybe there’s a Catholic Worker group that serves free meals like in Las Vegas, NV.  Call churches, Catholic Worker Houses, infoshops, radical bookstores, food banks, social service offices, and homeless shelters and outreach programs and ask how to get free meals where you are.

Assorted-color Box Lot on Rack#10 Sign up for supermarket loyalty cards to get discounts, coupons, and sale prices. Supermarkets owned by the same parent company have different names in different parts of the country, but one discount card is good at all of them. I typically shop at stores owned by Kroger, and I save money by using the loyalty card.

If you don’t want a loyalty card, ask the cashier if s/he has a loyalty card s/he can scan for you so you get the sale prices. There was a time in my life when I did not have the ability to keep track of a supermarket loyalty card, so I often asked the cashier if s/he had a card to use for me. I was seldom told no.

I hope these tips have helped you think about ways to stretch your food dollar according to your own personal needs and desires. Want more money saving tips? I’ll offer up 10 More Ways to Stretch Your Food Dollar next Wednesday.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/1-us-bank-note-47344/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/booth-branding-business-buy-264636/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/assorted-color-box-lot-on-rack-811101/.

About Blaize Sun

I live in my van, which makes me a rubber tramp. I like to see places I've never seen before, and I like to visit the places I love again and again. I like to play with color. I make collages and hemp jewelry and cheerful winter hats. I take photographs and (sometimes, not in a long time) write poetry. All of those things make me an artist. Although I like to spread joy and to make people laugh, my wit can be sharp. I try to stay positives in all situations, to find the goodness in all people. But I often feel compelled to point out bullshit when I smell it. I like to have fun, to dance, to eat yummy food, to sit by a fire and share stories. I want to know what people hold dear and important, not just make surface small talk. This blog is a way for me to share stories. This blog is made up of my stories, rants, and observations, as well as my photographs.

4 Responses »

  1. Hey Blaize! It is a little counter intuitive to the tip about cooking, and not going convenient, but I was surprised how many items at the Dollar Tree (the one everything really is $1) were actually reasonably healthy. And, since you get smaller portions it was perfect for my small storage space/freezer. Not everything was a deal at that price, but almond milk, frozen blueberries, frozen salmon portions, and veggie burgers (2) were much better than what I could find at the grocery store. And, sometimes, things like molasses or olive oil – where you’d have to pay for a big container (and spend more if you just needed a little bit) were good finds. Also, not currently back on the east coast, but over the holidays out west, I found decent dog treats – dehydrated “parts” of buffalo that were from the US, no extra preservatives or ingredients.

    • You make some good points here. Yes, smaller portions can save money if they mean less waste, and it’s not a bargain if you have no place to put it! I have also found good deals at Dollar Tree on healthy (and reasonable healthy) food. Thanks for this reminder that Dollar Tree can be a good source of food and treats for people and dogs, as long as the consumer pays attention to size, per ounce price, and his/her wown personal needs.

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