How to save money on groceries at home and food while you travel. 13 money-saving tips you can start using today and on your next adventure.
If you’ve ever taken time to study your expenses, you’ve probably already been shocked by how much money you spend on eating without realizing it – especially if you love food as much as me!
From cooking at home to experiencing new cuisines when traveling, it’s very easy to see a large chunk of your cash disappear quickly.
To help you keep control of your budget, whether taking a trip or staying at home, here are 13 money-saving tips from financially-savvy bloggers.
How to save money on groceries while at home
- Go meatless at home
- Plan leftover meals
- Sign up for a subscription food box
- Shop catalog sales
- Skip grocery shopping and cook what you already have
- Switch to dry legumes rather than canned
- Use cheap ingredients to make delicious meals.
How to save money on food while you travel
- Cook 1-2 meals per day and then eat local
- Cut out alcohol while traveling
- Go to a local bakery or cafe for breakfast
- Have breakfast delivered in the room
- Research your destination
- Share a main or order an appetizer.
How to save money on groceries while at home
Go meatless at home
Max Brunetti, The Nomadic World
You don’t need to be a vegetarian or vegan to benefit financially by eating less meat. One way that I save money on food is by only eating meat when I dine out or get meals delivered. Buying less meat can massively reduce the cost of groceries each week and your environmental impact.
As an Argentinian chef, there isn’t much that I won’t eat including brain, stomach, tongue, cheeks, ears, intestines, and liver. However, that doesn’t stop me from seeing the benefits of going meatless at home. That way, I can save money on groceries while still enjoying my favorite meaty dishes when eating out.
You can easily adapt go-to recipes by switching the protein to legumes, tofu, tempeh, or other hardy vegetables like potatoes. Personally, I love Indian recipes for mouthwatering at-home meals that you won’t even realize are meatless.
When buying vegetables, look for affordable farmers’ markets and produce stores to help small business owners and access the access freshest ingredients. Selecting in-season fruits and vegetables will also help you save a ton. For inspiration, search for “easy vegetarian recipes for…” and then the in-season vegetables you are buying or have on hand.
Plan for leftover meals
Jackie Gately, Enjoy Travel Life
One of the best ways to stretch your food budget at home is to make good use of leftovers. You don’t have to repeat the first dish either, so don’t worry… you won’t get bored at all.
Cook one big dinner item, such as a turkey, ham, or roast, then plan several variations for the next few days. Here are some examples to help inspire you:
- After a turkey dinner, you might follow with turkey sandwiches the next night, a turkey pot pie on day three, and finally, turkey soup.
- After a ham dinner, follow with macaroni & cheese with ham, ham & Swiss quiche, a Chef salad, then pea soup.
- Following a roast dinner, you might opt for roast beef sandwiches with sauteed onions and mushrooms. Next, Shepherd’s Pie, then Mongolian Beef, then finish with beef stew.
Get creative with the side dishes and consider other meals of the day, too. For instance, leftover broccoli makes a great cheese omelet. And that extra baked potato? Perfect for home fries.
You’ll be surprised how each dish can be so different from the first. The idea is to challenge yourself to prepare as many different meals as you can from one main dinner. If after a few days, you still have some leftover, freeze it. That way, you extend the shelf-life until you’re ready to prepare another creative dish.
Meal planning this way saves money and time at the supermarket. Better yet, it will feed your creative spirit, too!
Sign up for a subscription food box
Louise Joy, Formidable Joy
At first glance, the idea of subscribing to a food delivery service could seem unnecessarily expensive. But if you struggle to keep the fridge stocked with in-date food or want to experience new recipes, a subscription food box may be the answer. I signed up for one in late 2019 and was surprised by how much money I saved on grocery shopping immediately. I still buy breakfast and lunch items, but by getting my dinners this way, I try new delicious meals multiple times a week and avoid wasting any food.
The subscription service I use sends me the exact amount of all the ingredients I need each time – so no food is left at the back of my fridge going out of date or gets wasted. The box arrives in recyclable packaging, which makes it more sustainable and eco-friendly. I also find myself eating a lot more fresh food and vegetables this way too, therefore being much more healthy overall.
I’ve tried to re-create some of the meals on my own to see if I can do it cheaper but I’ve failed every time. Plus I feel better paying a set amount each week for food, allowing me to put the rest of my money aside for more important things like traveling!
Shop catalog sales
Ali Adams, Our Mama Days
If you have the time and energy, shopping catalog sales is an easy way to significantly save on your weekly supermarket shop. This method takes a little more time and planning than your regular ‘go to the supermarket and buy what you need when you need it’ approach, but the savings are worth it.
Simply collect the catalogs (or look online) for each of your local supermarkets – or those in neighboring towns – and plan your meals around the weekly sales. For example, if chicken, rice, and pastry are on sale at supermarket A and beef, salad and cheese are half the price at supermarket B, then you would make a trip to both stores, buy the specials and plan your meals around those ingredients.
Checking for clearance items that are near their use-by date can also reward you with great savings. Knowing what key basics often have sales, and stocking up on these items when they are reduced is also key. Good dishwashing tablets can be really expensive, however, they are also an item that regularly has 50% off.
Looking out for these sales and buying a little extra when they are half price can mean you never buy at full price and can save you a lot of money. Remember, a $16 saving on detergent is equivalent to 4 takeaway coffees for you!
Skip grocery shopping and cook what you already have
Donna Emperador, Explore the Road with Donnamarie
To save money at home I often skip grocery shopping for a week and cook based on what I have on hand. A can of beans, a can of diced tomatoes, and some onions can be transformed into refried beans which can be served with rice or in a tortilla with cheese to make a quesadilla.
Look in your refrigerator. Leftover veggies, meats, and pasta or rice can be recycled with some broth to make a soup. Veggies can also be added to eggs to make a quick weeknight omelet. Whenever nobody is eating leftovers I put them in the freezer for another time. Then I pull them out during a week when I haven’t shopped or don’t have time to cook instead of wasting money on takeout.
Here’s a soup I made from leftover chicken, broth, fresh spinach, leftover broccoli, frozen peas, and leftover noodles. Once you throw all the leftovers together just add whatever seasonings you want. Voila! Instant dinner without spending a cent.
Switch to dry legumes rather than canned
Daphna Bar, A Tiny Trip
One of the easiest ways to save money at home is using dried beans rather than canned. While not quite as quick as opening a can of already cooked beans, you can get about 4 times as many beans for an equivalent cost! A pound of dry beans will run between 1 to 2 dollars, which is the same as a can.
To make your beans at home, open a one-pound bag of dried beans then pour them into a bowl. Cover them with water and leave them on the counter overnight. The next morning you can discard the soaking water and move it to a pot with fresh water. Simmer for a couple of hours and it’s done!
Now you can season your beans however you like, and you know they are without any unhealthy additives like you might find in the can. For the most flavorful beans, cook them in broth instead of water! Cooked beans can be added to chili dishes, salads, or refried for warm vegetarian lunches.
Use cheap ingredients to make delicious meals
Susie Mackay, Quick and Easy Recipes
Cooking on a budget is really the only way I know how to cater for myself and my family. My parents didn’t have a huge amount of cash, then I was a student or in poorly paid jobs, so it became a way of life. My main tips and tricks involve the ingredients used. Cheaper items can work very well as long as you know how to cook them. I love to use my slow cooker, and that is great for making the most of the budget cuts of meat.
Another trick is to bulk out recipes with pulses and vegetables. As well as making a little go further, this makes dishes healthier too. Often it also makes them tastier, as it adds depth of flavor and texture. A flexitarian diet is also good for saving money when cooking at home. Not eating meat every day can help save cash, and again this can have health benefits at the same time.
One of my favorite ingredients is minced beef, which I love in dishes like chili, bolognese, cottage pie, mince and dumplings, and even curry. You can get away with using cheaper mince with this simple trick. Using a non-stick pan, stir-fry the mince over medium heat until it browns. Then drain off some or all of the resulting fat before continuing to cook.
How to save money on food while you travel
Cook 1-2 meals per day and then eat local
Chantell Collins, Budget Travel Babes
Aim to cook 1-2 meals per day and then choose worthwhile dining experiences at local restaurants or street food stands. There’s no point in wasting your money buying slices of pizza in Paris. You can use search filters on platforms like Airbnb to find accommodation with a kitchen.
Don’t worry if you aren’t a master chef (trust me, I can barely boil an egg). The dishes can be very simple. Consider bread or cereals for breakfast, then pasta, rice, or noodles with vegetables for dinner. If you only choose one meal to cook, I recommend breakfast as it’s usually the cheapest and easiest to make yourself but costly to eat out.
In countries where the cost of groceries is higher than the cost of eating out (like in some Central American or Asian countries), make sure you’re shopping where the locals go. Mostly likely the farmer’s market and not the major supermarket. Going to local food markets in other countries can be very eye-opening and a lot of fun! So, this will actually add another element to your trip.
Cut out alcohol while traveling
Cassie Bailey, Cassie the Hag
It’s a simple piece of advice, but cutting out alcohol can save a lot of money over a long-term period. I’m not suggesting anyone go teetotal here, it’s more about saving drinks for when you really want one or are celebrated.
Something I noticed while solo traveling in Southeast Asia was the sheer amount of money people were spending on alcohol… because it was cheap. Now, if you’re really on a budget, it’s worth saving that money for necessities (and occasional treats, whether that’s a good coffee, paid excursion, or indeed a few drinks once in a while).
The cheap drinks DO add up over time, especially for long-term travelers, and what seems like a cheap drink ends up costly once it pulls you into having a few drinks a night. I rarely drink at home too, including paid soft drinks aside from tea and coffee. There’s no doubt it adds up over a long period without you even thinking about it.
Plus, you’ll feel fresher and healthier too – win-win. Now when I drink alcohol, it feels special again!
Go to a local bakery or cafe for breakfast
Or Amir, My Path in the World
Hotel breakfast may seem like the most convenient way to start your day because there’s no extra effort to find a place to eat. However, it’s not always the case. There’s a good chance you’ll pay for a breakfast that’s not worth the excessive price and eating at a local cafe may be much cheaper.
In many countries like Spain, Italy, and Portugal, you’ll find small local cafes serving a simple but affordable typical breakfast for only two Euros. In different cities in Poland, which is an extremely budget-friendly country, even the more modern local cafes offer amazing breakfasts for cheap prices.
Before paying for your hotel breakfast in advance, read reviews about what exactly it offers to see if it’s worth it. Then do some research to compare its price to the local cafes.
Have breakfast delivered in the room
Clotilde, A Princess Travelling with Twins
When traveling, one of the items that can weigh the most on the cost of the trip can be the money spent on food. Especially when choosing to stay in hotels, it is difficult to find easy alternatives. Even more difficult if you are indulging in a relaxing trip to a dream resort.
A strategy that will help you to save, even on a trip to the Maldives on a budget is to order breakfast in your room. Very often, breakfast is included in the room price. For luxury resorts, it’s usually an endless buffet from classic eggs to delicious crepes, passing through many variations of curry, freshly cut sushi, pancakes, oysters, and much more! The problem is the limit to how much you can eat. Even those who tend to overeat, in the mid-afternoon, begin to feel the pangs of hunger and must resort to the expensive options available.
What happens if you have ordered breakfast in your room instead? An abundance of dishes, usually even more than you would choose at the buffet, are delivered to your room at your preferred time. Once you eat hot things, the rest will remain at your disposal for the whole day. Of course, there is the cost of the service, but in some resorts, it is minimal when you consider how much you would spend on lunch.
Research your destination
Jennifer, Family Trip Guides
I used to think I’d never be able to travel to more expensive countries with my kids. But now after visiting Switzerland twice plus a dozen other European and Asian countries – I know that’s false. It’s all in the research ahead of time to avoid that $30 USD hamburger.
- Find a low-cost grocery store: We found a great Aldi in Interlaken where we picked up groceries for our week in the Swiss Alps. For all of our breakfasts and dinners for a week, we only spent $110 USD at Aldi. We did splurge and purchased simple lunches at the guesthouses on the mountains!
- Pack snacks for your trip: Especially when traveling with kids I always underestimate how many snacks to buy. Then end up paying for unhealthy and overpriced snacks on the road. Now, I make sure to purchase enough fruit and granola bars for our adventures.
- Stay in accommodation with a kitchen: We always stay in apartment rentals or hotels with at least a hot water heater to make oatmeal, ramen, tea, coffee.
And if you need inspiration on family travel specifically, check out these 35 Quotes to inspire your next trip!
Share a main or order an appetizer
Chantell Collins, Chantell Collins Consulting
Not all meal sizes are created equal. Depending on which destination you visit, an appetizer can be the size of a main in your home country. Get an idea of the size of the dish is before ordering. You could even ask your server to demonstrate the portion size using their hands.
If there are two or more of you, it may be more cost-effective to split a few dishes. For solo travelers, you could opt for an appetizer or get the big meal and keep the leftovers for later. Carbohydrate-heavy dishes are also cheap ways to fill up your tummy.
Originally written in 2017 and updated in 2020.
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