With food prices going through the roof, cooking from scratch is becoming more of an interest to people. You really can save an enormous amount of money! As I'm sure you've guess, healthy ingredients can cost more. Guess what? By cooking from scratch I can afford to buy better quality food and still save money. I'm going to discuss some practical ways to save you some big $$$.
1.) Shop from a weekly menu. This is the biggest money saving tip of all! If you have a weekly menu, you have a plan, therefore you aren't going to be caught one night, saying "what's for dinner?" In fact, on the rare occasion that we do go out, I have to write it on the menu so I don't forget and thaw something out!
2.) Stock up on staples! If you have a well stocked pantry, then you don't have an excuse for not cooking! I try to buy things in bulk when I'm able. I don't have a lot of room to store bulk items, so I find friends who will go in with me on these items. For example, I'll buy a 50 lb bag of sucanat, and split it out among friends.
3.) Pay wholesale prices! Take advantage of your local food co-op. If you don't have one, start asking around or search for one on the Internet. We don't have a local food co-op, but we do have Azure Standard (http://www.azurestandard.com/) where we place our order on-line and once a month, a truck comes through our area and delivers our items to a "drop-point". We go pick it up. If we order at least $50, shipping is free. I save an enormous amount on health food and other products through this company. I can get raw honey for $23 a gallon. You can't touch it for that price locally. They operate all over the west. They sell in smaller increments as well as bulk.
4.) Avoid going to the stores as much as possible. Not only will you avoid impulse buying (something I'm bad about), you will also save money on gas and time. Yes, time is valuable! My only exception to impulse buying is when staples are sale (if you have the money), I stock up!
5.) Buy meat farm-direct. This is another huge money saver. Yes, it takes some budget planning, but it is worth it. Not only will you be saving a lot of money, you will be get way better meat. For our family, we try to buy a 1/4 of a beef, 1/2 a pig, whole lamb and a dozen chickens every year. By doing this, we have a variety of meats to choose from in our freezer. If my husband gets lucky hunting, then we save even more!
6.) Gleaning: I confess! I don't have a garden. The water bill alone wouldn't make it worth it. During gardening season, I have so many friends and family who are gardening, that I can take advantage of their excess fruits and vegetables. During this time I chop and freeze as much as I can to get me through the rest of the year. How can you beat free?
7.) Invest in another freezer if you need to. You will recoup the savings if you can get a freezer where you can store your extra meals, gleaned fruits and veggies, meat, jams, apple sauce, condiments, ground pumpkin, etc. I freeze almost everything now (the only thing I can are pickles). It is much easier and healthier as the enzymes are still intact.
8.) Everyone has things they like to make and things they hate to make. If you are good at making something, start asking around. Trade with others for food, ingredients, other handmade items like lotion, soap, whatever! Since making cheese is the thing I like to do, I've had people want to trade cheese for everything from raw milk, homegrown garlic, homemade lotion, eggs, music lessons and odd jobs. I've also been known to trade my homemade frozen meals for babysitting.
In conclusion, there is no doubt, cooking from scratch is less expensive. My husband and I used to spend at least $600 a month on groceries (mostly processed foods) and eating out for just the two of us. Now that I'm cooking from scratch (taking in mind, we have two more mouths to feed and grocery prices are a lot higher), we spend approximately $400 a month on groceries when averaged out over a one year period (this includes our farm-direct meats). We aren't eating cheap foods, devoid of nutrition. We use the best ingredients and we eat very well. If I can do it, so can you!
I know many of you are wondering where the time factor comes in. My next "Cooking from Scratch" post will be on practical ways to make it happen.