Cash Diet

I spent 1 month cooking all of my meals—here are my 7 best tips for saving on groceries

I spent a lot of time in the kitchen over the past month.

For a series of Cash Diet challenges, I had to cook five different dinners for less than $20 and whip up homemade brunch for six on a budget of $30.

Cooking took a lot more effort than dining out, but the savings were huge. And after a month of grocery shopping, meal prepping and hosting, I got pretty good at keeping my grocery bill at or below $50 a week. Here's how you can do the same.

1. Get creative with what you already have. For starters, plan your meals around what's already in your kitchen. Do you have stale chips? Make chilaquiles. Do you have a bunch of overcooked veggies? Throw them in a blender with stock or cream and transform them into a soup.

As I learned, even if you don't have much in your pantry, a little bit of creativity can go a long way.

Keep in mind that even food scraps can be re-purposed: stale bread can easily become breadcrumbs, salad dressing can have a second life as a glaze for meat and chicken bones can be used to make a delicious stock.

2. Make a grocery list and stick to it. Once you've planned out what you're going to cook for the week, make a list of the ingredients you'll need. Then, when you're actually shopping, stick to the list. No impulse buys!

3. Go cash only. If you're trying to stick to a specific grocery budget, ditching your plastic cards for bills can make a world of difference.

Next time you grocery shop, determine how much you want to spend on food for the week or month and withdraw that amount of cash. When you head to the store, don't bring the plastic so you're not tempted to use it.

4. Buy ingredients that make your dollar go further. I built most of my meals around carbs like pasta and couscous, which are cheap and filling. And, when I splurged on meat, I went for an entire chicken, rather than just the thighs or breasts, and stretched it across several meals. That way, I could also use the bones to make a chicken stock.

I also learned that, if done properly, you can turn a half cup of yogurt into a large batch. All you need is milk, time and a heavy pot.

5. Price compare and shop outside of your neighborhood. While it may be more convenient to shop at your go-to grocery store, it's worth it to stop by someone else's local market for cheaper produce.

Factors like storage, refrigeration and shipping can drive up the prices at national grocery stores, so you can generally score much better deals at small markets that get their produce from local farms and wholesalers. I ended up scoring some great deals in New York's Chinatown.

That said, shopping at multiple spots can get time consuming. When price comparing, keep in mind that your time is also valuable.

6. Stick to the basics. Complex meals with a lot of spices or sauces can get pricey. When it comes to buying flavor enhancers, pick out condiments that are versatile — like salt, soy sauce, or olive oil — and can be used on multiple foods.

7. Keep your food better for longer with a few easy storage hacks. The less food you waste, the more money you save. Keep ripe avocados in the fridge so they'll last longer; wrap leftover cheese in wax paper instead of plastic; and keep herbs with their stems in a glass of water.

Check out more storage hacks here.

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Video by Mary Stevens