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Saturday, March 24, 2012

60 Ways to Procure Food on the Cheap

Original Article

Have you noticed how the price of food skyrocketing these days?  While we were traveling for a year we were blissfully unaware of the cost of food as we usually ate out or ate with friends as we traveled.  Occasionally we would shop for a meal and cook but now that we are cooking nearly 100% of the time--and buying groceries to create these meals--I find the cost of food quite shocking (don't worry, I'll get to gas prices in a few days).  Here's 60 ways to feed yourself on the cheap:
  1. Skip restaurants. The $50 you pay for one meal at a restaurant could pay for a week's worth of food to eat at home.
  2. Dumpster dive. The bigger the city, apparently the better the pickings. There seems to be an art--and a science--to doing this so do a bit of research online (Google 'dumpster diving') before you head out.
  3. Sign up for food stamps if you qualify.  Many people qualify these days and don't even know it so Google your state's food stamp program and find out.
  4. Hit up your local food pantry for food you can take home and cook.
  5. Visit your local Salvation Army; they often provide free meals as well as food stuff to take home with you.
  6. Get a list of the free meal sites in your area and go. These are usually sponsored by churches and other social service organizations; all you have to do is show up and eat.
  7. Visit local churches, sometimes they can give you food or food vouchers.
  8. Forage for your own food. Depending on the season you can find nuts and berries, tree fruit, and mushrooms growing wild.
  9. Go fishing.
  10. Go hunting.
  11. What other foods are readily available for the taking in your area?  When I used to live near Seattle, we had beaches and beaches full of clams, oysters, crabs, even the super expensive goeducks--all which could be harvested for the cost of a permit and some home-made traps.
  12. Check out the loss leaders for your local grocery stores. Many people base their entire meals on these highly discounted food items which are meant to lure into the store so you will buy other stuff. Just buy the cheap loss leaders and skip everything else.
  13. Shop in ethnic stores. Many ethnic grocery stores have super cheap prices on stapes, fruit, vegetables, and fish.
  14. Shop the day-old bakery rack in your grocery store and the nearly out of date discounted meat items in the meat department.
  15. Check out bakery outlet stores in your area for bargain basement bakery items.
  16. Check out how these people were able to feed themselves on a dollar a day: Example #1 Example #2 Example #3
  17. Make soup. Soup with whatever you have on hand can make a bigger, heartier meal than just cooking up the few items that you are putting into it. Ditto with stir-frys and casseroles.
  18. Call 211. This is a national number you can call and ask for help with any social service need that you have. They can direct you to places to get free food and free meals as well as many other services you may need.
  19. If you have an old Costco or Sam's Club card, simply go into the stores and wander around the food aisles picking up food samples. Some days you can get a complete meal this way.
  20. Go to the mall or other community gathering place. Sometimes but not always you can score free food samples in the food court, free samples at events, and free items/coupons for new products that are being promoted.
  21. Crash events where there will be food: church socials, funerals, community meetings, community events, weddings, parties, etc.
  22. Trade work for food. If you walk by a restaurant that has dirty windows, for example, offer to clean the windows in trade for a meal.
  23. Check in with reddit.  Both this and this subreddit offer a place to ask for food (and often people respond!)
  24. If you live in a farming area, ask the farmer if you can glean his fields after the harvest.
  25. Choose a full time or part time job that offers free food as a benefit (many restaurants, coffee shops, and bars give their employees a free meal each day they work).
  26. Go an a date! My sister finds all of her dates through online dating sites. They often take her out for dinner and pick up the tab (not sure how well this would work for guys though).
  27. Check out Freecycle and the free section of CraigsList, pick up some items for free, then resell them at your own garage sale (people have been known to do this, fix the item up a bit, then relist it for sale on CraigsList too). Use the money earned for food.
  28. Shop in the bulk bin section of the grocery store. Here you can pick up a pound of rice and a pound of beans for a dollar and have food for a week!
  29. Cook from scratch. Skip the expensive processed foods and make your own breads, soups, casseroles, etc. It is generally much cheaper to make things from scratch than to buy pre-made items.
  30. Have people you can fall back on for food. When I was a starving college student, I knew that every time I went to grandma's house she would have a hot meal waiting for me (of course I would have visited her meal or no but this was definitely a bonus!).
  31. Panhandle on a street corner. Most people would say "no way" to this but if you and your kids are actually starving, this may be the most expedient way to get some cash together to buy food.
  32. If you have ever served in the military, check out your local military service center, DAV, or VFW hall and see what resources are available to you.
  33. If you are a senior citizen, see what services you qualify for (there are many senior-only meal sites in our area as well as a free meal delivery program specifically for seniors).
  34. If you are a tribal member, check with your tribe's social service office to see what services (food as well as others) that you qualify for.
  35. Shop at the Dollar Store. You need to know your prices, of course, as some items can be had for less than a dollar at other stores, however Dollar Stores can have some great prices on food.
  36. Sign your kids up for the free meal program at school if you qualify. This will reduce the amount of food you will need at home to feed them. Note that schools often have free meal programs during the summer as well when school isn't in session to ensure that kids get a good meal or two each day (breakfast and lunch).
  37. Google for ideas. People are always coming up with new and interesting ways to save money on food costs. By Googling the topic, you will find many ways to cut food costs (try terms such as 'save money on food', 'cut food costs', 'eating for cheap or free', 'cheap meals', etc).
  38. Pay attention to unit prices. When you are spending your hard-earned money on food, you want to make sure you are getting the best deal possible. Compare prices by unit (cost of ounce by ounce or pound by pound which is usually located on the shelf tag) to get the best deal possible.
  39. Use coupons. You can find coupons in newspaper ad sections, online, in the mail, and even at the grocery store itself. It takes a while to create a coupon "system" but you could end up spending a lot less on food.
  40. Be sure to use store loyalty cards as well to get sale prices on the food you buy.
  41. Buy in bulk. With some items, you can pay much less by buying in bulk. My favorite item to buy in bulk is a giant box of oatmeal for around $7 at Costco.
  42. Make a price book. It takes a bit of work to put together a food price book but some people swear by this method of keeping track of prices on the food their family most commonly uses. This way you will be able to know for sure what a "good price" is on the food items you buy.
  43. Grow your own food. Obviously this isn't a quick fix to your hunger problems but if you have a patch of land and a bit of know how, the cost of buying a packet of seeds (around $1 on sale) can pay off handsomely at the end of the growing season.
  44. Use food up instead of letting it go bad (make pie out of squishy apples, bake banana bread out of over ripe bananas, chop the rotten spots off of vegetables and add them to stews, etc).  This keeps you from literally throwing away money.
  45. Write to food manufacturers. When I find a product I like, I have, in the past, written to the food company to rave about their product. Often they send me coupons, product samples, and the like just because I took the time to shot them off a quick letter or email.
  46. On the other hand, be sure to rant about a food product if you have just cause (this works when corresponding with food companies as well as at restaurants). Usually the company wants to make it right and will reward your efforts with free products, coupons, etc.
  47. Know where you can get the most "bang for your buck" in the food aisle. Eggs, rice, beans, peanut butter, want to spend your limited supply of cash on items that are reasonably healthy, reasonably cheap, and reasonably filling.
  48. Buy generic or store brands. Many people who have been used to just tossing (highly advertised) food in their cart may feel like generics and store brands are some how beneath them. Not true. Most items are exactly like the highly advertised products, only much cheaper (note, make sure store and generic brands are, in fact, cheaper than a name brand product which is on sale...sometimes the name brand product can actually be cheaper).
  49. Shop local. Try Farmer's Markets, especially at the end of the day, to get great prices on nutritious food.
  50. Take advantage of freebies. This site lists every restaurant that will give you a free meal/menu item on your birthday. Other places give out freebies on certain days (ie: Ben and Jerry's has a "free cone" day).
  51. Go to a fast food place and hit up their Dollar menu.  Obviously you don't want to do this all the time because, well, it isn't healthy, but it can be filling in a pinch.
  52. Keep a written list of the restaurant specials in your area.  I learned this from a homeless lady when I asked her where she eats each day.  On Mondays it's a local burger place with 79 cent burgers, on Tuesdays it's Popeye's two pieces of chicken for a dollar deal, on Wednesday's it's Del Taco for three tacos for $1.08, etc.
  53. "Potluck" with others. If each person brings one dish, you will all eat like kings.
  54. Scour the internet or library for ethnic food recipes (Asian, Indian, Mexican, etc). In most countries they don't eat like we do in America (ie: the notion that you need a slab of meat on your plate at every meal and a big hunk of carbs). Ethnic cooking tends to focus on meals you can feed a large family for cheap (ie: rice, beans, soups, etc).
  55. Take a multi-vitamin. A bottle of vitamins will cost around $10 for a month. This will help make up for any nutritional deficiencies you may have when eating so cheaply.
  56. Think attitude and presentation. My Depression-era grandmother could feed the family a simple plate of beans and rice and we would think we were feasting. Mostly it was her positive attitude ("look at the wonderful meal I cooked just for you") and the presentation (beautiful plates, multiple "courses" like we were eating in a fancy restaurant when we were actually eating bean soup, beans and tortillas, beans and hocks, etc).
  57. Look for cheaper alternatives. If you were used to eating T Bones steaks, find a much cheaper cut of beef and roast it for hours until it is tender. If you were used to getting skinless, boneless chicken breasts for dinner, buy a whole chicken on sale and use every part of it.
  58. Learn to barter. You can trade just about anything (ie: friend shoots a deer, you offer to butcher it for him and keep part of the animal) and with enough practice as well as contacts with other barterers, you could very well end up with much more than you started with.
  59. Learn to preserve food.  Freezing is a simple way to preserve food when you end up with an overabundance of something.  Canning, smoking, dehydrating, making jam, etc are other ways to preserve the harvest and have super cheap food for the future.
  60. Don't be afraid to try new things--whether it is approaching a free meal site, trying a super cheap (and unidentifiable) food at the Asian grocery store, or literally asking for help because you seriously need it--be brave and try something new.  You may end up richly rewarded.

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