As anyone who has shopped for groceries can attest, food is expensive. According to the USDA, the weekly grocery bill for a family of four on a “thrifty” budget is about $146.
For families that purchase higher priced items, including costlier cuts of meat and organic produce, the typical bill increases to about $289 per week.
This is a marked increase over the average bills of a decade ago, when a thrifty family could buy a week’s worth of groceries for $108, and the top range of shoppers spent about $200 per week.
While many families use some sort of cost-cutting measure to lower their grocery bill, such as using coupons, using a rewards credit card that gives cash back on grocery purchases, or eliminating certain items from the list entirely, there is another tactic that can cut the bill significantly while also allowing for healthier eating — and better tasting foods.
By making many popular convenience items at home instead of buying them, you cut the food bill and the amount of processed foods your family eats. If you aren’t sure where to start, consider starting with some of these homemade substitutions.
Dips, Spreads, and Dressings
The typical bottle of salad dressing costs an average of $2.50, with a per serving cost of about 30 cents. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? But check out your fridge. How many bottles of salad dressing are in there? If you are like many families, there are probably 4 to 5 bottles of different flavors, all of them half-full. Most commercially-prepared dressings are also full of preservatives, making your salad less healthy than it could be. Instead, whip up your own salad dressing; basic vinaigrette is simple and quick, but you can develop your own, more complex recipes.
The same principle applies to other dips and spreads. Why spend upwards of $3 on a container of hummus or salsa when you can mix up your own recipe using fresh ingredients? If you have a garden, nothing beats the taste of homemade salsa made from fresh tomatoes and peppers. You can even make your own homemade peanut butter with nothing but peanuts, oil, and salt. Try experimenting with recipes to find one that you like, and avoid the high prices of store-bought items.
Home cooks often face a common dilemma: A recipe calls for a particular spice, but you don’t want to spend $5 or more on a full container, which will most likely go unused after that one recipe. Spices are one of the most expensive items in the store, and prepared spice mixes also tend to contain some questionable ingredients. Check out the typical packet of taco seasoning, for example, and you will find that it’s full of salt and preservatives.
One way to trim the bill is to make your own versions of commonly used spice mixes. You’ll have to invest in the necessary spices (look for stores that sell them in bulk, allowing you to buy just what you need) but in just a few minutes you can create mixes for tacos, salad dressings, meat rubs, and more. Store your mixes in glass jars, and revel in how great your food tastes, and how much money you saved.
Trail mix is expensive, and let’s face it: You just want the chocolate anyway. Instead of spending a small fortune on a small bag of mix, create your own recipe that only contains what you want to eat. By purchasing the ingredients separately, the per-serving cost decreases significantly — and again, you get a healthier mix. In fact, many snack items can be easily made at home for less. Granola bars, vegetable chips (including potato chips), and even yogurt are simple enough for even the most hesitant home cook to make.
Stop wasting money on cleaning products that are mostly water, mixed with some toxic chemicals. Vinegar remains one of the most powerful cleaning agents on Earth, and you can use it on most surfaces; add some essential oils, many of which have natural antiviral and antibacterial properties, to make it smell better. Castile soap and baking soda are also inexpensive, non-toxic, and effective cleaning agents. Try mixing up your own cleaning wipes (soak paper towels in a solution of water, vinegar, and essential oils and store in a plastic container), laundry soap, or bathroom cleaner and save money while keeping your family and planet healthy.
Making your own products instead of buying them does require an investment of time, but in the long run you’ll save money and improve your health. Experiment with these substitutions, and see if you can find others that work for your family.