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The 8 Best Food Swaps To Save Money During Inflation

Lily Trahan  |  March 6, 2023

Yes, food is less affordable than it was a year ago, but there are swaps you can make to help lower the cost of your grocery bill.

Anyone who has been shopping for groceries or other life essentials lately knows that inflation is all too real. It’s been a slow leak to our spending power for months now, and stood at an average of 7.1% over the last year. Even the price of eggs — once an affordable kitchen staple — are now up by nearly 50% year over year, due to a number of factors including a rise in the cost of chicken feed and transportation. The impact to American households is that families everywhere are looking for ways to save, and even reconsidering where they should be grocery shopping. (Here’s a look at 7 cheap and quick things to eat for breakfast that aren’t eggs!) 

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Some of our favorite money-saving techniques should happen before you get to the store — these include going shopping with a list (so you don’t buy anything you don’t need) and stopping at the most affordable stores first. In other words, start at the Dollar Store, then move onto Aldi, then onto Walmart or Trader Joe’s. Whatever you haven’t been able to snag at a bargain, you can then grab at a regular grocery store or specialty store. The goal is that you’ll complete most of your shopping at a bargain, and end up saving a ton of money on the staples. 

But what about overall food swaps you can make every time you shop? Here’s a list of some of our favorites! 

Shop your pantry (instead of ordering takeout) 

Before you opt for the most effortless (yet also most expensive) option of ordering Seamless, take a look at what you have left in your pantry. For example, if you’ve got cans of beans, salad dressing, and pasta, then you’ve got pasta salad on hand. Or, if you’ve got canned tuna, chicken or salmon, you’ve got the main ingredient for a protein-filled salad or dip. If you’re unsure what you can make with what you have on hand, just Google the ingredients and find a recipe that includes them. You might need to buy nothing, or you might need to pick up just a few things that you’re missing. Waste less + Saving more = a budgeting win! 

Think about what’s actually worth buying organic 

Given the price of groceries these days, you may have already decided that this is not the time to buy organic at all, which is understandable. However, if buying organic is still a priority, consider a few things: First, produce that requires peeling is usually low in pesticides, so it’s okay to opt for standard produce in that case. This includes things like mangoes, oranges and bananas — and even potatoes if you know you won’t be eating the skin. However, with something like strawberries or grapes, it may be worth it to opt for organic since they are on the “dirty dozen” list for things that absorb or contain the most pesticides. Here’s a look at the dirty dozen, which The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has noted as having the most pesticide exposure, and the “clean 15” which you can feel better about buying conventionally-grown.  

Buy heads of lettuce instead of bagged salad 

A bag of pre-made salad may cost as much as $8.50 at Costco, but a head of lettuce can be $2-$3, depending on where you shop. If you combine your lettuce with other fresh and cheap produce items (like carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.), you’ll have more than triple the amount of food for less money overall… And YES in case you were wondering, this is also an excellent substitute for that $18 takeout salad from Chopt, Sweetgreen, or any other salad chains that you may love, but your wallet doesn’t. 

Buy frozen produce 

Frozen produce is just as healthy as the fresh kind and is usually as much as $2  cheaper, depending on what you get. For example, a bag of frozen bell peppers can last for ages in the freezer (you can’t say the same for the sad bell pepper in the back of your refrigerator door) and can elevate a stir-fry or pasta dish with very little effort. 

Try rotisserie chicken instead of a bucket of chicken 

A 12-piece bucket from KFC will run you $33.99, whereas a rotisserie chicken from Costco costs about $4.99. Even if you opted for two rotisserie chickens to feed a whole crew, that’s still more than $20 saved. All you have to do is cut it up yourself! (And baked chicken is always healthier than fried chicken, so you’re also saving on calories and fat!) 

Get your cheese grater and veggie slicer out of the drawer 

Yes, a bag of shredded cheese may be very convenient, but it also costs $5.00, compared to an 8-ounce block of cheese that’s usually $3 or $4. Every time you grate your own, you’re saving a dollar or more. (Plus, we think freshly-grated cheese just tastes better!) 

But cheese isn’t the only place that we pay for convenience — similar to how shredded cheese will cost more than a block, shredded carrots will also cost more than bagged carrots — a lot more. In fact, two pounds of carrots will cost an average of $6 less than pre-cut carrots. Yes, it will take you a few minutes to chop or shred as you’re meal prepping, but we think the cost savings are totally worth it. 

Take advantage of bulk bins

Instead of immediately tossing bagged nuts or cans of beans into your cart, take a spin past the bulk bins at your favorite grocery store first. Usually, the bulk bins are located near produce, and they contain things like raw or roasted nuts, dried beans, peas or lentils, and dried fruits. For example, a pound of beans at Sprouts Market costs $2.29, which equates to 3-4 cans of beans — and those cans are $1.39. So, by shopping the bulk bins, you’re saving more, and you’re getting more for your money. 

Make your coffee at home 

We know, we know. Personal finance experts have been harping on the cost of your morning latte since morning lattes were a thing. And in truth, giving up your favorite coffee from your favorite barista isn’t something that’s miraculously going to give you a down payment on a house in a few years. In other words, if you get joy from your morning cup of joe, then continue to enjoy it — just acknowledge that money is a limited resource, and we all have to choose how we want to use it. With that in mind, here’s a little math: A 25.9 oz container of Folgers coffee costs around $12, and will give you about 240 cups of coffee, which breaks down to about 5 cents per cup. Meanwhile, a tall Starbucks coffee averages around $3. So, over the course of 240 days, you’d spend $12 for the Folgers, but $720 for the Starbucks. We’d argue that these numbers advocate for having Starbucks as a special weekly treat as opposed to a daily addiction! 

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