Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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May 29 2009

99 Ways to Save Money on Food

By Mark Sisson
92 Comments

From time to time I hear from Primal Blueprinters that the cost of the PB diet can be challenging. What with the cost of grass-fed/finished beef, wild caught fish and organic produce things can add up pretty quickly, they say. Apart from the fact that you’ll likely end up saving money in the long run (it’s an invest in your healthy – think no monthly medication bills and doctor visits) there are numerous ways to pinch pennies, cut corners and otherwise follow the PB diet on the cheap without compromises.

I’ve published numerous articles (How to Eat Healthy and Save Money, The Depression Diet, Healthy Eating on a Budget and many others) on the topic of eating 100% Primal without breaking the bank. It turns out that it isn’t nearly as difficult as it might seem at face value. In fact with a little common sense and forethought it is pretty easy.

Click through to view my list of 99 ways to save money on food.

I’ve simply listed the various tactics one could take to save money on food assuming that the reasons are self apparent. If any clarification is needed hit me up with a comment in the boards!

How to Shop

1. Shop at Farmers’ markets

2. BuyThrift Cuts

3. Buy off-label/store brands

4. Negotiate at the Farmers’ market

5. Shop at a warehouse club for select food items

6. Buy local

7. When on sale, stock up

8. Buy in bulk

9. Buy frozen veggies

10. Buy canned veggies

11. Use coupons

12. Shop the perimeter. Don’t buy processed/branded food items.

13. Double coupons

14. Check with grocery store to see if they accept expired coupons

15. Don’t buy things just because they are cheap. If you don’t end up using it no matter how cheap it was it’s lost money.

16. Put “blinders” on while in the checkout aisle. Avoid making last minute impulse buys.

17. Check the unit price on grocery store price tags

18. Bring your own bags. Some grocery stores will give you cash back for using your own.

19. Check your receipt. Even computers make mistakes.

20. Comparison shop – Buy from the cheapest grocery store (Whole Foods is expensive)

21. Use a grocery store membership card

22. Don’t shop hungry

23. Make a shopping list and stick to it

24. Only buy veggies the day you are going to use them to avoid spoilage/waste

25. Buy from ethnic food stores

26. Have a budget and stick with it

27. Shop at roadside markets

28. Shop alone

29. Buy in-season

30. Check expiration dates before buying

31. Minimize travel time to grocery store. Fewer trips and staying local means less gas spent.

32. Only buy organics when it makes sense

33. Do all your grocery shopping on one day of the week, and don’t spend money on food the rest of the week, no matter what.

34. Give yourself a per-day rate. $12/day? $8/day? $5/day? Once you’ve spent that much on food, you can’t spend anymore until the next day.

35. Pay with cash. People tend to spend less when they pay with cash.

36. Don’t be tricked by the “5 for $5.” Most grocery stores give the discounted price even if you buy a single item unless the tag specifies otherwise.

37. Ask for a rain check if the store is out of the sale item

38. Check for purchase limits

39. Check for sale offer requirements (need to buy 2 to get deal)

40. Get cash back rewards from your credit card company

Prepare Your Own Food

41. Prepare your own food. Clean and chop your own greens instead of buying pre-packaged. Grate your own cheese. Dice your own veggies. Make your own ice. Food manufacturers charge a premium for convenience.

42. Learn to cook

43. Make your own baby food

44. Reuse coffee grounds

45. Make your own snacks (jerky, energy bars, dried fruit, nut snacks)

46. Keep meals simple

47. Pack your lunch for work

48. Make your own coffee

49. Find cheap recipes and use them often

50. Use cheap ingredients to spice up a meal

Dining Out

51. Don’t dine out (see #42)

52. If you must dine out and you have children use this iPhone app: KidsEatFree

53. If you eat out, share a dish. Many restaurants serve enough food for two people.

54. Don’t buy appetizers, desserts, or drinks at a restaurant

55. Avoid Starbucks at all costs

56. For fine dining, go during lunch. Many four star restaurants have separate lunch and a dinner menus. The dishes are all the same, it’s just a change in price.

57. Don’t pay for other peoples’ food. If the server won’t split the check, don’t be the person to be paid back later. We all know how well that works out.

58. 1 Beer at an L.A. Bar = 24 beers from the Liquormart = 48 generic cans of vegetables. Just stand around with a glass of water in your hand and pretend to be drunk.

Odds and Ends

59. Build your own garden and grow your own food

60. Join a CSA

61. Know how long foods last refrigerated/frozen

62. Don’t be wasteful. Eat your leftovers.

63. Hunt for dinner

64. Eat the entire animal

65. And that includes inexpensive organ meats

66. Ditch specialty beverages and stick with water

67. Be adventurous. Try new things (the things that are cheaper).

68. Cowpool

69. Ditch alcohol

70. Pick public fruit

71. Eat less. Eat slower and practice portion control.

72. Experiment with Intermittent Fasting

73. Drink tap water instead of bottled water

74. Use the power of Google to find recipes for old pantry and freezer food items

75. Give up coffee

76. Eat calorie dense foods

77. Be prepared. Primalize your pantry and fridge, and keep it well stocked so you don’t find yourself tempted to order delivery.

78. Start your own farm

79. Recycle cans and bottles

80. Visit relatives. Most relatives offer food.

81. Learn to fish. This has worked for thousands of years.

82. Breastfeed your children

83. If it is bite sized and you have to unwrap it, it’s probably not worth buying.

84. 90% of all meals can be prepared with a knife, a pan, and a flame. Don’t buy the de-crusting 5 minute magic grill cheeser. Don’t buy the juicer. And don’t, DON’T buy the slap chop.

85. Let the kids help with dinner. Don’t let them help with the grocery shopping.

86. The value meal has no value. Avoid this junk food at all costs.

87. Antioxidant juice? No. Try an antioxidant multivitamin supplement: orders of magnitude stronger, half as expensive, and 0 grams of sugar.

88. Substitute meat for eggs in some meals

89. Raid your great grandma’s recipe book. She cooked during the Great Depression. She knows the ropes.

Just for Fun

(because coming up with 99 ways to save money on food is much more difficult than saving money on food)

90. Stock up on free condiments from fast food joints, truck stops, cafeterias, and yes, churches.

91. Go to funerals. There’s always food at funerals.

92. Sign up to be on email lists for churches, support groups, political causes, and enthusiast clubs. Social groups often arrange get-togethers with free food to entice people to show up.

93. Abuse buffets

94. Want cheap eggs? Buy a chicken. You’ll be surprised at how many they can pop out.

95. Dumpster dive. Many grocery stores have a policy of throwing out certain foods after a certain number of days. Befriend your grocer, and ask him/her to set aside the toss-outs for you.

96. Try Responsibly Slim (shameless plug ;)). Where else can you get a well-rounded, delicious, quick and easy meal replacement for a buck and change?

97. Make like Ghandi and fast for a cause

98. Eat insects for breakfast

99. Stray cats. (What? Meat is meat. Right?)

Can you come up with number 100? Share you thoughts on ways to save money on food in the comment board.

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92 thoughts on “99 Ways to Save Money on Food”

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  1. #100 DO buy a Vitamix – green smoothies are fabulous on-the-go breakfasts and fill you up for hours. You can also make SOUP in them, no stove required. Find deals on used ones on Ebay – they last forever.

  2. Andrea- great idea–or get a KTec! I cannot live without mine. Both blenders are expensive but well worth it. They will pay for themselves over time.
    Also, I would add “plan your meals” to this list. This hepls trememdously. I do ours on a weekly basis. I still spend a ton of money on food, though 😉

  3. #101 Learn about your local plants. I’m amazed at how many “weeds” are edible and nutritious. Dandelions, for example, make great salads. So long, as you’re not applying chemicals on your lawn.

    1. Watch out for dandelions! The French don’t call them pis-en-lit for fun, they are strongly diuretic

      Make damn sure you know what you are picking, some toxic things look very similar to some tasty things, and many just taste like crap if you picked the wrong one.

    2. I regularly pick wild asparagus, rocket and other salad greens (I find these all withinthe city boundaries of Nice ;)) as well as lots of wild fruits. I am lucky to have a small urban veggie garden with my apartment too

  4. Buy coconuts. 1600 calories for $1.30 each (at Cub foods in MN at least).

    1. ??? coconuts in honolulu are 3.99. incredible. but a can of coconut milk is still a dollar.

    1. Ha! No of course not. Sunday was meant to illustrate just any random day during the week. Edited…

      1. I should have put some sort of smiley or winky face after my comment/question. I hope it didn’t come off angry or dumb. Here’s one to make up for it – 🙂

  5. While buying store brands can save money, realize that it is in general riskier than buying name brands. It’s usually manufactured by a much larger operation, with heightened concerns about the bottom line. Which breeds shortcuts. And e. Coli.

    1. Not necessarily. Often store brands and name brands are produced in exactly the same place, and the only difference is the branding. Here in NZ for example, the most expensive, but probably worth it for really genuine nutrition brand of breakfast cereal also makes store brand muesli for our biggest chain of supermarkets (well 3 out of 5 of them), they publish a little newsletter with interesting information on it in their cereal boxes and I remember them writing about how they were surprised at the quite rigorous standards the store wanted their muesli. When you take out the cost of advertising, products are a lot cheaper.

    2. #44 re-use coffee grounds? ew! The only way I re-use my coffee grounds is in the compost for the garden!

      Buy canned veggies- but be aware of potential BPA plastic lined cans.

      HEB in Texas makes their own store brand natural and organic food. REALLY good and affordable.

  6. I’ve often wondered how much financial sense a family garden actually makes. Most people don’t can their harvest, so does actually end up saving money?

    1. Some folks around here sell their excess, or give it away in exchange for someone else’s excess at a different time

      Best to grow more expensive type things, more bang per buck, but even if you don’t the flavour and nutritional content is usually superior

    2. I can or freeze my excess, if there is any. Usually only the tomatoes… I also make my own pasta sauce, picante sauce, pepper and onion relish- I grow specific things for “expensive” condiments my family enjoys.

  7. @ Greg- I probably come out about even with my garden, however the entire process of growing the garden is a great experience and a great learning opportunity for kids- give them responsibilities, showing natural consequences of not keeping up on their responsibilities, etc…

  8. #55: we have a local roastery & they used to have stickers that read “friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks”
    #100: I don’t know if they have it in every state, but here in Colo there is something known as “Share”. You pay so much per unit & do 4hrs of community service per month per unit. Sometimes there was stuff I wouldn’t eat in the package, so I would give it to someone who would. There was no income requirements and it was a great way to get people to give to their community!

  9. 24. Only buy veggies the day you are going to use them to avoid spoilage/waste

    33. Do all your grocery shopping on Sunday, and don’t spend money on food the rest of the week , no matter what.

    Huh? Which is it? And why waste money on gas going out every single day to buy produce when you can buy enough for several days, store it wisely and get the most out of it?

    1. Yes, of course in some cases you are going to pick one or the other. Which one works for you personally? If you are the sort of person that has produce spoiling all the time then go with 24. If you find yourself visiting the store every day because you never plan ahead maybe give 33 a shot.

      Again, all tips aren’t entirely inclusive. You can’t give up coffee AND reuse coffee grounds.

      And not every tip will be used by everyone. I imagine very few will actually grow their own food, but for those that have the time and resources it might be a good tactic.

      So pick and choose those that work for you.

  10. #101: Get a job in a restaurant! How could I forget that? I work part-time in one (or more) & I get a shift meal whenever I work. I also get leftovers & can buy stuff wholesale through my employer. Last week we were closed so I got lots of vegetables to take home.
    & #102: We have a local produce farmer who offers her fields to the community for clearing at the end of the season. You can take whatever you can dig up & haul away. I’ve loaded up on beets, lettuces, chard & more.

  11. Thanks Mark! This article was exactly what I needed right now!

  12. “91. Go to funerals. There’s always food at funerals.”

    Pure brilliancy

  13. I loved this post! In response to number 84… while I’m all set with a good set of knives, many people need convenience contraptions or else they won’t prepare vegetables at all. Kind of unfortunate, but a reality for some.

    And I’m in on the Vita-Mix thing, too. I love making raw green soups (I actually just did a post about it on my blog). Just take some kale, zucchini, asparagus, herbs and spices, and blend!

  14. 100: befriend your local plastic surgeon and grant yourself access to free lard.

  15. Just went in with 2 other families and bought 1/2 of a locally raised grass-feed bison! It works out to less than $5/lb including cutting and wrapping to our specs! Can’t wait to get my grill on!

    1. Actually, this can be quite lucrative where I live. There are quite a few deer & elk carcasses, even moose from time to time. I believe one has to have a hunter’s safety card & be on a list w/hwy patrol.
      hmmm, local bison; I’m going to have to research that one…
      Serial Sinner: you’re sick-n-twisted! I Love that!

  16. Apparantly in Australia (I think), there is some place which slogan reads: “You kill it, we grill it”.

    They are referring to roadkill, and they grill it for free!

  17. Stray dogs have much more meat than stray cats, and there are plenty of spicy Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, and Chinese recipes to turn that unwanted pooch into a tasty meal.

  18. 93. Abuse buffets
    Wear a jacket to buffets … a jacket with deep pockets.

  19. # 99 – not funny Mark! I have stray cat (now answers to the name Lilly) and she could be the primal cat poster girl for you – no cat kibble or tinned food for her – she has her raw organic organ meats, chicken necks and the scraps of meat and fat from whatever I am cooking for dinner.

    I have the opportunity through my work to purchase beef at cost price. The meat quality ranges from cheaper roasting and corned beef pieces to 7/8 MBS Wagyu so it caters for all budgets and it also grass-fed and hormone free!

  20. Cooking times are worth looking at, I have a whole bunch of things that take minutes and minimal preparation. One “instant meal” mother bought herself took 50 minutes to cook *after* the oven had booted up and reached operating temperature. We could have cooked, eaten and done the washing up in that time, not to mention all that expensive gas turning into CO2.

    Similarly I favour stuff that cooks in one or two pans over things that take masses of time and utensils to prepare.

  21. @viranth;re the roadkill cafe, its in Darwin and its an Australian sense of humour thing and not to be taken literally, they grill local game, croc, emu, buffalo, roo etc

  22. At what point in the life cycle of the coffee grounds do you reuse them? Are they still wet from the first round of coffee making?

    For me, fridge storage space was what kept me from buying so many leafy greens at once. But then I realized if a family just bites the bullet and EATS a head of lettuce in a day, there is no storage problem! Just like the “There is no spoon” kid from “The Matrix” says…

  23. We just went halfsies with my sister-in-law on a local 1/4 (about 200 lbs) grass-fed cow. It was only $3.20 a pound! That’s cheaper than A LOT of the same cuts at the market, and definitely cheaper than all the “natural” beef at the market.

    Also, am trying a square foot garden this year. It’s supposed to yield lots more food in a whole lot less space. It was a chunk of money to get started as it’s a raised bed type of thing with a certain soil mix, but we’ll be able to use the beds year after year adding only a bit of compost as needed, which of course, we will make ourselves.

    On another note, I make my own laundry detergent and cleaning products using vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, etc. That saves money in our budget to put toward better quality food.

    1. could you post your “recipe” for your cleaning product please? 🙂

  24. Great read, thanks lots of hints. I really want to start my own garden, but each year something comes up , so I can not look after it.

  25. Wow impressive list. Really a lot of ideas to save money on foods. Buying in bulk is a great idea, some food items can be stored for quite a long time and if you’re getting cheaper prices for bulk purchase, why not go for it. Anyway, you gonna use those food items sooner or later.

    Thanks for sharing.

  26. The ethnic food stores is a great suggestion, that’s a favorite in my household as the goods are much more plentiful and way cheaper. Also opens up the doors to many new dishes and spices!

  27. #100 – talk to the guy behind the meat counter. Find out day or days they mark down their meats. I only see these marked down packages early in the morning. They are a great buy and go quick. Yes, ethnic food store…I once saw a great buy on baby bok choy. Here in Asheville, Warren Wilson College grows their own beef and sells sides; it is expensive but 2 or 3 families could go in together. We also have terrific local farmers and growers of all things organic. =^.^=

  28. #100 p.s. Hey, I almost forgot…talking about weeds. Purslane makes a fantastic raw salad and, believe it or not, it has omega 3’s. Check it out folks.

  29. we go in with 3 other people to share a cow about once every 6 months, and it comes out to about 2.35 per pound for every cut…its a great deal and its organic, grass fed, and lasts forever!

  30. Tip#4 Negotiate at farmers market. To those people I respond with tip # 78 start your own farm. Until you have actually counted the cost of growing fruits and veggies do not negotiate.

  31. Shop after you had lunch.

    AND don’t care about all the others. Live a relaxing life, try new things when you shop, spend few quids more everymonth to relax yourself. Rent, taxes, car, plasmas are the very expensive things. If you spend just 30 $ more everymonth for the shopping because you want to enjoy life more, what’s wrong?

  32. 100 – Rotate having dinner at friends houses. My neighbour and I do dinner at each other’s places once or twice a week since we are both small families. All we really need to do is throw on an extra side dish or maybe one more piece of meat. Instead of having leftovers, a price of a meal has been saved for one family and what the other has spent for the bit of extra is well saved when it’s the other neighbour’s turn.

  33. Buy small amounts of bulk spices instead of a big ‘ol jar. I find I spend 10-20 cents for enough spice to do a recipe once or twice. Before, I’d buy a big jar, maybe never use it again (marjoram??), or when I did go to use it 3 months later, it had lost it’s flavor.

  34. Get a job at a restaurant. Usually they give you free meal when you work, and a generous discount the rest of the time. I get free dinner four nights a week!

  35. Buy spices and condiments in bulk and make your own bread. You can make gourmet breads for really cheap!

  36. #100. if you cook something, cook a LOT of it, and freeze half of it in individually-sized portions (chinese take-out containers work very well for this). eat within the next month or two.

    it’s just me and my husband here in our home, so i make a HUGE tray of lasagna and freeze about half. we have leftovers for the week and for the next two months. also works well with spaghetti bakes, soups, etc.

  37. Comment on #55:

    Actually for avoiding Starbucks at all costs, if you ask for a large water at the counter you get it for free. I have my friends “buy” me large waters all the time.

    Their water is also filtered since they use it for their coffee.

    Just sayin.

  38. homemade cleaning product recipes….
    For a general cleaning spray I mix even amounts of water and white vinegar, adding a few drops of lavendar oil to neutralize the vinegar smell.

    If there are any really stubborn spots (ie: dried food on the stove) I sprinkle baking soda on the surface, then spray it with the cleaning spray, wait a few minutes & it wipes right off.

    For toilet bowels sprinkle a generous amount of borax around the bowl and spray the cleaning spray on top of that. let sit for 15min and flush (scrub if necessary).

  39. My family is keeping a Grocery Diary this month and recording what we buy, what we what we spend and what we eat for an entire month. I’m recording all of the information (including recipes) on my website in the hopes that I can help other people save money on their grocery bill.

    http://www.homejobsformom.com/grocerydiary

  40. Buy green veggie saver bags, they double the life of veggies and fruits.

  41. i love finding different ways to save time and energy.i have bought groceries once a month for 45 yrs. so a person has to be careful and i have delicious foods cheaply. my way of storing romaine lettuce works well . every few days i will turn the plastic bag inside out and i have it to last sometimes the whole month when it’s down to the last leaves.

  42. On item #6, buying local is often good for the environment and your health as well. It helps reduce emissions from delivery trucks and has local pollens, materials and similar reducing allergens. Good ideas.

  43. Ha ! Here’s one for you. “GO PRIMAL!”
    Our family food bill has actually gone down after I imposed primal law (LOL) It was amazing how much $$ we were spending on cereals and bread products – and we were not a processed ready-to- eat-food family in teh first place – just too much grain and sugar. Real food wins.

  44. I laugh so much with the last options of saving money. I laughed more becouse I already have practiced some of them ; church, religion celebrations, bufe. 🙂 Thank you Mark !

  45. I don’t know if anyone has already said this but a good way to get cheap organic beef is to buy a whole or half cow right from the farmer or you can even go to an auction they have auctions once a month where I live. The cow may not be usda certified organic but our cows are only fed hay they never get hormones. It ends up costing the same as the cheap beef in the store and some times the butcher is just down the road from the auction :)I live in a great place with lots of resources for almost free and cheap organic food.

  46. As an organic farmer, I do not recommend going to farmers market and talking a farmer down on price. We work hard for our product and to haggle us on price is disrespectful. Go volunteer on a farm and you will usually be given vegetables!

  47. Try windowfarming if you dont have a garden it is perfect!
    You can make it yourself and save money, harvest fresh strawberries, chilis etc in your kitchen. Also, here in denmark it is very popular to grow potatoes and other root-veggies in pots where you can open the pot at the bottom (like a zipper)
    http://www.windowfarms.org/buildyourown
    Heres how you can build a vindowfarm 🙂

  48. Buying local when you live in a rural area doesn’t help reduce prices 🙁 Govt regulations protect the corps not allowing small grocers to provide cheap product. Racketeering 101

  49. In the winter up North grow your own mushrooms. Very easy to do. You don’t need a kit. All you need is instructions from You Tube, one mushroom, a piece of paper, and those coffee grounds everyone is recycling. Also alot of salad greens and herbs can be grown on a window sill. Go to a 99 cent store at the end of the growing season and pick up seeds CHEAP!!

  50. My biggest tip for saving money while eating primal/paleo: ditch the dessert. Have seconds if you’re still hungry. Those grain-free treats are made of nuts, nuts, and more NUTS, and I don’t know if there’s any type of food more expensive than nuts, except for “superfoods”, but those don’t count.

  51. How about the easiest, make your own wine/ beer, in one batch i save 250 dollars.

  52. Hi – I buy butter on special and freeze it. Works just as well and can save heaps at the time.