Would you spend your last discretionary dollar on a delicious meal at one of the best ethnic restaurants in town?
Would you happily splurge on a premium cut of beef or artisanal cheese for your kitchen?
If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, you qualify as a foodie.
Whether they embrace the label or not, these passionate food lovers are willing to pay for quality, freshness and authenticity.
But fine dining doesn’t always have to be expensive. There are ways to be a frugal foodie. Here’s how to eat well for less.
1. Plan your meals
You may envy those TV celebrity chefs who can open up their well-appointed refrigerators and pantries and whip up gourmet meals on the spot. But if you’re on a budget, you may want to forgo some of that spontaneity and plan your meals.
“If you buy too many grocery items and you don’t meal plan, you’re going to end up wasting food,” says consumer expert Andrea Woroch.
Woroch likes an online meal-planning service called The Fresh 20, which creates weekly meals using 20 seasonal ingredients available in your area. An annual plan costs $65, while a 3-month subscription is $24 and a 1-month subscription is $10.
2. Swap out a pricey ingredient
Instead of buying beef tenderloin tips for around $11 per pound, how about a nice T-bone steak for a savings of $3.50 per pound?
As an avid cook, Amy Desrosiers is always looking for affordable alternatives to some of the high-end ingredients in her favorite recipes.
“I have substituted salami for prosciutto in appetizers,” says Desrosiers, who posts saving tips and recipes on her blogs, Savvy Saving Couple and Sizzling Eats. “I have also substituted garlic-infused olive oil for truffle oil on garlic parmesan fries.”
3. Look for near-expiration sales
There’s usually some wiggle room in the stamped “sell by” dates on grocery items, and stores will often have deep markdowns when the deadline is near. Meats discounted for their impending expiration dates may be grouped together in a section called the “Manager’s Special,” Woroch notes.
Desrosiers saves on fancy cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano by waiting until they are close to the end of their shelf life to buy them. She’ll plan meals right away around the most perishable soft cheeses, but often freezes harder types such as Parmesan and cheddar. If you follow suit, be sure to grate the cheese first. Desrosiers says cheese will last about 3 months in the freezer.
4. Source outside the supermarket
Woroch says you can sometimes save as much as 95% off name-brand spices at the supermarket if you shop for these flavor-makers at an ethnic market in your area. If you need fresh herbs, your weekly farmers market may sell them for less than those packaged bunches in the grocery produce section.
Finally, Woroch advises, don’t turn up your foodie nose at the big-box stores if you’re looking to save money on kitchen staples.
“They often have very good prices on basic ingredients, like eggs and milk,” Woroch says.