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31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Don’t Waste

“Waste not, want not.” We’ve all heard the phrase, but are we following it? Purposing to not waste food is a simple thing, but it can make a big difference in our grocery budget. Here are a few ideas for eliminating waste:

1. Make the Most of What You Have

Back when my husband was in law school, we often only had $17 to $20 to spend on groceries for an entire week (all 21 meals). I quickly learned that creativity was a poor cook’s best friend.

I usually stocked up on mark-downs, loss-leaders and the rock-bottom deals and then concocted the best menu I could based upon these. I rarely ever followed a recipe exactly as written, because we usually didn’t have all the ingredients and couldn’t afford to buy them. But I discovered you don’t always have to follow a recipe perfectly in order to get a fabulous end result!

AllRecipes is a great resource if you’re working with an odd assortment of ingredients. You can plug in what ingredients you have and don’t have and it will pull up recipes you can make. You also can find lots of great substitution ideas online, such as at these sites: Emergency Kitchen Substitutions and Ingredient Substitutions.

2. Repurpose Leftovers

Instead of pitching those leftover mashed potatoes or vegetables, why not repurpose them? Once again, AllRecipes is a great resource. There are also some excellent ideas in these articles: How to Turn Leftovers Into Scrumptious Meals, Creative Uses for Leftovers and Leftover Recipe Ideas.

3. Use Up the Last of the Bottle

My mom taught me never to throw out a bottle of anything unless you’ve used up the last drop. When the bottle of ketchup or salad dressing or laundry detergent is almost empty, add some water, put the lid back on, and shake it up to get the last remains cleaned out of the bottle and stretch it just a wee bit longer. It’s a small little thing, but the little things can add up to make significant differences.

4. Use Half the Recommended Amount

Did you know that you can get by with using a whole lot less than the recommended amount of shampoo, laundry detergent and so forth? Challenge yourself to try it and see how little you can get by with using without noticing any difference.

Want to do something really radical and inexpensive? Try the No Shampoo Experiment. I’ve not gotten that brave yet, but I have friends who have done it with success.

Put a rubber band around the neck of pump-style soap dispensers to limit the amount of soap dispensed per pump. — 40 Practical Tips for an Ordinary Rubber Band

What simple things have you implemented in your home to eliminate waste? I’d love to hear your ideas to possibly try!

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  • Megan says:

    Here is the recipe I use for laundry soap. Since we have been using it (about 2 years now) we have stopped using fabric softener and I am still on my first boxes of borax and washing soda. I have a top load washer but a friend uses it with her front loader and it works fine for her.
    1/2 bar castile soap
    1/2 cup washing soda
    1/2 cup borax

    grate the soap and put it in a sauce pan. Add 6 cups water and heat until the soap melts
    add the washing soda and the borax and stir until it is dissolved. Remove from heat. Pour 4 cups hot water into the bucket. Now add your soap mixture and stir. Now add 1 gallon plus 6 cups of water and stir. Let the soap sit for about 24 hours and it will gel. Use 1/2 cup per load.

  • Margery says:

    I make homemade frozen dinners whenever we have leftovers (lasagna, chicken & rice, stir fry, etc.) I put the food in a tupperware container in the freezer. Then my husband can just pull one out of the freezer when he goes to work. He fills in with sandwiches, too.

  • Daisy says:

    Spotted bananas get made into banana bread early in the morning (so I don’t heat up the house) and fruit that isn’t being eaten up as fast as they’re turning always get put into smoothies. Somehow they’re more excited about drinking a peach smoothie than just eating a peach.

    • Christy says:

      @Daisy, I make a lot of banana bread that way too! You can also peel the banana, freeze it and throw it in a smoothie later!

      • Beth B says:


        I don’t even bother peeling. I put the banana, peel and all in the freezer. I don’t even have to put it in a bag, the peel keeps it nice. To use it in a recipe, I microwave it for about 15-30 seconds and cut a slit on the side. Works great.

  • meegan says:

    There’s a ton of homemade recipe substitutions in the book Miserly Moms by Jonni McCoy and some ideas to cut back on other expenses like going to the dentist. You can get it through to avoid paying full price.

  • Lisette says:

    I bought an inexpensive olive oil bottle and filled it with about half water half dish soap for hand washing dishes. The metal spout really keeps you from using more dish soap than you need! I’ve been using the same 24 oz bottle of dish soap for nearly 2 years. AND, it looks pretty sitting next to my sink! Bonus!

  • Rachael says:

    Unless they get pooped in, I reuse swim diapers. I turn them inside out and throw them in the washer with the rest of the clothes and then hang them to dry. I usually get about 5 uses out of 1 diaper, so one pack can last us all summer!

    • Leah says:

      @Rachael, I use iPlay swim trunks, which have a built in diaper, so I’ve never had to buy swim dipes. I ordered a “mixed bag” (basically a random print from last season) for only $7 online. I’ve also seen them at consignment shops and discount stores like “Tuesday Mornings” for cheap. Definitely a great investment (besides, most trunks alone cost more than $7!!).

  • Rhonda says:

    My father always said : “watch your pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves.

    I use only clear containers for fridge leftovers. That way I can see what I have in the fridge and don’t forget about them.

    I buy clothes for my sons at garage sales for sizes years ahead when I see them for cheap (esp. jeans, shoes, coats, and dress clothes). I don’t remember buying anything new for them, except socks, and training pants. It has cut our clothing budget to $20 month for a family of 4.

  • Nora Laughlin says:

    I’ve gone shampoo free many times. I like to alternate by doing the baking soda for a few weeks then shampooing. It works very well, but it takes a bit of experimenting to find the right amount to use for your hair. If you have an itchy scalp baking soda works wonders.

  • Tabatha says:

    Ok so I’ll try it here! Good grief…3 times now and it still won’t post the reply to the comment! Once again if you click on my name it will take you to my blog where I have a load of household recipes among other things!
    Window wash: 1 cup rubbing alcohol, 1 cup water, and 1 tablespoon white vinegar. Works better than Windex!
    Dishwashing detergent: 1 cup borax, 1 cup baking soda, 1 cup conventional powder; mix together and then use 1 tablespoon or so with every load. I buy the smallest box of Walmart brand powder and it lasts me 3-4 months by doing this.

  • Lindsey says:

    I love the rubber band trick! I’ll have to do that today. 🙂

    I cut ground hamburger with cheaper ingredients to make it go further. Example – lean ground hamburger was on sale for 1.77 per pound when you buy 5 lbs. Bought 5 lbs. total – $9. Mixed with quite a bit of oatmeal (I like black beans, mushrooms, mmm, there are others as well), eggs, water, and seasoning. Cooked that and divided into 7 – 1 lb containers. Used washed out 16oz butter/sour cream/cottage cheese containers. I defrost and heat up the frozen 1 lb hamburger for meals like tacos, hamburger helper, spagetti, sloppy joes, etc. $9 got me a total of 7 lbs – that’s $1.28 a lb for good hamburger!!

    Love all of these money saving ideas!

    • Janie says:


      Great tip, thank you! I’d never considered mixing beans or oatmeal into the ground beef crumbles or burgers (only ever done that with meatloaf). We buy pricey grassfed beef straight from a rancher, too, so this is a wonderful way to stretch the good stuff.

  • Lindsey says:

    Washing windows – I just use a spray bottle with water and wipe with microfiber cloth. Cheap and natural – my kids can wash windows!!

  • When I get junk mail that only has printing on one side and is still in pretty good shape, I use it as printer paper for unimportant documents or coupons. Just make sure there isn’t any personal information on the printed side!

  • James says:

    i have never seen the rubber band trick but absolutely love it, this right out of a page in my book.

  • Rebecca says:

    On the rare occasions that we buy a loaf of bread, we keep it in the refrigerator to make it last longer.

    We put our Enlish muffins in the freezer and only take out what we need.

    When I get to the to the end of my liquid laundry soap and I can’t drip out any more, I add some warm water, shake it up and then I add it to a sink of water. It works great for washing dishes or cleaning the kitchen or add to a bucket and wash outside windows and outside toys.

    I use a spray bottle of water with a little vinegar to wash my inside windows, mirrors and glass.

    I also use vinegar to put in the dishwasher to make my glassware sparkle.

  • Lisa says:

    Plan menus–shop the ads [they’re all online now] and learn to cook!

    I save money by making 10 gallons of laundry soap at a time and use white vinegar in the rinse and in the dishwasher rinse. If you pay for water you may want to put a brick in the toilet tank and use the “middle” setting on your washer, too.

  • Meredith says:

    It may not seem like I save money on a few of these but here are ways we’ve cut back:

    Stop wearing a full line of makeup. Nix base makeup and keep a nice powder on hand. Keep a good lipstick or gloss and some mascara. Use them only for special occasions. As a stay at home mom, that’s only about a time every few months. Stop saying you need makeup. You DONT.

    Go to the grocery store often…if you live by it that is. I live just a mere mile from our market. I go and buy small amounts of produce every two or three days. If I do one big bulky trip, too much spoils. One month I
    lost more in produce than I used in gas.

    Live like an Oregonian. I live in sc now but when I lived in the ne, we saved energy by opening up the windows and night. This let’s in the cool air. Close up during the day. You’ll be shocked as to what this does to your electric bill.

    Don’t be afraid of bad produce. If something has just been merely bruised or starting to rot (not deep with mold) you can still use it. Most of the time the good portion left on the produce is in the ripe stage. Not to mention you can get some terrific jams and sauces out of these.

  • We raise pigs! We have absolutely ZERO food waste! All scraps, peelings, cores, leftovers….go to the pigs. In 6 months we take the pig to the butcher and end up with over a hundred pounds in healthy, all-natural pork that tastes out of this world delicious! A great way to turn food scraps into more food…

  • The most important thing I do is plate up our family dinner. I used to let the kids do it themselves and they would eat all the meat and potatoes and no salad. I also hold back a little of what we have. Say we have pot roast I keep a portion then make lots of soup with veggies I have saved in the freezer from the ends of prep work.

    We also reuse composition notebooks. I cannot tell you how many times the kids came home from school at the end of the year and only 1 or 2 pages are used.

    Also, I lived in Hawai’i for several years and I learned a great way to handle leftovers. Fried rice. Everything can go in fried rice and it is perfect for breakfast. Here is a simple recipe:

    3 cups cooked rice(any kind)
    3 tablespoons onion
    2 tablespoons soy sauce
    2 eggs.

    I cook the onions in butter until translucent, add in the rest of the ingredients, stir thoroughly, then toss in my leftovers which might include:

    -pot roast
    -carrots or any veggie
    -spam(I did live in Hawai’i=).

  • Amy says:

    I did the shampoo-free thing for a year or so and loved it! The first month was awkward, but after that it was great. I plan on starting again after I finish up my current bottle of shampoo:)

  • Lisa says:

    Over-the-counter medicines, compare for generics. Ex. Tylenol is acetaminophen, Motrin is ibuprofen, Benadryl is diphenhydramine. Tylenol PM is acetaminophen + diphenhydramine(Benadryl). If you are unsure and don’t want to make a mistake ask the pharmacist to help you. Its the same with Claratin and Zyrtec. Both have generics. I watch people buy brand name for 2-3 times the cost. If you must buy a brand name and don’t have a coupon ask the store if there is a tear pad of coupons for your product.

  • angela says:

    FYI on making your own laundry soap using Borax…. I did that for about 2-3 years and came home one day to warped hardwood floors. Apparently, the “newer” washing machines (mine was over 12 years old) really do need the liquid or “he” type of laundry soap or they can cause problems with the machine. (according to the repair man and insurance agent) Which mine did, and cost about $8,000.00 to replace the floors, drywall, trim, paint, doors, etc, etc….So, now I buy laundry soap and dilute it to stretch it. Still kills me to pay for it though…

  • Beth B says:

    I don’t buy paper towels or washclothes. I cut up old stained up clothing to use as rags. 90% of our clothing is hand-me downs from others. I end up with plenty so if something is really nasty, I don’t feel bad about tossing it out. They are also great to take to camp. Once its used, you can toss it out.

    We close the vents in rooms we don’t use so we aren’t air-conditioning or heating them.

    All the lights in our house are the new flourescent kind. I really think they do make a difference in our electric bill.

    Insulation can really help you save on your heating and cooling bills.

    Recycle old flat bed pillows by folding them in half and sewing a new white cover around them. Then design a new pretty pillow case to go over that. Or just enclose the recycled pillow in an old but pretty pillow case and sew it shut. Makes great travel, camp, and play pillows or just use it for a bed pillow.

    Not relevant now, but when the snow flies, dig out all those old dried out markers and let the kids color the snow man with them.

    I reused Walmart sacks by lining a plastic bowl and letting the kids use it when they get sick. Saves on cleaning up a mess when they didn’t quite make it to the bathroom.

    I also clean mirrors, the front of the microwave, and the front of the dishwasher with a wet rag and follow with a dry one. Does a good job for me.

  • Kristie says:

    I love the rubber band idea. I put them on all the soap dispensers last night. My DH complained a little, but was okay with it! LOL
    This morning my 3 year old son said “MOM, this doesn’t work with the rubber band around it!” I said it’s to help you use less and not waste!
    Thanks for the tips!

  • Gretchen says:

    I used to make homemade laundry soap, but after more research and considering the valuable time used to make it (I like liquid better than dry) now I buy All free and clear. I still get soap that doesn’t break out our sensitive skin and the cost is about the same or less. The trick is you only need about a tablespoon of soap per large load. I will use double for really dirty laundry (like dog’s towels or my husband’s muddy jeans). This makes one small bottle last several months!

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