Next to dorm rent, one of the biggest costs students face is the monthly grocery bill and right now, food bills are rising. If money is tight, and even if it isn’t, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to learn money-saving ways to shop and cook. By implementing the following ten principles you will not only save you money, but valuable time as well.

1) Cook from scratch

Convenience foods are a tempting when you’re in a hurry. However, they are almost always significantly higher in price and are usually not a very healthy option for you. Luckily, you don’t need to have attended have attended one of cooking schools the in your area to get used to cooking from scratch. All you have to do is start with simple recipes that require only a few ingredients. Build up a repertoire of these that you can use again and again. Soon you should find that cooking from scratch is just as quick and easy as preparing prepackaged meals.

2) Cook large meals

Never cook a meal that can be eaten in one sitting, but double or triple recipes instead. This will cut down on you cooking time, as you will be able to serve leftovers several times a week. It will also remove some of the temptation to purchase expensive convenience foods on a night where you don’t have the time or energy to cook.

3) Use your freezer

When buying in bulk, include perishables such as cheese, eggs and milk. These items can be frozen and used for several months down the road. Also, divide and immediately freeze several portions of leftover meals for a quick microwaveable meal on busy nights.

4) Go meatless twice a week

Meat is the most expensive purchase you will usually make at the grocery store. To save money, try some dishes that use high-protein alternatives, such as beans and eggs. If you have someone in your household who is very resistant to this idea, you can also save money by cutting the amount of meat called for in a recipe by one-third to one-half and increasing the amount of other, less expensive ingredients.

5) Use spice blends

Most people have a cupboard full of expensive spices they purchase and use for one or two recipes. As result, many of these spices usually end up in the trash. Instead of spending money on containers of individual spices look for lower-cost spice blends. These are available in a number of varieties and combinations that work for most recipes.

6) Always shop with a list

Impulse buying is one of the costliest mistakes people make when grocery shopping. With a clear, carefully planned list in hand, you can cut down on impulse buys. Make your list a day before shopping so that you can take time to look through your kitchen. This way, you will have all the items you need on the list, preventing extra trips to the grocery store and extra opportunities to buy things you don’t need.

7) Make a meal plan once a week

In order to make a good grocery list, it is important to plan ahead. Take ten minutes once a week to map out a meal plan. Since you will be cooking large meals, plan several meals a week to be leftovers. Look for recipes that have some similar ingredients so that you can buy in bulk and reduce the number of items on your list.

8) Buy in bulk

Try to buy the items you need in bulk whenever possible. With proper storage, these items can last for months. Even perishable foods can be bought in bulk if you are willing to divide and store them correctly. However it is important to plan meals that utilize the items you have purchased so they will not go to waste.

9) Buy off-brand items

Off-brand items have come a long way in quality over the years, to the point that it is often difficult to tell them apart from name-brand products. Grocery stores also tend to place these alternative products right next to the name-brand items, highlighting the savings. Any time your grocery store offers an off-brand alternative, choose it and watch your grocery bill plummet.

10) Shop by yourself

Shopping with your spouse or children can be unavoidable or too convenient sometimes if you are driving past the store on the way home. However if you are looking to save money, try to keep your roommies at home when you go grocery shopping. Sticking to a list is challenging enough to get used to on your own but it is almost impossible if you have three other sets of hands reaching out for items on the shelf.

Consistently applying these principles should significantly reduce your grocery bill every month. While this list may look overwhelming if you’re new to the concept of thrifty cooking, the key is to start with just a few of these ideas at a time. When they become second nature to you, add a few more until you have all of them working for you.

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