This Trick Will Help You Save Money On Groceries

Photographed By Liz Clayman.
If you're starting from scratch every time you grocery shop, cooking can be expensive. Oftentimes when I try a new recipe, I have to stock up on what feels like a million new ingredients, spending way more money than I should for what ends up being only a few servings. But, as I've started to build up an arsenal of spices, oil, grains, and more, I've come to learn the critical pantry items it takes to keep me cooking on a regular basis.

Do I need an $11 bottle of cardamom? Probably not. But, take away my red pepper flakes, garlic, or salt and I'll probably be ordering in. It's all about storing basic ingredients that I can come back to over and over again, every time I cook.

With that in mind, I set out to see if I could stock up on some of my favorite kitchen essentials for $20 or less. To do so I headed to Trader Joe's — my go-to spot for budget staples. The below pantry plan won't necessarily leave me with complete dishes, but add a protein and some fresh produce, and I have plenty of easy meals on my hands.

Buying all of the listed ingredients adds up to well over $20, but following the below prompts keeps the overall total on budget. When I tallied the least expensive items in each category, the money stretches to a maximum of 11 items. But I wanted the pantry to be customizable. So however you decide to fill your shopping basket, based on your personal preferences and cooking needs, you'll still have the basis of some seriously delicious home cooking.

*Note, when tabulating the minimum amount of the most expensive ingredients, I ended up at $20.02, but I decided to let those extra two cents slide. My grocery list does not account for any potential taxes.

Without further ado, here's how I broke it down:

1. Cooking Essentials ($7.57):

Buy All Three
This is the fundamental trio I can't live without. In fact, there are a lot of foods out there that really only need salt and pepper, or all three. I can roast pretty much any veggie with just those ingredients and it'll always turn out delicious.
Olive Oil, $3.99
Salt, $1.59
Pepper $1.99


2. Doctor It Up:

Pick Two to Three
Add any of the below to the already purchased cooking essentials and I'm well on my way to a salad dressing, a marinade, or both! Most of these are acidic, which will add depth of flavor to whatever I'm cooking.
Balsamic Vinegar, $2.29
Apple Cider Vinegar, $2.49
Whole Grain Dijon Mustard, $1.79
Soy Sauce $2.99
Hot Sauce, $2.99
Fresh Lemon, $0.49


3. Add A Little Spice

Pick One to Two
Garlic and spices will instantly make almost anything taste infinitely better. If I'm roasting chicken breasts for dinner I'll use some thyme and oregano along with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Or if I'm using store-bought pasta sauce I can make it my own with herbs and a little heat.
Red Chili Flakes, $1.99
Dried Thyme, $1.99
Dried Oregano, $1.99
Dried Basil, $1.99
Garlic, $1.29

4. Easy Meal Bases

Pick Two to Three
These items are great to keep around the kitchen in case I need to whip up a meal on short notice. If I have eggs and bread, I can make a meal on the fly, doctored up with some hot sauce. A can of tuna with an olive oil, balsamic, and mustard vinaigrette is a speedy 10-minute meal, I'll just need some lettuce or veggies to round it out. Beans are the perfect unexpected protein to keep on hand if I'm making a salad, or even a quick batch of easy hummus.
Bread, $2.49
Pasta, $0.99
Pasta Sauce, $1.79
Canned Tuna, $1.69
Black or Garbanzo Beans, $0.79
Eggs, $1.99
This month, we're asking you to toss out everything you thought you knew about spring cleaning and give every corner of your life a refresh. The inspiration for a happier, clutter-free you is right this way.

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