You may be tempted to pay extra for convenience foods throughout the store, especially in the form of frozen dinners and "instant" foods like rice and oatmeal. Schedule in the extra bit of time it takes to make your own food, and you'll save. If you're dazzled by the frozen food aisle and the idea that these items can be nuked for five minutes and are ready to eat, remember that you can freeze foods yourself. Fruits, vegetables, meats, lasagnas, cookies, full-fledge dinners—eat what you want, and then freeze (read: preserve) the rest. Soon you'll have your own frozen food section right in your kitchen.
Embrace the store brands and day-olds. It's no secret that the store brands of most basic foods are less expensive and typically taste about the same. Choose the store's products, and be rewarded with savings.
The USDA also suggests finding bargains on day-old bread, which is just as nutritious as it was yesterday. You'll likely see lower costs or "manager's specials" on milk that's nearing its sell-by date, too. "If you've got two more days before the sell-by date on the dairy front, you probably have five or six more days before you really need to finish it," d'Arabian says.
Consider shelf life. Keeping a pantry or cupboard stocked with foods that have long shelf-lives will save you money in the future. Instead of ordering Chinese takeout because you haven't gone shopping in a while, you'll wisely remember the whole-grain pasta, olive oil, canned corn, and lentils you bought weeks ago, which will make for a nutritious meal today. "Getting good at managing your pantry items is a great starting-off strategy," says d'Arabian. Try canned tuna and salmon, which are shelf-stable sources of omega-3 fats and protein. Load up on fiber with whole-grain dry pasta, she suggests, and get your protein through cheap dried or canned beans. For other basics that should be kept on-hand in your home, check out the Brokeass Gourmet $50 pantry.
Don't abandon nutrition. "There's this sense of price-per-bite, but it should be price-per-nutrient," d'Arabian says. While it may be tempting to always buy the very cheapest groceries, spend time looking at the labels and analyzing nutritional value. A classic example: Ramen noodles. While this dorm-room staple is undoubtedly cheap and tasty, d'Arabian thinks opting for a box of whole grain pasta instead is worth the extra dollar or two. "It's not really about getting the cheapest thing to shove in our mouths," she says. "It's about honoring our bodies, our environmental resources, and our financial resources. This is a bigger, global view of budget shopping."