9 tips to save money on food, from the woman who wrote the book on eating for $4 a day

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Workman Publishing Company

Leanne Brown wrote the book on eating well for less.

Her cookbook, “Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4 a Day” has been downloaded more than 900,000 times, and over 71,000 updated hard copies have been given or sold at a discount to help people in need. For each copy of her New York Times bestseller sold, a copy is donated to people who might not otherwise have access.

Brown originally wrote the book as the thesis project for her Master’s degree in food studies at New York University. She intended it to be a resource for Americans who receive SNAP benefits – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – which is the official name for the federal government assistance program often known as food stamps. Under SNAP, recipients are given an average of $4 per person, per day to spend on food.

“I was really interested in the SNAP program for a lot of reasons,” Brown tells Business Insider. “I was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, and we don’t have food stamps in Canada. That really struck me: There are only 35 million people in all of Canada, so it’s the entire population of Canada, plus 11 million people, living on $4 a day. There’s this whole hidden problem, because it’s so difficult to eat on so little.”

Brown says her cookbook, which features many of her own favorite, go-to recipes, isn’t only for people living on extremely limited budgets, and isn’t meant to encourage people to drastically restrict their food spending. Rather, she explains, it’s a resource to show that anyone can make healthful, varied meals without spending excessively.

Below, take a look at nine of the tips Brown shares in “Good and Cheap” for saving money on food.


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Non-specific ingredients can be used for days.
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Flickr / Iryna Yeroshko

Buy foods you can use in multiple meals.

Staples like rice, beans, flour, and yogurt, as well as flavor boosters like garlic and lemon, can all be used in a wide variety of recipes, so you never need to let any go to waste.


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If you know you’ll use it up, buy in bulk.
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Wikimedia Commons

Buy in bulk.

Brown recognizes that people have different storage options available, and recommends buying a smaller size if you can’t finish the larger while it’s still good. That said, buying a larger amount of a staple can save money, and budgeting now to buy for the future can free up your grocery budget on your next trips.


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Have the staples you need at hand.
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Flickr / Ben Garney

Build a pantry.

“If possible – and admittedly this can be difficult for people living on their own – reserve part of your budget to buy one or two semi-expensive pantry items each week. Things like olive oil, soy sauce, and spices are pricey at first, but if you use just a little with each recipe, they go a long way,” writes Brown.


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Expect to mix up your meals each week.
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Flickr / Sodanie Chea

Think weekly.

Buying different staple foods – like grains and beans – each week can add variety into your diet. With different staples, you’ll have a new base to work with and can use different recipes without much adjustment to your budget.


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Go for what’s in season.
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Flickr/Pembleton

Think seasonally.

Enjoying berries in the summer, apples in the fall, and citrus in the winter (depending on where you live) is more than festive – it’s cost-effective. Local fruits and vegetables are more plentiful, and therefore usually cheaper, during their growing seasons, and planning your fresh produce consumption around what’s readily available will save you money compared to buying produce shipped from across the country.

Also, she writes, winter is a good time to search for deals on canned and frozen produce.


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Budget for veggies.
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Flickr / Steven Depolo

Spend money on vegetables.

It’s easy to let produce, which may seem more expensive than other groceries, fall by the wayside, but the versatility of vegetables means they’re good for much more than a quick steam or roast.

“Vegetables make the best sauces: they’re earthy, bright, tart, sweet, bitter, savory, rich,” Brown writes. “Give them a treasured spot at the top of your grocery list and you’ll never be bored.”


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Save money on beverages.
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Thomson Reuters

Don’t buy drinks.

Brown points out that the only drink the body really needs is water, and drink options other than milk are usually full of added sugar and don’t fill you up the way a snack would. If you’re looking for more variety, she recommends making a smoothie or tea.


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Don’t buy broth or soup stock.
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Flickr / Rachel Hathaway

Make your own broth and stock.

Brown sees no need to pay for any savory recipe that involves water.

“To make broth, start by saving any vegetable bits that you chop off and would normally throw away, like onion tops, the seedy parts of peppers, and the ends of carrots,” she writes. “Store them in the freezer until you have a few cups, then cover them with water, bring to a boil, and simmer on low heat for a few hours. Add salt to taste, and you have broth! To make a hearty stock, do the same with leftover bones or scraps of meat (preferably all the same kind of meat). Since you’re using stuff you’d otherwise throw away, broth and stock are effectively free.”


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If you have a freezer, be smart about using it.
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Flickr / Kathleen Franklin

Make good use of your freezer.

Nothing is more frustrating than watching good food go bad. Brown writes that getting smart about using your freezer allows you to make large batches of food at once, and stretch your cooking efforts out over days or weeks.

For instance, she writes, soaking and cooking beans takes a while, so it’s smart to prepare a whole bag at once and freeze the ones you don’t need immediately. A reader once recommended dicing and cooking up a whole package of bacon, then freezing it in small parcels that can later be added into recipes without tempting you to use the whole package.