There is a lot to love about living in LA, but the cost of living isn’t one of them. It’s ranked as the 9th most expensive city in the United States and costs nearly 50% more than the national average. Food in LA, in particular, is a sticky price point. While there are a ton of amazing restaurants and food trucks to keep every foodie happy, the cost of an average meal out in LA is about $11 higher than the national average. That means that you could end up spending a lot of your budget on eating out without even realizing it.
Luckily, there are things you can do to save money on food, and many of LA’s produce options are actually less expensive because they can be grown locally. With a little planning, you can save a lot of money on food, and here are five tips to get you started.
Even though California grows so many almonds, almond butter is still super expensive, but the nuts themselves are reasonably priced. This means that the best way to get this delicious staple into your diet is to learn how to make it yourself. Lucky for you, it’s not that hard!
Invest in a high-quality blender or food processor so that you can make your own almond butter (not to mention a bunch of other delicious meals), and you can save thousands over your lifetime if you eat it regularly. The jars are often double the cost of the raw materials!
Any Non-Perishable Food
It’s hard to stock up on fresh foods or take full advantage of sales and discounts because food is only a deal if you use it before it goes bad. Instead, focus on stocking up on non-perishable foods. Stores like Big Lots have non-perishables at huge discounts, and a little planning ahead can give you a storehouse of go-to staples that stretch your grocery budget.
Try stocking up on flour, nuts, oats, and cooking oils as these ingredients can be much pricier at smaller grocery stores.
Berries make a fantastic treat, are a great addition to liven up dishes like oatmeal, and are delicious in smoothies, but they can be costly over time.
The trick to getting a lot of berries without the cost is to eat frozen rather than fresh. Frozen berries are still packed with the nutrition and flavor you want, but they’re a fraction of the cost. They’ve been picked at the peak of ripeness and can be stored for months, meaning that you won’t have any more molding blackberries waiting in the fridge.
Frozen berries can be thawed for use in many meals or tossed directly into the blender as part of a smoothie mix (see next tip). They can also be enjoyed as-is straight from the bag for a delicious, refreshing treat to beat the LA heat. Pick them up at almost any local supermarket.
Speaking of frozen berries, smoothies make an excellent snack or breakfast and are a great way to get lots of fresh fruits and veggies into your diet, but buying them out can be incredibly expensive.
Popular smoothie stops like The Punchbowl or Juice Crafters offer delicious drinks, but the cost can add up in a hurry. A smoothie at one of these shops is an average of $8 with some drinks on the menu topping $11 a piece! If you had a smoothie a couple mornings a week, you’d be spending close to $80 a month, and if you wanted to start every weekday morning with this delicious treat, you’d be spending over $200!
You can get all of the flavor and health benefits with a fraction of the cost by making your own smoothies in a blender at home. If you stocked up on frozen fruit as recommended in the last step, you’re already on your way to a wealth of savings!
One of the best ways to save money in LA is to take advantage of the wealth of cultural diversity available. Any ethnic goods are really expensive to purchase at a standard grocery store. Rather than going to Whole Foods for any ethnic goods, check out one of the many Japanese or Indian grocery stores around to get both a better variety and much better prices.
Stores like Marukai, Nijiya Market, and Kavita Grocery offer a range of spices, grains, sauces, vegetables, and fruits that may be difficult to find in a standard grocery store at prices that can’t be beat.
Stocking up on these delicious finds can also help you ward off the desire to eat out so often because you’ll be able to create delicious dishes with authentic ingredients right in your own home.
Hummus and Other Dips
Hummus is a delicious treat that can serve as everything from a quick lunch to a key ingredient in a fantastic wrap or full dinner. Buying pre-made hummus can get very expensive, though, so this is another thing to start making yourself. Homemade hummus and other dips are simple to make with a small blender like the Magic Bullet, and you can even store it right in the container you blend it in with one of the included lids.
The cheapest way to make your own hummus is to buy either bulk or canned chickpeas. The best part about making your own dips is that you can customize them to your taste. Add tahini, lemon, or whatever spices you’d like to make it your own. Try it with red pepper or garlic and chili powder for a flavorful punch.
Exotic mushrooms like shitake, lion’s mane, and oyster can really elevate a dish and take it from bland to amazing, but they don’t come cheap. If you can manage to find these exotic varieties in a typical grocery store, they’re usually very expensive.
Living in LA is a pleasure, but the cost can be a burden that makes it difficult for a lot of people to stay in the hustle and bustle of this wonderful city. With some planning and a little experimentation in the kitchen, you can help stretch your LA budget and make the city a little more affordable.
Joey Bruno is Thrive Cuisine’s Nutrition Researcher. He has a Masters in Food Science and Nutrition and is a wannabe vegan chef.