5 Ways to Save Money in the Kitchen When You’re Planning for a Big Move

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

This month I embark on the mother of all major life adjustments: leaving my job, leaving my hometown, and moving across the country for the scary (and exciting) unknown. Moving is the ultimate life disruption; everything you own must be sorted, packed up, or thrown away. The cozy environment you’ve carefully built over the years is suddenly scattered in pieces, usually with enough mess to convince you to never buy anything ever again.

Moving is also expensive. I had to pay to break my apartment lease early (a whopping month-and-a-half’s rent), buy packing supplies (who knew cardboard and tape could add up so fast?), and rent a truck. I’ll pay more to haul my things north and sign a new lease. Leaving my job also means moving without a steady paycheck — worthwhile in the long run, but a bit painful for the time being.

Budgeting for the big move has meant cutting back where I spend most: food. I have a bad habit of buying way too many groceries for one person, of collecting condiments because the jars are cute (guilty!), and grabbing takeout when I simply can’t be bothered to cook. Now that there’s a countdown clock on my lease and I’ve had to adjust for some big costs, I’ve had to think differently.

Here’s how I cut my food budget down from $350 a month to $130 (that’s 40 percent!) so I could save up for my big move.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

5 Ways to Adjust Your Food Budget for a Move

1. Shop like you won’t have a kitchen tomorrow.

I plan meals based on using up everything I buy as if it will spoil in the next day or two. Even though I’m here for a couple more weeks, the threat of tossing a fridge full of food on my last day keeps me from overbuying. No lingering quarter-bag of spinach or half-block of mozzarella — it all needs to find a way into my next meal. Aiming to use up my groceries by week’s end is also a great reason to pack lunches rather than dine out for my remaining days at the office.

2. Get creative with the odds and ends in your pantry.

My pantry is a trove of forgotten grains, canned goods, and that box of fancy-pants pasta I never made. Instead of buying more dry goods at the store, I’m finding new ways to use what I already have. I’m simmering dried beans and lentils for simple, satisfying suppers. I’m making bread and granola from scratch to use up flours, oats, and nuts. Clearing out my pantry has also been a happy excuse to bake for friends and family (and bribe them for help on moving day).

3. Create a kitchen “survival kit” and keep it handy.

A recent camping trip reminded me of how few ingredients and equipment I actually need to make a truly great meal. I’ve set aside a survival kit of cookware — a saucepan, a skillet, tongs, a slotted spoon, and a knife — to use while the rest gets packed in boxes. It keeps me from making anything too complicated and expensive (no need to add more dirty pans to the madness in my apartment) and from leaning too much on takeout as I pack everything else away.

4. Focus on simple and comforting meals.

Moves are stressful, and stress demands comfort food. Instead of elaborate plates, I’m cooking humble mains like bean- or chickpea-based stews, quick pasta tosses, and anything with an egg. If it’s a breeze to make and requires just one pan, even better. The act of cooking is relaxing too, especially when presentation or sticking to a recipe isn’t the goal. Simply tossing some boiled tortellini with chopped tomatoes and basil can make me feel 10 times better.

5. Know when to spring for the good stuff.

It seems counterintuitive, but it really is worth spending a little more on certain ingredients that can transform the simplest of pre-move meals. I still buy the pricier hunks of Parm-Reg because it has that robust, umami finish that will elevate anything it touches. I buy better canned tuna because it can anchor a dish rather than needing to be disguised by several other ingredients. And I still buy good dark chocolate because, well, that’s just not something I’m ready to give up.

Do you have any food budget tips that helped your prep for a big move? Let us know in the comments!